Brian Flowers believes the Missouri River is an underutilized resource for anglers, many of whom have never learned to fish the big river because it requires special equipment and tactics.
Flowers, an outdoor skills specialist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, says many people prefer to drop their lines into smaller rivers, streams and lakes. But because of the rising popularity of catfish fishing, that trend may be changing. A proposal by the department would encourage an increase in larger catfish in the Missouri River, while Flowers is offering anglers a chance to learn the skills needed to fish the Missouri.
The second annual Missouri River Catfish 101, which began Thursday, is aimed at people from 10 to 65 years of age. Last year, the three-day course drew about a dozen students. Anglers with the ability and resources are attracted to the Missouri River, Flowers said, because it’s “a large body of water that most of the time you have all to yourself and the potential for really big fish.”
“This course is a way for people to learn about the basics as well as the advanced fishing tactics of catfishing on the Missouri River,” he said.
Students learn specifics of Missouri River fishing
The course begins in the classroom where students learn how to identify different species of fish, as well as their habitats and the best way to catch them. Friday night and Saturday morning, students were able to test their new skills on a stretch of the Missouri River near Huntsdale. Students were taught how to set trotlines, among other skills. New to this year’s class was a section on rod and reel fishing.
“We provide all the equipment and guides to help the students,” Flowers said. “Fishing in the Missouri River requires heavier equipment such as bigger rods and reels, stronger line, hooks, swivels and heavier sinkers. Catfish weighing over 40 pounds are not uncommon.”
To ensure a healthy supply of bigger catfish in the river, new regulations were drafted last year that would establish a 50-mile long special-management, or “trophy” area between Glasgow and Jefferson City. A 30-inch minimum on flathead catfish would be imposed on that stretch of the river. The new rule would also lower the daily limit on blue catfish from 10 to five.
The Conservation Department’s Quality Catfish Committee drafted a new proposal that incorporated comments from six public hearings. That draft was approved by division administrators earlier this year. Among the concerns voiced by anglers at the hearings was differentiating between blue and channel catfish.
The channel catfish
The channel catfish is a slender fish with a deeply forked tail. Adult channel catfish are 12 to 32 inches long and weigh anywhere from a half-pound to 15 pounds. Blue catfish can grow to 20 to 44 inches long and can weigh as much as 40 pounds. The blue catfish’s outer anal fin is also straight instead of curved like the channel catfish. Young channel catfish have spots that disappear with age so they are fairly easy to distinguish from the blue catfish that does not have spots.
The committee is proposing to pass out rulers with information on them to help anglers understand the difference between the two species of catfish.
Some public comments expressed concern that a 50-mile reach was too short. The speed of today’s boating rigs would make enforcement too difficult, some anglers said, so the committee is recommending that the reach between Glasgow and Jefferson City be increased to 80 miles. There was also strong interest in harvesting smaller flatheads, so the committee is planning to allow anglers to harvest one flathead catfish less than 30 inches long and one flathead catfish 30 inches or longer daily.
Vince Travnichek, resource scientist with the Conservation Department, said the Missouri River portion of the new catfish management plan will be formally proposed to the department’s regulations committee early next year. If the committee approves the plan, the public will have another chance to comment before the proposal becomes law. Final regulations for fishing catfish on the Missouri River could be implemented around March 2006.
For more information about Missouri River Catfish 101, call the Department of Conservation’s regional office at 573-882-8388 or go to www.conservation.state.mo.us