Catfish anglers can collect cash for reporting tagged fish

News from the region
Published Date

JEFFERSON CITY–The only thing anglers like as much as fishing is telling fish stories. The Missouri Department of Conservation will pay up to $150 for your story if you catch the right catfish.

In its continuing effort to put catfish management on a firm scientific footing, the Missouri Department of Conservation has tagged thousands of blue and flathead catfish in lakes and streams throughout the state. In years past, those tags carried rewards ranging from $25 to $50 for anglers who reported catching tagged catfish. More recently, the agency upped the ante, offering as much as $150 for some tagged catfish.

Fisheries biologists have long used tagging studies to learn how long fish live, how fast they grow, where they move and other information that is useful in setting fishing seasons and creel limits. However, tagging accomplishes nothing unless anglers report catching tagged fish.

Each time an angler finds a tag and reports it by calling the phone number printed on the tag, fisheries managers get a clearer picture of fish population dynamics. The more data that is gathered, the clearer the picture becomes.

The percentage of tagged fish reported by anglers helps biologists estimate what percentage of the overall fish population is caught by anglers each year. Such estimates are helpful when establishing fishing regulations.

Tag returns from anglers can underestimate the actual harvest, however. Some anglers are glad to report tagged fish in return for information they receive about the fish they caught. For others, however, even a $25 reward is not enough to make a phone call. Determining non-returns is a key part of every fish tagging study. So is estimating the number of non-returns accurately.

To get a better handle on the number of non-returns, the Conservation Department offers a $150 reward for some tags. The assumption is that almost every angler will return a tag for that amount. Comparing the rate of return on $25 and $150 tags will give researchers a good idea what percentage of fish with $25 tags are not reported when anglers catch them.

Conservation Department workers have tagged more than 7,000 flathead and blue catfish that are 12 inches and larger in recent years. The “dangler” reward tags are small plastic ovals attached just under the dorsal fin on the tops of fishes’ backs.

Most of the tags have rewards of $25. The reward amount and the phone number for the angler to call are printed on the tags. Anglers also are asked to report when, where and how they caught each fish, along with its length and whether they kept or released the fish.

Tagged catfish are swimming in parts of the Fabius, Gasconade, Grand, Lamine, Marmaton, Platte, South Grand rivers, the upper Mississippi River near Hannibal and the Missouri River around the mouths of the Platte, Grand, Lamine and Gasconade rivers.

“Anglers don’t have to keep a fish to get the reward,” said Resource Scientist Zach Ford, who oversees the catfish harvest evaluation project. “If they catch a tagged flathead or blue catfish and choose to release it, all they have to do is clip off the tag, call the phone number printed on the tag and mail it in. They will get the reward amount marked on the tag, along with a letter describing when and where the fish was originally tagged. They get the tag back, too. Some people like to have them for keepsakes.”

To learn more about the Conservation Department’s catfish management work, visit, and click on “How we manage them.”

-Jim Low-

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