Catching Big River Blues

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

light coating of corn meal, it is as good as crappie and walleye as far as I’m concerned. As with all fish that you eat from Missouri’s rivers, you should check for recommended consumption rates that are released by the Missouri Department of Health each year. Currently, catfish from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers are under a consumption advisory.

If you still don’t feel prepared to venture onto Missouri’s big rivers in pursuit of big blues, just remember that Carl Roberts was in the same boat, so to speak, five years ago. By taking these basic recommendations, reading a few fishing magazines, and most importantly, talking to successful catters, you just might end up being interviewed by a film crew from In-Fisherman yourself some day.

In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact a fisheries biologist from the Department for help (see page 1 for regional office phone numbers). It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of our job!

Flathead Catfish limit: 5 fish daily

The flathead is a slender catfish with a broadly flattened head and a projecting lower jaw. The back and sides are pale yellow to light brown, and mottled with dark brown or black (mottling often is poorly developed in adults from muddy water). Adults commonly are 15 to 45 inches long and weigh 1 to 45 pounds

Channel Catfish limit: 10 fish daily

The channel catfish is also slender, but with a projecting upper jaw. It is similar to the blue catfish, but has scattered, roundish dark spots on its back and sides (spots often are absent in the smallest young and large adults). The anal fin margin is rounded, and the back and sides are olive-brown or slate blue. Breeding males are a deep blue-black on the back and sides, with the head swollen and knobby and the lips thickened and fleshy. Adults commonly are 12 to 32 inches long and weigh 1 to 15 pounds.

Blue Catfish limit: 5 fish daily

These are similar to channel catfish, with one significant difference— the anal fin margin is straight and tapered. They never have dark spots on the back and sides. The back and upper sides are pale bluish-silver, grading to silver-white on the lower sides and belly. The light coloring often leads to confusion with the white catfish—a species neither native nor common to Missouri. Adult blue catfish commonly are 20 to 44 inches long and weigh 3 to 40 pounds on average.

***The new catfish regulations became effective March 1, 2006, and apply on all Missouri waters except where special catfish management regulations apply. Anglers should note that some waters that support blue catfish populations will not be impacted by the new regulation. This includes the Missouri portion of the Mississippi River, which will continue with a daily and possession limit of 20 channels and blues in the aggregate and 10 flathead catfish. Anglers should always refer to the Wildlife Code and area signs and brochures to determine daily and possession limits.

Big River Safety

Boaters should wear personal flotation devices when on the water. On the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, boaters should avoid commercial barges, which are not maneuverable. Barges also produce wakes that can capsize smaller boats. Throttle down when barges are in the vicinity and steer into a barge's wake rather than taking it on broadside.

Wing dams, closing dams and riprap can quickly damage a boat. Be alert for the distinct ripples caused by shallow submerged rock structures. The rivers also contain a large amount of floating debris, especially during and immediately after high water periods.

The U.S. Coast Guard marks the navigation channel with buoys. These can be difficult to see at night and present another boating hazard.

Health Advisory

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has reevaluated their fish consumption advisory on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. While fish tissue contaminant concentrations have declined, PCBs and chlordane remain at levels of health concern for sturgeon and sturgeon eggs and several catfish species. DHSS reviewed recent sampling conducted on these rivers and recommends that all consumers limit catfish consumption to one meal per week of flathead, channel and blue catfish greater than 17 inches due to PCBs, chlordane, and mercury. Visit the News & Public Notices section of the DHSS Web site at for information.

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