Horned Pout, Brown Bullhead, the Old Man, Catfish, Old Mr. Whiskers… these are just a few of the names anglers have used for this fish. The horned pout gets its name from the three spines on its body that are located on the dorsal and pectoral fins on the outside of the fish. These spines are quite sharp and if you handle this fish with less than complete concentration, then they can deliver a nasty puncture to you, which can lead to an infection. The infection is caused because of the slime that the spines are coated with. This is the horned pouts natural defense against predators. After all, would you want to bite into something that could puncture your mouth?
This fish is a reel treat to catch because the best times to catch old Mr. Whiskers is late at night when everyone else has gone to bed or in the very early morning hours. This fish can be found in a varied collection of water such as lakes, ponds, slow parts of streams and rivers. They are one of the easiest fish to catch if you don’t have a problem waiting and your mind doesn’t wander too much during your wait. I have found that the best bait to use is the worm or nightcrawler, but Catfish also like crayfish, doughballs, whole kernel corn, and even live minnows. The NH state record for Horned Pout is a length of 17.95 inches and a weight of 3 lbs. 4.8 oz. and it was caught out of the Merrimack River in Merrimack, NH in August of 2005.
When I was younger, my family would always go camping at Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham, NH. Pawtuckaway is a 783 acre body of water that offers plenty of fishing for all species, but what I fondly remember most is that my pop used to take us boys out after dark to go hornpoutin. He would actually wake us up after midnight and we would gather our gear and a lantern and head out through the woods to the lakes edge where we would set up our zone of fishing. The first thing pop would always have us do was find a branch in the shape of a Y and stick it into the water’s edge. This allowed us a place to lay our rods after we cast our lines out so that we could sit and watch the rod tip glowing in the lantern light. The slightest twitch would indicate nibbles.
One such time Pop, my brothers and I went out hornpoutin and what we got was a night of surprises, not just a few laughs and a memory to last a lifetime. We had set up and we were catching catfish galore. We hardly had time to set our poles down we were catching so many. All of a sudden, the bites stopped. A few minutes later, one of my brothers hooked into a large fish. His pole was bent so far over that we thought it might break. I quickly grabbed the net and leaned out over the water but when the fish broke the surface and I could see it, I scrambled to get away from it. What my brother really hooked into was an eel about two feet long and seeing that long black serpent coming right at me was enough to send me scurrying away fast. We all laughed at how quickly I moved.
After the eel we all started catching hornpout again. Once again the bites stopped and once again one of my brothers hauled in an eel, only this time it was three feet long. eel gone and the hornpout began biting again. About half an hour later the biting stopped again. I announced to everyone that if another eel came in that I was done for the night and that I would be going back to camp. Sure enough another big eel was caught and without saying a word, I gathered my stuff and started heading back. All I could hear on my walk back was my pop and brothers laughing. I smile everytime I think of that memory because it was probably one of the last times that my pop, my brothers and I were together fishing. Like many things in life we found other things to do and fishing together sort of took a back seat. We still fished, but it was rare when all four of us got together to go fishing. I miss those times with pop.
Cherish the moments you get to spend with friends and family doing the things you like to do. Realize inside yourself that those opportunities will not always be there, so when you do get the chance, make the most of it.
Tight lines, the Amateur Angler