Catfish and Catfishing Growing Bigger All the Time

Brittany Kozak's Big Catfish
Brittany Kozak shows off a 42-pound blue cat taken last weekend. (Photo: Richard Simms)

There was a day when catfish were considered “trash fish.” In fact some anglers still consider them such. However lots of anglers are changing their tune. In fact, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nationally there are more catfishermen than there are crappie fishermen.

According to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, the most popular fish species among the nation’s 27 million freshwater fishermen was black bass (10.6 million anglers). Panfish (bluegill & other sunfish) were sought by 7.3 million anglers. Trout fishing attracted 7.2 million anglers. Next came catfish that attracted 7.0 million, followed by crappie anglers (6.1 million).

Tennessee wildlife officials helped, when in 2003, they passed a new “trophy regulation.” Fishermen, both sport fishermen and commercial fishermen, are only allowed to keep one catfish per day that is more than 34-inches long.

The author shows off a 57-pound blue cat taken in March below Chickamauga Dam. (Photo: Sam Simons)
The author shows off a 57-pound blue cat taken in March below Chickamauga Dam. (Photo: Sam Simons)

Of course the regulation was intended to increase the number of “trophy” catfish in Tennessee. However another reason regulators passed the new law was due to some commercial fishermen capturing exceptionally large catfish from Tennessee waters and then hauling them, alive, to other states and selling them to operators of pay lakes.

Commercial fishermen have made legislative efforts to repeal the 34-inch rule but so far, have failed.

Regardless of the commercial value, more and more sport fishermen are jumping on the catfish bandwagon because (A) they are plentiful, and (B) they grow HUGE. Many anglers have never even seen a 10 pound catfish. However the hardcore catfishermen who specifically target trophy cats don’t normally get real excited until they break the 50-pound barrier. Eighty and 90 pound catfish are not unheard of every hardcore catman’s dream is to break the epic 100-pound barrier.

The Tennessee state record blue catfish (on rod & reel) weighed 112 pounds. The state record blue cat caught with commercial gear (a gill net) weighed 130 pounds.

There are three species of catfish in area waters — channel catfish, blue catfish and flathead. Blue catfish are the most prevalent, and generally grow the largest, although flatheads frequently exceed the 50-pound mark.

Clint Bailey, mwith his Dad Dwayne looking on, shows off a solid 20-pound blue cat. (Photo: Richard Simms)
Clint Bailey, with his Dad Dwayne looking on, shows off a solid 20-pound blue cat. (Photo: Richard Simms)

Most big cat anglers prefer what they call “cut bait,” preferably skipjack cut into large chunks. However chicken liver is one of the most well-known baits for smaller “eating-sized” catfish. Many anglers in recent years have discovered that raw chicken breast works just as well as liver, plus it is much cleaner and easier to keep on the hook.

Disclaimer time, in addition to my work as a journalist, I am also a part-time fishing guide. When I began the business in 2006 I told folks I would fish for anything, and I still will (at least in certain fishing “seasons”). However it didn’t take long for me to figure out that catfish were my bread & butter. They are usually willing participants in my business and it doesn’t take too many 5-10 pound cats (our average blue cat) to make folks very happy. Tag a periodic “trophy cat,” and it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll be coming back for more.

Here are a few videos of some happy catfishermen.

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Richard Simms is a professional journalist and fishing guide in Chattanooga. (See He is also a former wildlife officer for TWRA, a book author and a self-proclaimed "River Rat" with a sincere desire for spreading the message about our bountiful natural resources and the people charged with using, or protecting them.


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