Catfish may be well on their way to becoming the
"it" species of the early 21st century.
In a fishing world dominated by bass
tournaments, crappiethons and fly rod-toting
trout fishermen, catfish are becoming chic. And
like anything that becomes chic, catfish may be
about to become heavily promoted.
When Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission
met Oct. 30-31 in Chattanooga, catfish was a
major part of the discussion. Surveys done by
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and other
groups have found people are not just interested
in catching catfish, but they want to catch
giant, pole-bending trophy catfish.
Promoting catfish as a trophy species
included proposals for statewide size and creel
limits. TWRA proposed allowing fishermen to keep
all the little catfish they wanted, but limiting
them to only one per day 34 inches long or
An amendment by Commissioner Tom Hensley has
limited the new regulations to the Mississippi
River for now.
"The interest in quality catfish management
is there and I want to see Tennessee taking the
lead on this," said Bill Cox, wildlife resources
commissioner from Covington. "We don't always
need to follow what somebody else is doing."
The two species of catfish that reach trophy
size are blues and flatheads. Although channel
catfish also grow to be fairly large, they don't
have the growth potential of the other two - and
channels longer than 34 inches are rare.
Catfish can be found in just about every body
of water in Tennessee, but the really big ones
are most likely found in the Mississippi River
and the reservoirs on the Tennessee and Columbia
Rivers like the Holston and French Broad are
also good places to find catfish that would
reach the 34-inch "trophy" designation.
"Historically, flatheads can grow to about
150 pounds and blues to 200 pounds, but those
kind of fish haven't been seen in years," said
Bill Reeves, TWRA chief of fisheries. "We're
talking about fish that are about eight years
old. We don't really know for sure because a lot
of data on catfish hasn't been collected. Since
channel catfish don't really get that big they
are kind of excluded from the regulations."
It was Hensley's amendment that has all of
the catfish east of the Mississippi River
Reeves said the sport-fishing regulation
would have been worthless without a
corresponding commercial-fishing regulation, so
the matter was brought to a vote when the
commercial regulations were set in September.
Hensley amended the proposal to include only
the Mississippi River.
Cox said he believes most fishermen would
support the measure.
"First, how many times do you catch more than
one catfish a day over 34 inches long?" Cox
asked. "Most people aren't going to be impacted
at all. And the other thing is what do you do
with those fish when you catch them?
"I had a guy call me and he was all upset at
the proposal because he had caught a 54-pound
catfish. He said if the new regulation passed he
would have had to thrown it back and couldn't
show it his friends. I explained to him he could
still keep it."
Knoxville taxidermist Evan Bowers is the
founder of the K-Town Grabbers, a group that
goes to Watts Bar Lake and grabbles for catfish.
While they release most everything they catch,
they do like to keep their fish on a stringer to
"It's just another rule that will complicate
things," Bowers said. "Instead of just going out
and being able to have fun, we'll have to
remember who catches what and how many we have
and we'll be in the water trying to measure
"It'll be a hassle. I don't think fishermen
need more hassles."
The commercial fishermen had few objections
to the proposal because catfish 34 inches and
over have little value. While catfish generally
sells for about 55-cents a pound, the large ones
go for less than half that amount.