It is a little known secret that Truman Lake and its tributaries have some of the best catfishing around. If Truman Lake is known for one kind of catfish, it would have to go to the blue cat. The smaller cousin to the blue catfish is the channel catfish and if similar sized fish are caught for both species, they can be tough to tell apart.
Channel catfish are generally slimmer than blue catfish, which have a heavier and more rounded body. Channel catfish are often speckled, and blue catfish are not. Blue catfish tend to take on a bluish or yellowish color while the color of channel catfish typically is darker in the head and tail area and lighter in the middle. Identifying by color can get confusing as male channel cats get darker during the spawn and can be almost black. Both catfish species have a forked tail, but the one best identifier on blue/channel catfish is the anal fin. In channel catfish the fin is rounded, and in blue catfish the fin is straight and is shaped like a barber’s comb (see pictures).
On Truman Lake the most popular fishing method for catfish is putting out trotlines or jug-lines. Those anglers with the time and patience can do well with pole-and-line methods as well.
Since there are a lot of regulations one must be familiar with, let’s look at regulations for the blue catfish.
The daily limit of blue catfish on Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks and their tributaries is 10 blues per day. For this area, there is also a slot limit on blue catfish that means all blues between 26 to 34 inches in length must be returned unharmed to the water immediately. Of the daily limit of 10, each angler can only take two blue catfish over 34 inches.
The length limit is a means of letting more fish grow bigger to a trophy size. And by returning these breeder-sized fish in the 26 to 34 inch length limit, it helps with reproduction and keeps lots of the smaller catfish in the lakes that make the “catching” better for all. In most parts of Missouri the daily limit is five blue catfish.
Channel catfish regulations are simple, with a daily limit of 10 per angler and no size limit. Because each species of catfish has a separate limit, it is important to know the difference so you can stay under the daily limit when catching lots of fish. Also, when fishing in a group, each angler must keep their fish separate and identifiable from the others.
Trotlines and jug-lines are common methods used to catch catfish on Truman Lake. When using these methods each angler is limited to 33 hooks. Trotlines and jug-lines must be plainly labeled with the full name and address, or the conservation number of the angler.
Labeling enables conservation agents to assist anglers in keeping others from running their lines, and to check on who is not attending their lines. Trotlines and anchored jug-lines must be attended at least once every 24 hours. Unattended lines, even if they have no hooks, must be completely removed from the water. Unanchored jug-lines in impounded waters must be attended by the angler’s immediate presence and checked once every hour. Immediate presence means within sight of the location of the equipment in order to personally claim or identify such equipment during inspection by a conservation agent.
Pole and line anglers are limited to three unlabeled poles. And regardless of the method used, a fishing permit or exception to a permit is required.
Location and bait are the two important things to consider when fishing for catfish.
The location should be in areas where catfish get out from their cover and cruise looking for food. It takes some experience to learn good locations, like where creeks come into impoundments and areas where the water flows, bringing food items with it. The best bait for catfish is usually live bait like shad, small sunfish, goldfish, and crawdads. Next in line would be cut bait like chunks of shad or bluegill. Anglers for channel catfish also use baits like worms, chicken livers and even hotdog chunks to attract fish to the hook.
Another thing to keep in mind is the timing of the fishing trips. In tributaries of Truman Lake, a good time is after a flood event as soon as the waters can be safely fished.
A rise in the river brings fish up, especially during the spawn. An old adage for catfishing is that the cats bite on the rise so immediately after a hard rain one can find the fish looking for food items washed in by the run-off. Due to the movements of the fish during the spawn, river fishing normally peaks generally May and June in Missouri.
The last bit of advice would be to learn how to clean and cook your fish if keeping them. There is lots of information for beginners on the internet on how to do this. Missourians value their natural resources like catfish, so as a user of our catfish resource we owe it to the fish to make sure they are not wasted. And properly cooked catfish makes a mighty fine meal.
Phil Needham is a conservation agent with the Missouri Department of Conservation.