Discover the Largest Bullhead Catfish Ever Caught in Idaho

Written by Doug Shaffer
Updated: June 15, 2023
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Key Points:

  • Bullheads are often mistaken to be similar to other catfish species.
  • One distinguishing feature of bullheads compared to most other catfish species is their preferred habitat.
  • The largest bullhead catfish ever caught in Idaho was in Brownlee Reservoir.

For many anglers, the thrill of catching “the big one” gets them up early in the morning before the sun rises. However, even with the best equipment and knowledge of the local fishing holes, it can be daunting to catch a record-breaking fish without a little luck. For instance, James Winter’s set the record for the largest bullhead catfish caught in Idaho in 1986. Here’s a closer look at James Winter’s incredible catch and the fish that helped him set the state record. 

What Is a Bullhead Catfish?

Everyone assumes bullheads are just like every other type of catfish. However, these incredible animals differentiate themselves in a variety of ways. For instance, these freshwater fish have a compact appearance with a square tail that many other species of catfish don’t have. They are also usually yellow or brown.

How Big Do Bullhead Catfish Grow?

Unlike most catfish that grow between 12-24 inches and 15-40 pounds, the average bullhead is much smaller in length and weight. Bullhead catfish only reach lengths of 8 to 14 inches and weigh between 1 and 5 pounds. 

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Where Do Bullhead Catfish Live?

Another important element that sets bullheads apart from most other catfish is their preferred habitat. Generally, catfish enjoy moderate to fast-moving rivers or streams. However, bullhead catfish are often found in still, slow-moving locations with muddy waters.

Since bullheads prefer more stagnant waters, their diets are slightly different from other catfish. For example, a bullhead catfish’s main diet consists of crayfish, freshwater mussels, snails, and insects. In some instances, they will also eat smaller fish or fish eggs. 

Bullhead catfish prefer to live in muddy environments with slow-moving water.

©Rostislav Stefanek/

The Story of James Winter and Idaho’s Largest Bullhead Catfish Ever Caught

Throughout the 1980s, many fishermen sought to explore the wonders of Brownlee Reservoir. The local fishing hole was a hot spot for anglers looking to catch anything from black crappie to rainbow trout. While many had luck reeling in big fish, it wasn’t until 1986 that someone finally broke the record for the largest bullhead catfish ever caught in Idaho.

On May 25, 1986, James Winter went out on Brownlee Reservoir like he had done many times before. However, it didn’t take long before he had hooked a big catch of his own. As he reeled the fish in, he noticed the size of the bullhead catfish was much bigger than the others he had caught before. 

After officially measuring the bullhead, its weight was marked at 3.88 lbs and 20.5 inches long with 11.88 inches of girth, making it the largest bullhead catfish ever caught in Idaho. 

Fishing in Brownlee Reservoir

Over the years, Brownlee Reservoir has become a favorite for local fishermen throughout Idaho. This 13,000-acre body of water stretches 50 miles and runs through Idaho and Oregon, with multiple boat access points along the way.

Brownlee Reservoir has also seen several record-breaking catches besides the large bullhead catfish. Here are a few of the historic fish that have been pulled from the water:

  • Black Crappie — Record catch: 3.56 lbs, 17.5in length, 15in girth (06/08/2003)
  • Flathead Catfish — Record catch: 58.5 lbs, 48in length, 31in girth (06/08/2003)
Brownlee Reservoir is home to several record-breaking fish

Brownlee Reservoir is home to several record-breaking fish.


Largest Bullhead Catfish Ever Caught

Even though James Winter’s record for the largest bullhead catfish in Idaho has lasted over 35 years, it isn’t the biggest bullhead ever caught. In fact, within the past year, one angler hooked a monstrous bullhead catfish compared to the one reeled in all those years ago. 

Michael Landreneau was fishing in his brother’s private pond in Sunset, Louisiana, when he felt something strong pulling on the other end of his line. He had always heard stories about the big fish living in the small body of water, but he never expected to see what came out. 

When Landreneau pulled the fish from the water, he noticed it was a giant bullhead catfish. Once measured, the large bullhead weighed a staggering 11.3 lbs — more than 7 lbs heavier than the one caught in Idaho. The International Game Fish Association is currently reviewing the catch and should decide on the record soon.

Before the Louisiana bullhead catfish, the largest bullhead was caught in 2015 in upstate New York

Where is Brownlee Reservoir Located on a Map?

Brownlee Dam, located on the Snake River along the border of Idaho and Oregon, is a hydroelectric earth-fill embankment dam in the western United States. Situated in Hells Canyon at river mile 285, it creates the expansive Brownlee Reservoir, stretching for 58 miles.

Here is Brownlee Reservoir on a map:

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Slowmotiongli/

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