Tennessee takes a different approach with Catfish
By Bob Hodge
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 longer.

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.

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 excluded.

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 make pictures.

"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 fish.

"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.







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