There's nothing like spending a lazy summer day sitting on a bank or in a boat fishing for catfish. A man can get lost in his thoughts while keeping a watch over his fishing poles. When the line starts moving off in a slow steady fashion you gently pick up your rod and reel and as the line tightens you set the hook. That's when the fight is on and the fun begins.
The majority of my catfishing experience has been in small farm ponds fishing for channel cats. But I have also fished the reservoirs like Lake of the Ozarks, and even had the pleasure of angling for channels, blues and flatheads on the mighty Mississippi River. No matter what your favored method of fishing is, Missouri offers excellent catfishing opportunities statewide for all three of the major species of catfish in the Show-Me State. Those three species are the channel, flathead and blue catfish.
Did you know that channel catfish, also known as fiddlers and spotted cats, were designated as Missouri's official State Fish back in 1997? That just goes to show you how popular the channel cat is with Missouri anglers. It may be the most popular because they are the most widespread and easiest to catch of the three major catfish species.
Channel catfish can commonly be caught anywhere from the 1-foot to just under 3-foot size and have weights of anywhere from 1 to 15 pounds. But channels can sometimes reach weights of 40-plus pounds! Channel catfish can be found statewide but are less abundant in the clear flowing rivers of the Ozarks. Channel cats eat both animal and plant matter and often are caught on just about anything from commercial and homemade stinky dough baits, hotdog chunks, chicken livers, crawdads, minnows and nightcrawlers. I've caught channel cats on all of the above, but my favorite baits are nightcrawlers and chicken livers. These fish can be caught at just about anytime of day, with evening hours being best.
Busch Wildlife Area
I chose several of the lakes at Busch Wildlife Area in St. Charles County as a place to try for some excellent channel catfishing because anglers can be successful at fishing from the bank. I grew up fishing for catfish while sitting on the bank of a small lake or farm pond and have many fond memories of that style of fishing. To this day, if I have a chance sit on a grassy bank and drop a wad of chicken livers into a farm pond I'm going to do it.
This area has 28 different fishing lakes to choose from, but some are really good for catching channel catfish. If you are looking for quantity of fish, then you should try Lake No. 7 where the Missouri Department of Conservation stocks 1-pound fish April thru September. But if you are looking for quality channel cats, say fish that consistently reach 10-plus pounds, then you should try lakes No. 33 or No. 35. Lake No. 38 also has larger catfish, but not as many as the previously mentioned lakes do.
Click the video link above to get great catfishing tips for your future trip.
The Busch Wildlife Area has 95 boats and electric trolling motors available for anglers to rent on a first come, first served basis. No private boats are allowed. Lake No. 33 has a handicapped accessible fishing dock, but good bank fishing can be had at all the lakes.
No special fishing equipment is necessary for catching a mess of channel cats. Kids and adults can both be successful with just a basic spincast reel and some bait. I would suggest 8- to 10-pound-test line as a minimum in case you tangle with fish at the top of the weight range.
For more information, area fishing regulations and limits at Busch Wildlife Area, contact the MDC at (636) 441-4554.
Flathead catfish are easily recognizable by their wide, flat heads, thus the name. They are mainly night feeders, but can be caught in the daytime, if you put a bait in front of them. Flatheads love cover. Look for them around rip rap, boulders, logs and log jams. In large lakes you can find them hanging on submerged islands, humps and creek channels near deep water. You also can find them in slow-moving rivers and streams.
Flathead catfish love crawdads and live bait fish, such as bluegill and sunfish. Flathead fishermen often use large minnows and goldfish as bait. The key to flathead bait is it needs to be alive.
Flatheads can grow up to nearly 4 feet long and can weigh up to 45 pounds. If you're fishing for flatheads you are going to need a stiff rod with a sensitive tip and heavy line to fight the fish out of the cover they are often found in.
This 1,600-acre lake located 12 miles west of Clinton is notably one of the best bodies of water to catch big flathead catfish in Missouri. This lake still holds the state record pole-and-line catch for a flathead catfish at 77 pounds 8 ounces!
Boats are allowed at Montrose Lake, but they must have a motor no larger than 10 horse power and while boating there you must keep your boat at a "no-wake" speed.
