Catfish, MO

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 13, 2010

in a day. If the hand fisher discovers a catfish, out it comes. Few fish would be spared, and long stretches of stream would experience no reproduction.

Legalizing hand fishing would almost certainly add to the number of hand fishers and the number of fish taken. Hand fishers surveyed by a University of Missouri researcher said the minimum size catfish they would catch and keep was 17.5 pounds for flatheads, 12 pounds for blue catfish and 6 pounds for channel catfish, and that flatheads were their preferred quarry more than 85 percent of the time. Growth rates vary, but it takes flathead catfish more than a dozen years to grow to that size, and catfish in those size ranges represent only a tiny percent of the total catfish population.

The math argues that Missouri’s small streams, where 90 percent of hand fishing takes place, would soon be devoid of large fish. Catfish anglers who use traditional bait, hook and line methods to harvest fish wouldn’t have much luck. What’s more, our stream ecosystems would suffer because large flathead catfish help control populations of less desirable fish, such as carp.

It is unlikely that large catfish might be replaced by those moving up tributaries from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Flatheads are generally stay-at-home fish. In a 2006–07 study of catfish movements, 25 percent or fewer of the catfish implanted with radio transmitters moved from the Missouri River into tributary streams. When they’re gone, they’re gone, and so is the whole idea of a pleasant little place called Catfish, Missouri. end of main article

In Pursuit of Noodlers

Hand fishing has been illegal since 1919, and yet there are people in Missouri who continue to grab catfish by hand. This activity is not confined to small streams. When a recent drought lowered water levels at Montrose and Truman lakes, anglers reported finding noodling boxes, which are artificial underwater cavities made to attract nesting catfish. Conservation agents watched the boxes and arrested several people using them for hand fishing. They removed the boxes after the spawning season.

Don’t let people acting illegally take away your opportunity to catch big catfish. Report hand fishing or suspicious equipment, such as sunken tires, cable spools, bathtubs or water heaters, that you find in our lakes or streams. Program the Operation Game Thief number, (800) 392-1111, into your cellphone so you can call while you are on the water. The line is active 24 hours a day, and you may even be eligible for a reward.

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