CATFISH CONSERVATION : The Little Things That Matter

by Ron Presley

Catfish anglers often debate the proper size to harvest a fish. If an angler fishes to put meat on the table, often there is no size limit, unless by state law. Regardless, in my short time of following the catfish culture I do see a growing trend towards protecting the trophy fish. That protection would appear to be a worthy endeavor.

Joey Pounders is a passionate catfish angler that practices catch-photo-release. He is shown here returning a Santee Cooper blue to the water.

Joey Pounders is a passionate catfish angler that practices catch-photo-release. He is shown here returning a Santee Cooper blue to the water.

As the sport has grown over the years more and more states have succumbed to the demand for trophy catfish rules, but even then they vary from state to state. Most catfish anglers support trophy rules and see them as a benefit to the sport.

Many fishing guides and recreational anglers have adopted their own boat rules that apply to fish caught for harvest. B’n’M prostaffer Capt. Brian Barton (256-412-0969) has established a 10-pound rule aboard his boat. Anything greater than 10 pounds is returned to the water.

Barton says a lot of his anglers view catfishing in two ways. “First, they get to go fishing and have the fun associated with it. Second, they can carry plenty of dressed fish home for the dinner table. They look at what they take home as paying for their guide. It is a good trade off and no trophy fish are taken.”

Barton feels the boat limit on eaters can have a big impact as a conservation tool if everyone would abide by it. At the same time he points out the ability of commercial fisherman to take dozens of that size daily.

Barton also worries that netting will return. “We are trying to get catfish some respect,” commented Barton. “There is no limit on catfish in Alabama. We got a lot of little fellows. As catfishing grew in popularity it was like pulling teeth to get the 34-inch limit. I am afraid they will bring back netting.”

Capt. Scott Manning (865-680-7672) is another angler that respects the trophy fish. He also has a boat rule for his anglers. “I allow fish up to 10 pounds to be taken for the dinner table,” reported Manning. “That is, with the exception of flatheads. I never keep flatheads.”

He also makes the point that conservation can benefit from careful handling of the big fish. “I’ve always said dropping a big fish in a boat or keeping it in a livewell can’t be good.”

“We all have been guilty of a big fish slipping out of our hands,” continued Manning. “But, keep in mind the damage that is caused when you drop a 50-pound fish, or any size fish, in the boat or on the concrete during weigh-in. Handle all fish, regardless of size, with care and release as soon as possible.”

“I have a lot of great friends who participate in competitive fishing,” continued Manning. “Most of them take every precaution in caring and handling of fish. When a fish has already gone through the stress of the fight, landing on a boat carpet or in a net, and then being thrown in a live-well, it’s chances of survival have already been greatly diminished.”

With that in mind, Manning has some suggestions for completive anglers. “I advocate that all fish be kept in pre-approved live wells; that all fish be released in the waters from where they were caught; and that big fish (over 50 pounds) be weighed immediately if possible.”

Things like boat limits, trophy rules and proper handling may seem insignificant to some, but often times the little things that anglers do can have a big impact for the fishery. If catfish anglers would adopt the same attitude as Barton, Manning and others, they can make their own contributions to having trophy catfish for the future.

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