As a sport fish catfish may not have the cachet of bass or trout, but as table fare they're unrivaled. It doesn't matter whether you go after blues, channel cats, flatheads or bullheads; Kansas has delicious whiskerfish aplenty.
Despite an ability to grow to immense size and a willingness to clamp down on a variety of baits, catfish are accorded respect by too few anglers. Sure, catching a 2-pound bass is fun, but catching a 20-pound catfish is even more fun in the opinion of some anglers, including myself. In many states, including Kansas, catching a 20-pounder isn't all that difficult.
A channel cat is considered to be one of the tastiest fish around. Taken by Joe Zentner at Tuttle Creek Reservoir.
Furthermore, a tasty bonus comes with this fishing action: for every monster catfish that swims in state waters, many smaller cats, each one just the right size as the main ingredient for a fish fry, are eager to take the bait. No matter how you cut it: big fish or small, river, lake or pond, a catfish angler can't go wrong.
What's in a name? Catfish are a diverse group. Named for their prominently displayed “barbells”—slender, whisker like sensory organs located on the head — the creatures swim in watery environments of many kinds, with species found on every continent except Antarctica. Catfish have no scales but possess a strong, hollow ray in their dorsal and pectoral fins, through which a stinging substance can be delivered when the fish is irritated.
The channel cat is among the most sought after sportfish in Kansas, second only to black bass as a targeted species. Rick Barnow took the Kansas record channel catfish weighing 36.5 pounds with a rod and reel using fish entrails as bait from a mine pond in Cherokee County on June 3, 2003. Robert Stanley from Olathe pulled the state record blue catfish, weighing 102.8 pounds, from the Missouri River on August 11, 2012. He used a rod and reel with cut bait.
The record flathead catfish, weighing 123 pounds, was taken by Ken Paulie from Caney when fishing the Elk City Reservoir using a rod and reel with a jig and minnow on May 14, 1998. David Tremain took the record bullhead, weighing 7.33 pounds, with a rod and reel using a crayfish as bait from a Montgomery County farm pond on May 15, 1985.
A 102 pound state record blue catfish caught and released into the Missouri River Kansas side by Rob Stanley of Olathe. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks certified.
The diet of catfish is markedly varied, consisting of insects, small fish, frogs and freshwater mollusks, as well as seeds carried in water. Although trolling minnow-imitation lures does occasionally result in catfish being caught, most whiskerfish are taken on dead or live bait of one kind or another. Chicken livers, shrimp, large worms, fish belly strips and stink baits are all used to attract catfish.
When boat fishing, try and anchor above a known catfish hot spot. The creatures congregate around underwater mounds, so cast and retrieve slowly. Your rod tip should bend as you drag bait up the side of a mound. When the tip straightens, you are, more than likely, on the ridge of a mound. Prepare for a strike as you slowly work your bait down the side. Keep in mind: catfish are slow eaters, so be patient before setting the hook.
Catching Catfish from Shore
One doesn't need a boat to enjoy great catfishing. In many parts of the U.S., including Kansas, many whiskerfish fans pursue their quarry from shore. If you're among them, the following tips may help you increase your catch.
Select bank-fishing sites near prime catfish holding areas — perhaps a clearing near a river's outside bend, a spot beside a pond levee or a gravel bar adjacent to a deep hole in a stream. Ideal fishing sites have brush-free banks that facilitate casting.
When bank fishing on a river, you can fish different locations simply by letting your bait drift in the current beneath a bobber. This activity allows bait to move naturally downstream, flowing through rapids and settling enticingly in or near catfish holes.
No matter where you bank fish, don't drop your guard when landing a big cat. A long-handled net is best for catching large fish; still, there are times when beaching a fish may be necessary. If you anticipate this possibility, keep your drag set and pull the catfish up on land before removing the hook.
Remember: Flathead cats prefer live bait, whether small bream, shiners or shad. Blue catfish favor live and cut shad. Channel cats will often bite on most anything, live or dead, organic or not. Perhaps the best overall time to fish for catfish is from sunset to midnight.
Catching catfish is fun, but it takes a back seat to sinking your teeth into a golden fillet that has been cooked to perfection. Now that you've gone catfishing and had a profitable venture, here are some suggestions on what to do with your fishy treasure.
Caring For Your Catch
To store in the freezer, follow these guidelines.
- Remove skin from the catfish fillet with a super-sharp knife.
- Always cut out the bones before packing away.
- Vacuum sealing is an ideal way to store and freeze your catfish catch. If you can't afford vacuum bags or lack the time, cut the fillet into meal-sized portions.
- Wipe away any excess water or blood with a paper towel, then individually wrap fillets in plastic, squeezing air out before sealing completely.
- Once frozen, allow a day to thaw in the refrigerator.
A person can never go wrong with an old favorite, Kaw River Pan-Fried Catfish. For it you need
- Two pounds catfish fillets
- One third cup flour
- One and a half teaspoons salt
- One teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Two slightly beaten eggs
- One cup cornmeal
- Cooking oil for frying together with lemon wedges.
Rinse fish under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Mix the flour with salt and pepper, then spread mixture on wax paper. Put eggs in a shallow bowl and the cornmeal on another piece of wax paper. Dust each fillet in the seasoned flour and shake off excess. Dip a fillet into the egg and let excess run off. Then dip fillets in the cornmeal before warming a good-size platter in the oven.
In a large skillet, heat one-quarter inch of cooking oil. When you feel heat rising from the oil, put the fish in and brown on each side. Don't crowd the skillet; do only a few fillets at a time. Place on a paper towel to drain, then transfer to the platter and continue frying fillets. Serve with lemon wedges.
For Blackened Catfish with Lemon Butter (recipe best prepared outdoors), you need four catfish fillets, olive oil, a third of a pound of bacon and two teaspoons each of garlic powder, thyme, white pepper, black pepper, cayenne pepper, lemon pepper, chili powder, crushed rosemary and crushed fennel seed. You also need one-teaspoon Allspice, one-teaspoon oregano, and half a teaspoon salt.
Fry the bacon and retain the grease. Combine all dry ingredients, rub fillets with olive oil, then coat with spices. Drop in hot bacon grease and cook until you can easily stick a fork through the fillets. Serve with lemon butter, consisting of one fourth cup melted butter, a teaspoon lemon juice, half a teaspoon Tabasco sauce and sliced green onions.
Needed for a delicious Catfish Salad are a pound of cooked fillets, cut into bite-size portions. Also, two medium-size tomatoes, coarsely chopped; one cubed avocado; one-third cup chopped green onions; one-fourth cup sliced green olives; one-half cup Classic White Wine Vinaigrette with Chardonnay; and seven cups torn lettuce.
In a bowl, combine fish, tomatoes, onions and olives. Add Vinaigrette with Chardonnay and toss. Chill for one hour. Remove from refrigerator and serve, mixed well with the lettuce.
As table fare, catfish are unrivaled. Bodies of water all around Kansas are filled with good-size catfish. The creatures may not be all that appetizing to look at, but try telling your full stomach that after eating a mess of what many people consider the best tasting fish around. Enjoy.