2018 Great Plains Catfish Forecast

2018 Great Plains Catfish Forecast
Flathead catfish are protected at Branched Oak Lake in Nebraska. Anglers must immediately release all flatheads they catch. Photo By Ron Sinfelt

Great Plains Catfish Feature
Flathead catfish are protected at Branched Oak Lake in Nebraska. Anglers must immediately release all flatheads they catch. Photo By Ron Sinfelt

Diehard catfish anglers fish all year long and enjoy good success even through wintertime in some locations. But the majority of anglers wait until the warmer months to think about fishing for catfish.

With summertime just around the corner, it's time catfishing fans in the Great Plains States think again about where their best fishing is going to take place. We've got some ideas.


Get a group of anglers together, ask them for the best locations for catching for a certain species of fish, and the question is likely to start a small war. Anglers' opinions and objectives are so diverse in the Sunflower State no matter the species they chase, great fishing destinations for one person might be just mediocre sites to another. But Kansas catfish anglers won't argue that the Kansas River is one of the top catfish fishing spots in the state, especially for trophy-class fish. It has given up countless quality fish, and it's home to the three primary species of catfish commonly sought by anglers .

Catfish are abundant all over Kansas, so it is not surprising to find them in the "Kaw," as it is often called, but finding fish that tip the scales over 20 pounds is not as easy as finding a mess of frying-sized fish. The Kaw holds plenty of channel cats heavier than 20 pounds and catching one in the 30-pound class would not surprise many local anglers.

Speaking of huge, there are also some massive flathead and blue catfish in the river. Both species are often caught weighing more than 50 pounds, and fish approaching, or even exceeding, 100 pounds are certainly possible. You'll need to navigate the big river's sand bars, drift wood and other obstacles to get to the holes where the big cats live, so put safety on the water first. Always wear a PFD when boating on the Kansas River.

Hillsdale Reservoir, located about 30 miles southwest of Kansas City on Big Bull Creek, holds good numbers of channel cats and is a popular fishing site for anglers from the city. Weekdays are generally less crowded than weekends, and, of course, many anglers target catfish late in the day or at night. Angling and recreational lake traffic typically begins calming down as it nears dusk. 

Hillsdale holds plenty of channel cats up to 10 pounds. Larger fish are possible but not caught as frequently. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism typically rates Hillsdale's channel-cat fishery as good to excellent. Local anglers also catch flathead catfish, but they are present in much lower numbers and are more difficult to locate and catch.

Hillsdale is a flood-control reservoir with a maximum depth of 57 feet and stretches across about 4,500 acres. Look for fish in the bottom of deep holes, along ledges where the depth changes rapidly, and near any submerged wood. Cats often stay in deep water during the day but move shallow late in the evening to feed.


Finding a good place to catch catfish in Nebraska isn't hard. Ponds, lakes and rivers are plentiful, and catching a string of cats for a fish fry is pretty easy.

But Branched Oak Lake, located about 25 miles north of Lincoln, ranks at or near the top of many catfish anglers in the Cornhusker State. Channel catfish are the most abundant in the 1,800-acre reservoir, but anglers also hook into large blue cats and flathead catfish. 

Channel catfish are present in a wide size distribution in the 1,800-acre reservoir, with very good numbers of fish longer than 16 inches. Channel cats longer than 20 inches are not uncommon, larger individuals are certainly possible, and anglers catch some quality-sized blue and flathead catfish regularly. Flathead catfish are protected at Branched Oak, so anglers must immediately release all flatheads they catch. Boaters are supported with nine ramps and a marina. Rental boats are available at the marina.

[bcplayer list_id=5781356163001]

 Click the video link above to get great catfishing tips for your future trip.

Sutherland Reservoir is a great option for anglers looking to have a lot of fun and perhaps catch plenty of "fiddlers" for a fish fry or to stock the freezer. Trophy cats are rare here, but a very good population of channel catfish makes up in numbers what you don't catch in weight. It's a great place for catching plenty of fish up to about 3 pounds, but a "kicker" fish, several pounds heavier, pops up from time to time. The latest gill net sampling by the state fisheries department revealed excellent numbers of channel cats up to 16 inches long, with plenty more longer than 16 inches. 

Another plus is the warm water discharge, which extends the catfish bite outside the seasonal parameters of many other area lakes.

