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12 Best States for Monster Catfish

12 Best States for Monster Catfish

There are thousands of lakes and rivers in the U.S. that produce catfish in extraordinary numbers and sizes. Creating a list of the best catfish states is like trying to pick America's best restaurants. It's darn near impossible, and many excellent places would surely be left out.

We're going to give it a try, nevertheless. And we're not just going to pick those states where you can catch lots of catfish. Most states fit that mold. We're going to choose the 12 best states for catching trophy catfishheavyweight blues, channel cats and flatheads that can break rods, fry drags and snap fishing line like sewing thread. If you play your cards right if you use the right tackle and bait in the right spot at the right time the whiskered warriors you catch in the waters of these states could very easily weigh 30 to 100 pounds...or more.

Some states serve up superb fishing for monster channel cats sleek, muscular giants with heads the size of boulders. Others are best known for producing gigantic blue catfish, the biggest members of North America's catfish clan, which are known to exceed 5 feet and 200 pounds! Still others are flathead producers, churning out exceptional numbers of these beastly behemoths, some of which have mouths big enough to swallow basketballs. The very best states provide exceptional fishing for all three species.

All that's left for you to do is pick a hotspot, make a plan, get there and go catfishing. Monster catfish await you. May luck be on your side.


Alabama is currently one of the hottest states for trophy catfish, particularly monster blues, many of which are being caught in lakes Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick on the Tennessee River. Guides like Mike Mitchell (right) of Southern Cats Guide Service, are helping clients catch numerous 80-pound-plus fish, like this 102-pounder landed by Joe Ludtke (left) in 2010.


Arkansas waters have produced some of the biggest cats ever seen, including this 116-3/4-pound former world record blue, a 139-pound flathead (caught on a snagline) and channel cats to 51 pounds. Top trophy waters include the Mississippi, White, St. Francis, Arkansas and Little rivers and lakes Ouachita, Millwood, Conway and White Oak.


California originally had no native blue or channel catfish, but transplants from other states flourished and grew to huge sizes. Now it's common to see channel cats like this 38-pounder, especially in southern trout-stocked lakes like Irvine, which produced a rare 50-pounder. Blues grow huge, too. San Vicente Reservoir produced the 113-pound state record.


The Louisiana legislature named Lake Des Allemandes 'The Catfish Capital of the Universe. ' Like many Bayou State waters, it harbors loads of big channel, blue and flathead catfish. But, currently, the Louisiana portion of the Mississippi River is in the big-fish limelight, thanks to this 114-pound state-record blue cat caught in March by 12-year-old Lawson Boyte of Oak Grove.


Missouri's half a million catfish anglers have no problem finding waters where big whiskerfish abound. The Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Louis harbors lots of giants like this 64-pound blue. But Show-Me State trophy hotspots number in the scores, including the Mississippi, Grand and Osage rivers and lakes Truman and Montrose.

North Dakota

North Dakota often gets overlooked when trophy cat states are mentioned, but the monster channel cats caught there make it a must-visit locale. They often exceed 30 pounds, like this heavyweight specimen caught by guide Brad Durick and his son Braden on the Red River, perhaps the top trophy channel cat fishery in the U.S.


Ohio anglers like Robby Robinson, pictured here with a 62-pound Buckeye State flathead, have been hush-hush about their state's great catfishing. But word is out that Ohio is a top destination for monster cats. Flatheads, channel cats and blues all grow big in the Ohio River. Other hotspots include Lake Erie (channels and blues); Hoover Reservoir (channel cats) and Muskingum and Maumee rivers (flatheads).


Oklahoma is best known for big flatheads, like this one caught by Haydn and Owen Williams of Grove. During the past decade, however, records for all major catfish species have been broken. Lake Texoma produced a 98-pound record blue, Taft Lake a 35-pound, 15-ounce channel cat, and El Reno City Reservoir a 78.5-pound flathead. It's anyone's guess where the next monster will surface.

South Carolina

South Carolina encompasses numerous trophy catfish waters, but none better known than the Santee-Cooper lakes — Marion and Moultrie — which produced the 58-pound, world-record channel cat and a former record 109-pound blue. Some say the lakes are past their prime, but they still churn out lots of mega-cats, including flatheads like this big-mouthed Moultrie monster.


Tennessee anglers have been landing astounding numbers of huge blue cats in recent years, like this 83-pound Mississippi River monster Owen Shroeder (left) caught while fishing with guide James Patterson. The Mississippi, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers all have produced triple-digit-weight rod-and-reel fish, with Tennessee River impoundments like Fort Loudoun, Watts Bar, Nickajack and Chickamauga especially hot right now.


Texas is home to 1 million catfish anglers. Luckily for them, trophy waters abound. Big channel cat producers include the Brazos and Colorado rivers and Lake Amistad. Lakes Livingston, Tawakoni and Palestine are blue-ribbon flathead waters. Five reservoirs have produced 80-pound-plus blues: Conroe, Sam Rayburn, Lake Fork, Gibbons Creek and Texoma, where guide Cody Mullennix (left) caught this 121.5-pound state record.


Virginia showed up on catfish anglers' radar in 2011 when this 143-pound, world-record blue was caught in Buggs Island Lake. Many thought the James River, which produces hundreds of 30- to 60-pound blues annually, might give up such a fish. Lake Gaston and the Potomac River are blues hotspots, too. For 20-pound-plus channel cats, the Blackwater and Pamunkey rivers are tops.

Photo by Ryan Gilligan

About the Author

With a resume listing more than 3,800 magazine, newspaper and website articles about fishing, hunting, wildlife and conservation, Keith "Catfish" Sutton of Alexander, Ark., has established a reputation as one of the country's best-known outdoor writers. In 2012, he was enshrined in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Communicator. The 12 books he's written are available through his website.

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