With the sport of catfishing becoming more and more popular throughout Montana, selective harvest becomes vital to sustaining the excellent fishing opportunities that surround us. What makes the sport of catfishing so attractive? Channel cats often produce an enjoyable fight, they’re usually pretty cooperative to bite, and you don’t need a tackle box full of expensive gear to catch them. More importantly, what other of Montana’s favorite fish: walleye, trout, or northern pike, can you consistently produce a ten pound or greater fish, which is truly a trophy channel cat on almost any body of water. Montana boasts at least a dozen different rivers or lakes that can regularly stake claim to cats of this proportion. However, with the popularity increasing, the importance of selective harvest looms large in the management of our fisheries. With proper fishing habits, we can sustain the excellent catfishing so many of us have come to enjoy.
Why is it important to choose selective harvest? Currently, Montana Fish and Game does little to absolutely no stocking of channel catfish. In the past, catfish have been ordered from Oklahoma. However, according to fish and game’s stocking report, no channel catfish have been stocked anywhere in Montana since 2005. At the present time, they are no longer able to transport them over state borders. Montana also has a very liberal limit of 20 catfish per day. Simply put, we are removing more catfish from our rivers and lakes than we are replacing. The catfish that currently inhabit our fisheries are all we have. We’re counting on these fish to continue to spawn and sustain our fisheries. The primary spawning catfish are typically the larger fish. A female catfish, on average, lays 3,000 eggs per pound of body weight. These large catfish aren’t growing overnight either. Montana catfish are a very slow growing fish. Some studies conducted on several of Montana’s rivers concluded that a 28 inch fish would be around 14 years old. If we choose to mismanage our fisheries, it’s going to take far longer to repair them than damage them.
What are some factors to consider when choosing selective harvest? First off, it’s important to gain an understanding of the catfish in the specific body of water you are fishing. Ask yourself a few questions when deciding what catfish to harvest or whether you harvest any at all. Is the catfish population high or low? If there is a high population of catfish, it may actually benefit the fishery to keep some fish. The predator to prey relationship in a body of water has a direct affect on how large fish grow. An over abundance of predators reduces the overall health of the population and stunts the growth of fish due to the lack of forage. What is the cutoff size of fish that should be released? Again, the larger fish are usually going to produce more offspring and better aid in maintaining a fishery. Also, these fish are typically superior in genetics. A person should make it a goal to release the fish above that cutoff size. Are the fish sustaining their population through spawning? For the most part, our rivers have suitable spawning habitat and the catfish are doing very well. However, oftentimes in ponds, catfish lack the proper habitat to spawn and simply reabsorb their eggs. A person should understand each body of water may be different and varying factors may come in to play, while taking into consideration these questions when selecting fish to harvest.
Lastly, make it easy on yourself to choose selective harvest. We all know how much everyone wants to bring home a stringer of fish to show off to our buddies. Instead, make it a point to take a camera along and photograph your fishing success. Montana Catfish Association encourages you to post your pictures on its website forum for all the viewers to see. In doing so, those fish you release will be there for the enjoyment of another angler to catch. Sustaining our fisheries through selective harvest is simple. Do your part to ensure we have the same great opportunity tomorrow that we currently have today. More importantly, lets work to make it better for future catfish anglers. Please support Montana Catfish Association in its goal of educating catfisherman on the importance of selective harvest in preserving our catfishing opportunities.
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