Catfishing Missouri’s Big Rivers

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Published on: Jun. 17, 2014

 Catfish have been an important resource of the big rivers for a long time. A journal entry by a member of the Lewis and Clark party, Patrick Gass, mentions catfish caught by the expedition from the Missouri River in Nebraska, August 25, 1804:“Two of our men last night caught nine catfish that would together weigh three hundred pounds. The large catfish are caught in the Missouri with hook and line.” Arguably, the grandest fishing trip of all time started on the Missouri River in May 1804.

Catfish are so important to Missourians that the Missouri legislature designated channel catfish as the state fish. A recent national survey of fishing and hunting reported that Missouri anglers pursued catfish more than any other kind of fish except black bass. However, a survey conducted by the Department of Conservation found that only 11 percent of catfish anglers fished the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, even though these rivers are teeming with three major catfish species (blue, flathead, and channel catfish), offering the best opportunity to catch a large fish. So why do so few catfish anglers fish Missouri’s big rivers? Some may find these rivers intimidating. Others may believe these large rivers are t challenging to fish successfully. At times, big rivers can be dangerous, especially during inclement weather or extreme floods. Fishing in strong current and deep water takes a different approach than typically used in smaller waters. However, with preparation and experience, nearly anyone with an adequate-sized boat can safely navigate and successfully fish Missouri’s prized rivers for catfish.

The Missouri and Mississippi rivers are Missouri’s most important water resources. They account for 29 percent of Missouri’s total surface water acreage, more than the combined area of the state’s 15 largest reservoirs. Both rivers are greatly altered from their original state; confined by dams, levees, dikes, and rocked shorelines to facilitate flood control, commercial navigation, drinking water, agriculture, and hydropower.

The lowermost 553 miles of the Missouri River run through Missouri before joining the Mississippi River near St. Louis. The Mississippi River forms the Show-Me state’s eastern boundary for about 490 miles. The uppermost 176 miles includes a series of seven navigation locks and dams. Both rivers provide a variety of habitats for catfish ranging from shallow backwaters with log piles to deep holes off rock dike tips. Learning to fish these rivers can be exciting and rewarding.

Catfish Hangouts

Blue catfish, flathead catfish, and channel catfish can

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