Catfish fishing

Catfish fishing is gaining popularity across Texas with some fishermen fishing for harvest, some for trophy and some for both. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is proposing regulation changes to benefit both interests.

Catfish have long been one of Texas’ most popular fisheries. The difference these days is that there are two areas of interest — those who catch the fish for consumption and those sport fishing for trophies.

Whether fishing with trotline, juglines, rod and reel, or all of the above, the interest in catfish fishing has been on a meteoric rise in recent years.

That increased interest and dual personality led Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to renew its look at catfish, resulting in an updated statewide management plan and ultimately a current proposal for new blue and channel catfish regulations.

“In 2015 we put together a catfish management plan statewide that looked at where we are at and where we are going. In there we talked about a few things — ability to fish using multiple gears, simplifying and enhancing regulation, making it easier to follow regulations, and addressed specific management needs,” said John Tibbs, TPWD’s Inland Fisheries catfish coordinator.

Currently there is a statewide regulation for blue and channel catfish consisting of a 12-inch minimum length limit and a 25-fish daily bag limit that combines both species, with some exceptions. The department is proposing to remove the minimum length limit and retain the 25-fish daily bag with no more than 10 being 20 inches or longer.

Of course not every lake in the state can be managed the same because of the quality, or lack of, of the fishery and other factors. For that reason there are some exceptions to the proposed statewide limit.

One would follow the no minimum length limit and 25-fish daily bag limit for blue and channel catfish, but would limit the number of fish 20 inches or larger to five and add an addition of just one over 30 inches. Included in that list are Lakes Palestine, Tawakoni, Bob Sandlin, Ray Hubbard and Richland-Chambers, along with Belton, Conroe, Hubbard Creek, Lavon, Lewisville, Waco and Kirby. All of the lakes are already under special catfish regulations.

Another exemption being proposed is a 14-inch minimum length limit and a 15-fish combined daily bag for blue and channel catfish on Lakes Braunig, Calaveras, Choke Canyon, Fayette County and Proctor.

A final exemption would be for Lakes Livingston and Sam Rayburn where it is proposed the catfish would be under a no minimum length limit with a 50-fish daily bag of which no more than five being 30 inches or longer.

Tibbs said the regulations are designed to address both the interest in consumptive fish and the trophy aspect.

“Looking at the statewide proposal, with only 10 over 20 inches that will provide some enhancement to trophy fishing, but mostly it is providing quality. Few anglers will be impacted because most don’t catch that size, but some will,” he explained.

They are also designed to continue to promote the use of juglines and trotlines as well as rod and reel. Along with the adult interest in fishing with juglines and trotlines, he said those styles lend themselves to family outings as well.

Eliminating the lower side of the length limit ensures fishermen will be able to harvest more fish since most prefer fish under 14 inches for their meat quality. Overharvest of smaller catfish is generally not an issue in Texas.

Managing catfish has its challenges for biologists because the fish have long lives and typically do not become sexually mature until they are about 7 years old.

“What we are doing with these regs is we are injecting the science we have learned the last 20 years to increase the top-sized fish we have and to reduce harvest of mid-sized fish,” Tibbs said.

The trophy portion of management probably attracted the most opinions as the proposal was being shaped, including potentially allowing only one or two fish over 30 inches. However, Tibbs said that is too restrictive and would not impact the fish population. Many guides and individuals are already self-limiting and practice what has become known as CPR — catch, photo and release.

The Parks and Wildlife Commission will vote on the regulations March 25.

A complete look at the proposed freshwater fishing regulations, including proposals on commercial catfish fishing on public waters, is available at https://tpwd.texas.gov/business/feedback/public_comment/. There is also an option for public comment on the site. Additionally fishermen may comment on the proposal by contacting Ken Kurzawski at (512) 389-4591, or by email at ken.kurzawski@tpwd.texas.gov.