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Catfishing takes time, dedication

May 29, 2010
By Garry Brandenburg

MEMORIAL DAY weekend is first and foremost a time to reflect, honor and say thank you to veterans for the peace and freedoms we enjoy in America. We also traditionally remember all our past family members who have gone before us. It is an impressive sight to watch local cemeteries brighten up with flowers and flags. No matter what else you have planned for the weekend, do this first.


If fishing is on your list of things to do this weekend, try your hand at catching a channel catfish. It is considered abundant in most rivers and moderate sized streams. Many artificial lakes and farm ponds have good populations of this fish. Its commercial value is also high with many catfish farmers raising them in specially built ponds. Most commercial operations begin in southern Missouri or other southeastern states.

Article Photos

Big catfish never let one get this close unless there are special circumstances. This big channel catfish is one of many Iowa species of fish on display at Altoona’s Bass Pro Shop aquarium. It is a popular exhibit for families as the kids stand against the glass and look eye-to-eye with passing fish. For area anglers, they have to go fishing the standard way, by shoreline or boat access to area ponds, lakes and rivers. Then the trick is to place the right bait in the right place at the right time to attract and hopefully catch fish. It sure is fun trying. However, it is a whole lot more fun when a fish takes the bait and runs line off your reel so fast it ‘sings’. If you are skillful and lucky, the fish may be brought to the net.

Those eight long whiskers are really sensory devices to help the catfish find its way in dark and turbid waters. The fish has an excellent sense of smell to locate food or other tasty morsels. A large part of the catfish diet is insects and their larvae. Add crayfish, snails, small clams, worms, and other fishes both dead and alive. In the springtime, the catfish stomach may be packed with elm seeds or cotton from cottonwood trees. They will eat wild grapes, weed seeds or other vegetative material that falls onto the water surface. In other words, the catfish is not a picky eater.

Channel catfish can grow to about 25 pounds but that is unusual. Channel cats of 12 to 15 pounds are hard to find but possible. Anglers catching a 5 pound channel cat definitely have a good one. The silver-gray body color is marked with body spots that grow less and less visible as the fish gets older. Young catfish lack body spots even when only 2 to 3 inches long. The Marshall County Conservation Board for many years in the past had floating catfish cages at Green Castle where artificial food was placed. After the fish had been fed for about 75 days, the fishes were released into the lake. Their size had grown from about 3 inches to 9 to 10 inches. How big some of those catfish are now is unknown. There just have to be some really big ones.

Catfish spawn when water temperatures reach about 75 F. They are selective about where to deposit the eggs. Overhanging rock ledges, deeply undercut banks, underwater muskrat runs, or hollow logs will work. The eggs are encased in a gelatinous mass. A female catfish of modest size (4 pounds) will likely produce 3,000 to 8,000 eggs. Once the female has the eggs in place, the male drives her away and he tends to protecting the eggs from other hungry predators until they hatch. Young catfish will travel in schools for several weeks after birth, looking like a swarming mass of black tightly packed fish. A basketball sized mass is common. As the fish get bigger, they gradually disperse.

A big river (Mississippi or Missouri) catfish is the blue catfish. This fish is often times confused with a large channel catfish. Anatomically, the blue catfish has 30 to 35 rays on its anal fin. Channel cats have only 24 to 29 rays. Channel cats have a swim bladder with two lobes. Blues have a bladder with three lobes. One of the largest blue catfish was taken from the lower reaches of the Missouri River and weighed almost 100 pounds.

Other catfish family members include the brown bullhead, black bullhead, yellow bullhead, flathead catfish, stone cat, Slender Madtom, and Tadpole Madtom.


Fishing at Clear Lake in north central Iowa has been hot. Nice sized yellow bass and keeper walleye have been taken. That is what Brandon Stark was after one day. And then his line started 'singing' as it left his reel. This was not another yellow bass. It was a Muskie! After a battle of a full 15 minutes and two close approaches to the boat, it finally broke free.

Later that same day, Stark tried for walleye, caught a few and was having a good day. Then it happened. His line was leaving the reel as if it was going to take it all. This was all taking place on his ultra-light tackle so he couldn't just turn the fish. He had to finesse the critter gradually. He had to start the engine on his boat to catch up to the fish to avoid losing all his line. Luck was with him and in the end, a huge muskellunge was getting closer to the boat. It took three tries to net it, but he got it.

Stark said he never expected to catch a muskie ever. But catching two in one day was extraordinary for this angler on Clear Lake.


Today at 10 a.m., the observation tower at the GrimesFarm will be dedicated in memory of Mildred Grimes. Join lots of other folks for this trek to the hilltop lookout. Hayrack rides will be available for some who do not wish to walk the 1/2 mile one-way route. The GrimesFarm and Conservation Center is one of this areas best natural attractions. Rolling hills, lots of trees, prairie grasses, bike trails and boardwalks are all part of this site along Linn Creek.


"Froggy Friends" is the theme for the preschooler's story hour at the GrimesFarm & Conservation Center on Wednesday.

This activity for little ones and an adult takes place from 10 to 11 a.m. the first and third Wednesday of each month.


The Iowa DNR is again offering Iowa residents a free fishing weekend the first weekend of June. A fishing license is not required, however all size and creel limits apply. If you haven't tried fishing this is your opportunity to give it a go without purchasing a license. And if you get hooked on the activity, you can purchase an annual license for $17.50 and spend many hours enjoying good outdoor leisure time for a small cost.


"It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is from the top." - Anonymous


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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