Boat fishing may be your best bet to find the voracious flathead catfish at this body of water. Look for the fish to be near submerged creek channels or bends in these channels. You may find even more concentrated numbers of flatheads in the old creek channels that swing next to underwater points.
Flathead catfishing often requires a lot of patience for anglers with a rod and reel. That's why many fishermen set trotlines out to catch them. No more than 33 hooks may be used on a trotline here and the hooks must be staged at least 2 feet apart. You must tend to your trotlines at least once every 24 hours.
Whether you are setting trotlines or using a rod and reel, Montrose Lake is perhaps the premier body of water to catch big flatheads. For more detailed information about fishing at Montrose Lake, contact the MDC at (660) 693-4666 or (660) 885-6981.
Blue catfish are the biggest catfish to swim Missouri waters. These colossal catfish commonly reach weights up to 40 pounds, with some reaching sizes of 80 to 100 pounds!
Big blue cats love big waters and that's where you'll mostly find them. These big cats are meat eaters and feed off the bottom. They prefer swift chutes and deep pools with a noticeable current.
Fishing for big blues has become widely and wildly popular in the Show Me State. When I was a young man I never heard of a catfishing guide, but nowadays there are professional catfish anglers and guides. We picked the brains of two of Missouri's most well-known catfishing guides to give us tips on how to fish for blue cats.
Mississippi and Missouri Rivers
Captain Ryan Casey operates the Show Me Catfishing Trophy Guide Service near St. Louis. For the past 10 years, he and his crew have fished both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers for trophy blue catfish. He guides anglers to blue cats on the Mississippi River from just above the Alton Dam near Grafton down to the bootheel of Missouri. On the Missouri River he hunts for the big cats at the confluence of the big rivers all they way up to the town of Washington.
"June is one of the best months to catch really big blue cats in these rivers," Capt. Casey said. "The big females are coming off the nest and start heavily feeding."
According to Capt. Casey, one very effective method for catching blues is to drift fish at this time of year. His personal best blue catfish was a 95-pounder, but he has two clients who landed 105-pound behemoths and one who reeled in a 103-pound blue.
"We will keep our rods behind the boat in rod holders in the dead stick position and walk the bait behind the boat," Casey said. "The bait will get dragged up and over ledges and structure and it's a great way to cover a lot of water and catch a lot of fish."
Another great tip Captain Casey shared is targeting barges that have been moored for a long period of time.
"You know what barges have been there for awhile by the amount of debris that has piled up on them," Casey said.
Once you locate such a barge you can position your boat and firmly anchor it in front of the barge and throw your bait back toward the debris accumulated at the barge. This is a good place to catch both blue catfish and flatheads.
Capt. Casey recommends that novice boaters do not attempt to navigate either of these big rivers and that you have a very reliable motor that will start up on the first try.
Fresh cut bait like shad, mooneyes and skipjack are best. Don't use frozen bait.
If you want to find out more about Show Me Catfishing Trophy Guide Service visit their website at showmecatfishing.com or call Capt. Ryan Casey at (314) 477-8355.
Lake of the Ozarks
Captain Chris Jones operates the Catfish Pursuit Guide Service at Lake of the Ozarks. He guides clients to giant blues from Sunrise Beach to Warsaw on the grandaddy of all lakes in Missouri.
"Blues love edges," Capt. Jones said. "I fish mostly open water and look for channel holes with gradual drops in the lower and upper part of the holes."
According to Capt. Jones each hole has a ledge coming up out of it. That's where you find a lot of fish.
"The bigger the bait the better — and it must be fresh," Capt. Jones said. He catches his bait right out of the lake with a throw net. He said that 10-inch shad are ideal and he cuts those baitfish in half to use.
Capt. Jones primarily fishes off of the bottom using a set up, called a Santee rig. Some of his best areas on the lake for big blues are between the 35 and 55 mile markers.
Capt. Jones has been guiding for big blues at Lake of the Ozarks since 2011 and has great ratings on his Catfish Pursuit Facebook page. If you are interested in booking a trip with Capt. Chris Jones, you can visit their web site at catfishpursuit.com or call him at (816) 807-1573.
Catfishing in Missouri has something to offer for everyone. Whether you simply want a mess of fish to fry, or if you want the adrenaline rush of reeling in a 30-plus pound freshwater fish, then you will have the chance at any of the above mentioned locations and more.