Since the late 1980s, anglers have taken an increasing interest in trying their luck at catching blue catfish and flatheads that can tip the scales at more than 100 pounds.
“Its quite a thrill catching a fish that big,” said Steve Eder, a fisheries official for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The rising popularity of fishing for catfish has led to a proposal by the department to change statewide regulations on catfish for the first time in years.
The proposed regulations, which will be the subject of a public hearing Oct. 2 in Columbia, would increase the overall number of catfish that anglers can take but reduce the possession limit for blue catfish.
The current limit on blue and channel catfish is a combined total of 10 daily. The proposed rules would increase the total number of catfish an angler would be allowed to take in a day — to 15 — while limiting the number of blue catfish to five daily. Anglers could still take as many as 10 channel catfish a day.
Kevin Sullivan, a resource scientist with the Conservation Department, said blue catfish are getting special attention because they are often harvested before they have reached their growth potential.
The other proposed regulation would designate a special management area on the Missouri River for flathead catfish. The 50-mile stretch of river, which has not been identified, would set a 30-inch minimum length on flatheads along with a daily possession limit that would be more restrictive than the current number of five per day.
Sullivan said the stretch of river would be somewhere in the middle of Missouri to avoid border conflicts with other states. It would also ideally be in an area where there aren’t any major tributaries so researchers could better evaluate the effects on existing flathead populations.
“We want more potential for bigger catfish, and we want to improve and diversify cat fishing,” Sullivan said.
Mike Leach, a Hartsburg resident who fishes for catfish on the Missouri River, said he’s in favor of the proposal.
“You have to work hard to catch a big fish,” he said. “With regulations on minimum length, there will be more fish to catch.”
Leach said he likes the idea of giving the smaller fish a chance to get bigger. He also said he hopes the department will address related regulations, including the number of hooks that can be attached to trotlines, which are long cords with multiple hooks.
His friend and fishing buddy, Gary Mitchell of Columbia, has taken the opposite side.
Mitchell thinks that rod-and-reel fishermen lose fish to trotline fishermen and that the management area would be an attempt to create a trophy fishing area where rod-and-reel fishermen couldn’t compete with the trotlines.
Mitchell is also skeptical about the Conservation Department’s ability to enforce the new regulations.
“They can’t even enforce the laws they have out there now,” Mitchell said.
Now that the proposal has been drafted, Sullivan said, the next step is to get public input. The department will hold six public meetings across the state.
After the meetings, the committee involved in writing the proposal will reconvene with other representatives from the Conservation Department. Sullivan said the officials will probably go through the proposal objective by objective and discuss the public’s comments. Then, the proposed regulations will be sent to the regulations committee, which would solicit additional public comment before the rules become law.