Sutherland Reservoir also acts as a cooling reservoir for a local power plant. It is located off Interstate 80 in Lincoln County and covers more than 3,000 acres. Three boat ramps, two boat docks and a fish-cleaning station are located at the inlet. A pier accessible to disabled anglers is onsite at Sutherland Reservoir State Recreation Area.


North Dakota's Red River is acclaimed to be one of the best channel catfish rivers in the country and with good reason. It is home to a vast channel catfish population that consistently produces large, quality-sized catfish and always holds the potential for anglers to catch a trophy.

Red River channel cats tend to run small where it first forms the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. Anglers might hook into a double-digit channel cat here, too, but move a few miles downstream (north) and the size of the cats grows to more than 15 pounds. By the time the river reaches close to the  Manitoba border, it is very common to catch channel catfish heavier than 20 pounds.

Like many other rivers, the Red River holds a variety of suitable catfish habitat as it weaves its path toward Canada. Look for holes, depressions, bottom irregularities, log jams and other "structure" that attracts catfish. Fishing in the tailwaters, downstream from dams along its course, is also very productive. Some anglers like to locate a likely spot, anchor and fish on the bottom, use "down rods" or fish a tight line when fishing from the bank. Boaters also do very well drifting bait rigged to a leader behind a swivel and slip sinker.

In the western part of the state, Nebraska anglers often look to the Missouri River system for catfish. By and large, catfish of the Missouri River are a very underutilized resource, according to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. The Missouri is home to a very good population of channel catfish and it seems anglers are missing out. Recent results from fishing tournaments, coupled with fisheries department samplings and angler creel reports, show plenty of channel cats throughout the river from Williston to Lake Oahe. The best fishing starts about now and continues until September and often into October. Shoreline fishing is available at countless places along the river, and success is usually quite high. No doubt, boat fishing provides much greater opportunities than being stationary on the bank. 

One site on the Missouri River that stands out is the Garrison Dam tailrace. Fisheries supervisor Dave Fryda of the NDGFD says the tailrace produces a very high catch rate of channel cats up to about 3 pounds or so. Trophy-sized cats are rare, but for numbers of fish, the tailrace is an awesome site. Its year-round cold-water releases also benefit the eating quality of the local catfish. 



Lewis and Clark Lake often is the first destination that pops up in conversations about catfishing in South Dakota. The lake holds abundant numbers of channel catfish, and they grow very fast, according to research by fishery personnel from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. 

Growth rates for channel catfish at Lewis and Clark, located on the Missouri River in far southeast South Dakota, are much better than many other area lakes both on and off the river system. Fish up to 30 inches have been sampled by the SDGF. Size distribution is very good, and all indications point to the fishery being stable and similar to long-term averages. Gill-net sampling on the lake has resulted in about 27 percent of the catch being channel catfish. The lake's catfish population also includes flatheads. 

2018 GP Catfish Forecast GraphicHike upstream a couple hundred miles to Lake Oahe near Okobojo and you'll be sure to get in an argument if you think any other lake on the Great Plains fishes better for channel cats than does Oahe. Very good numbers of catfish and good distribution of size in the population means fishing opportunities on Oahe are almost endless. Catching coolers full of eating-sized cats for the freezer is a lot of fun, but anglers looking for excitement also discover Oahe holds decent numbers of larger catfish, too. Fisheries surveys suggest as much as 40 percent of an angler's catch is likely to be comprised of channel catfish. This figure is up from the past, so it may be a great indicator of an improving fishery. Furthermore, fisheries research has confirmed natural reproduction of channel cats takes place in the lake. Fish up to 29 inches long have been observed during routine sampling, and anglers have reported frequent catches of quality-sized fish.

Good shoreline fishing for catfish at Lake Oahe is complemented by even greater opportunities fishing from a boat. The good thing about the lake is the channel-cat population appears to be distributed fairly equal throughout the lake. A recent creel report on the lake recorded anglers' catches in the lower, middle and upper sections of Oahe. Results were surprisingly similar throughout the three sections. Fisheries officials reported anglers took home in the study period 5,308 channel catfish in the middle section, 4,022 channel cats in the lower end and 3,386 channel cats in the upper reach.


The Great Plains offers anglers tremendous opportunity for many different species including some awesome catfish populations supported by hundreds of fine catfish angling destinations across the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas. Early summer is the perfect time to get out on the water, fill the cooler with catfish for a fish fry, and maybe hook into the fish of a lifetime! 

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