"I would like to catch a catfish from the dock," said granddaughter, Robyn Spizzirri. Fortunately, it did not take long for a hungry channel catfish to find her nightcrawler and come to the net, deftly handled by husband Michael.
"Hold it up for a photo," I pleaded. "Not on your life, too slimy for me. Turn it loose Mike," she responded. It was a pretty thing as catfish go, and would have made a great photo and then guest of honor at the evening meal. Not so, it was the catfish's lucky day. After a brief lesson in how to handle a catfish safely, it was returned to the water.
Not every catfish is so lucky, summer is prime time for 'cats' and more often than not, eating-sized fish end up on a dinner plate. Why not, many anglers and non-anglers enjoy their tasty fillets in restaurants and at home. These palate pleasers can be prepared in many ways such as deep fried, pan fried, grilled over charcoal, baked with cream sauce, smoked, or pickled.
Catfish are one of the few species where the eating size begins a one or two pounds and may achieve 80 to 100 pounds. Very few creatures can offer that variety of edible sizes.
For some people, catfish can be a healthy alternative to red meat. According to the website www.nutritiondata.self.com, 5.6 ounces of raw channel catfish has only 151 calories with 40 calories from fat.
Other health benefits are low Sodium, a good source of Thiamin, Potassium, Selenium, and catfish is a very good source of Protein, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and Phosphorus. On the down side, it is high in Cholesterol. Of course, preparation methods can greatly affect the nutrition value of catfish.
Missourians are blessed with sixteen varieties of catfish ("The Fishes of Missouri," William L Flieger, 1997) that include blue, channel, bullheads, flathead, madtoms, and white catfish.
State records for the most common catfish species include; Blue – 130 pounds from the Missouri River, Channel – 34 pounds, 10 ounces from Lake Jacamo, Flathead – 77 pounds, 8 ounces, and White – 7 pounds, 4 ounces from Truman Lake.
While national surveys may not support this supposition, in Missouri it appears catfish follow crappie and black bass in angler preference. Black bass enjoy the benefit of being largely a catch-and-release species while catfish and legal-length crappie are typically sought for their culinary experience.
Catfish happily enjoy most bodies of water that support an adequate food chain, including creeks, rivers, farm ponds, and lakes that are relatively pollution free. Food needs are simple, comprising of a wide variety of live and artificial offerings. They locate their forage by 'smell' with barbels or whiskers and by receptors on their sides.
Live forage includes crustaceans, small frogs, minnows, nightcrawlers, 'perch', and shad. Other meat offerings include chicken entrails, hot dogs, shad sides, and shrimp. Artificial baits include chunk and dough baits made by Berkley, Bill Dance, Magic, Catfish Charlie, Fishbites, Fisher's Choice, Ivory Soap pieces, and dip baits like C.J's, Rusty's, Sure-Shot, and Team Catfish plus others.
Techniques include bank line, jugline, rod and reel from the bank, dock or from a boat, and trotline. During the summer months, flatheads like deep, steep sided areas like bluff walls where they find forage. Successful anglers pursue them with live goldfish or 'perch' on bank lines, trotlines, or jugs.
Blue catfish are susceptible to cut or dead shad year-round, and like deeper coves with soft bottoms. Juglines or rod and reel are excellent techniques early and late in the day.
Channel catfish may be the easiest to catch because they are vulnerable to both artificial and live or dead baits fished on any legal tackle. Look for them in coves around docks early and late in the day.
Catfish are not very likely to win a beauty contest for fish, which is probably the reason they are the piscatorial Rodney Dangerfield and "get no respect" but know this, there is a cadre of loyal anglers who love and pursue them with vigor.