Catching the big one includes catfish

February 28, 2014 07:05 am

Until lately, catfish have been a lot like the repeated punch line for the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who always joked about getting no respect. Restaurant chains have created entire menus around the ubiquitous whisker fish, though most of today’s restaurant catfish are farm-raised.

Catfish rank fourth in popularity among American anglers, behind black bass (largemouth and smallmouth), the morone family of bass (white bass, striped bass and their hybrids) and panfish (mostly crappie and bluegill, hereabouts).

The catfish’s stock is higher in Texas, where it typically ranks second (20 percent of all anglers) behind black bass (favored by 50-plus percent of anglers).

The big cat species, blues and flatheads, are the biggest fish that reside in most freshwater rivers and lakes.

You could catch a big catfish just about anywhere, and they’re finally getting some of the respect they deserve. Since the 1980s, Texas has emerged as one of the top bass fishing destination states for anglers hoping to catch that elusive big one. Now, some of the same factors are at play for catfish, particularly blue catfish.

Catch-and-release fishing is the most important of those factors. This time, it’s being pushed by fishermen rather than the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). In fact, the movement at Lake Tawakoni is called CPR (catch, photograph and release).

Catch-and-release fishing for bass resulted from more restrictive bass limits imposed by the state agency and from the catch-and-release mentality displayed at fishing tournaments, starting with Bassmaster tournaments.

A 40-pound blue cat could be the biggest fish you’ve ever caught. Take a photo and put the fish back. Next week, it could be the biggest fish some other lucky angler ever caught.

TPWD age and growth studies indicate a 40-pound fish could be 25 years old.

Sample sizes are small for fish of that size. In order to age a catfish, you have to kill the fish and remove bones called otolith from the skull, then count growth rings on the otolith.

The studies have also shown a great deal of variance in growth rates from one lake to the next and also one fish to the next. The state-record blue catfish, caught from Lake Texoma, weighed 121 { pounds and was about 25 years old.

As with Bassmaster’s catch-and-release tournament foundation, catfish tournaments spread the conservation message while shining a national spotlight on catfishing jewels like lakes Tawakoni and Texoma.

This year at Tawakoni, there’s even the first all-female team Tawakoni guide Teri Littlejohn and Laurie Wigley of Dallas.