Catfishing's new face

What's up with catfishing? There is a huge surge of anglers targeting these whiskerfish with rod and reel in the USA. Anglers are switching away from many species of fish and are finding themselves infatuated with trying to catch a giant catfish. This craze is growing at a steady pace. Giant reservoirs, huge rivers, ponds, tanks, and small streams are all starting to get beat to a froth with catfish baits.

Wildlife fishery departments are looking at quality catfishing restrictions on waters that will produce the cream of the crop. Demands from catfish anglers that the top end fish not be harvested from their home waters are finally paying off in many states. Biologists are putting in long research hours trying to figure out age and growth rates for blue catfish, channel cats and flathead cats. This a daunting task that catfish anglers should praise the departments for. The majority of the researchers don't have any previous data to go back on. Starting at square one, the departments are working hard to figure out if the catfish are being harvested faster than they can grow. The biologists that I have spoken with in Missouri and Oklahoma are very concerned that the fish are being greatly over harvested in areas with high angler pressure.

The skill levels of catfish anglers are going up. Rod and reel fishing, Set liners, and jug fishermen are all competing for the same fish. The catfish is the only fish in fresh water that is harvested with SO MANY DIFFERENT angling applications. The internet, TV, and major magazine exposure are turning the general public into catfishing gurus. Most folks don't know any age and growth data or even know that there is a growing problem with over harvest of the large specimens. The only story I continue to hear in high fishing pressure areas is "for some reason I don't catch as many big cats as I used to." Ask these folks if they ever thought of releasing a big cat and they will look at you like you are NUTS! For some reason, the bigger the cat the faster it can find the butcher knife.

Let's talk a little about the data that Missouri and Oklahoma have compiled on blue catfish over the past few years. How old do you think a 30 inch blue catfish is? How much does a 30 inch blue catfish weigh? What are the survival rates for a fish of this size? I think most anglers are going to be amazed to find out the answer. Before we go there, let's talk about what a 30 inch bluecat is in the bluecats world. It's a baby. The world record fish caught out of Lake Texoma by Cody Mullinex was over 58 inches and weighed an outstanding 121.6 pounds. Now let's go back to the 30 inch fish. A 30 inch blue catfish in Oklahoma and Missouri averages 10 to 12 pounds and is most likely around 14 years old!!! That's right, 14 years old. There was a surprising similarity of catfish data between the two state agencies. These fish grow slow, really slow. More than likely, a bluecat of gargantuan size is a freak of nature, kind of like a 20 point buck scoring 250 inches or a human weighing 800 lbs standing over 7 ft tall. The average blue grows slow, but will continue to grow if left alone with proper environmental conditions and forage. This is shocking data for most anglers like me that didn't think a catfish could grow this slow. I have seen the data, it's the gospel truth. It's shocking!

I have since been active in trying to educate the public and help them make some choices on harvesting big cats. Most anglers that have been educated on the problem understand the importance of the timeline it takes to get a blue or flathead catfish to trophy sizes of 40 lbs or greater. Unfortunately, there are others that either don't know about the ages of the fish or plainly don't care if they kill every big fish they get their hands on. I am hoping that the education of catfish anglers will ensure some survival rates for these true giants. I know I would like to pass on some mega cats for the next generation to enjoy.

Catfish guides, boats, bait, gear, and tournaments are helping to fuel the fire of quality restrictions. The general public interest in catfishing along with more fishing pressure is working in favor of the quality advocates. The media is paying more attention to the catfish. The state wildlife agencies are finally looking to their catfishing destinations as a serious source of income for catfish anglers to come and enjoy, not to come and kill.

I think we should all use a little common sense when it comes to killing catfish. Let's face it, these fish are put here for us to enjoy. Not every big fish can be released but the majority can be. I enjoy eating catfish as much as the next guy, but I don't enjoy eating cats that are old and valuable. I clean blue catfish under 6 lbs. for my clients on my guide trips. I clean and cook blues of the same size for my family and friends to enjoy, my kids love them. When you have an abundance of large cats spawning, you will never have a problem with over harvesting small cats. Juvenile catfish should be taken in numbers in order to keep the numbers in check. Every angler has a level that they feel comfortable with when releasing catfish, some release all over 10 pounds, some keep only 2 to 4 pound fish, and some like the larger ones. Regardless of your releasing comfort level, please keep the age and growth data in mind and I think your conscience will help you make the right decisions. Let all who are proud to be catfishing enthusiasts enjoy our sport, and preserve good catfishing for the future. Good luck catfishing.

Copyright © 2006 Jeff Williams

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About the Author:

Jeff Williams hails as a catfish guide from Grand Lake Oklahoma. He has also guided successfully on Lake of the Ozarks, MO, Truman Lake, MO and the Missouri River. Jeff is a seasoned tournament pro that also speaks at many seminars annually, plus is continually in the media spotlight via TV, mainstream magazines and newspapers. He represents many national sponsors that are proud to be involved in the world of catfishing. Check out his full line of professional catfishing products at Team Catfish.

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