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Catfish are worthy of note

Catfish are big in the state of Kansas. We go to great lengths to put them on our table. They are one of the fish that hooks most kids into fishing. Farm ponds with bluegill, large-mouth bass, crappie, and catfish are every farmer and grandpa’s dream. 

On March 13, 2018, the Kansas legislature made limestone the state rock and channel catfish the state fish. I was surprised that it took them that long. Usually, the insignificant items get passed quickly with lots of fanfare and the harder issues get muddied into oblivion. I’m not the least bit cynical...or political!

I have always been amazed that large-mouth bass generated so much interest, enthusiasm, and money. The Bassmasters tournament complex has become part of the fabric of America. 

For a fish that is pretty easy to catch and not very good to eat — someone did a great job of crafting this national treasure. More guys spend more money to get bigger boats and motors and electronics to catch and release fish that they don’t eat. 

There aren’t that many Jimmy Hustons in this world — yes, I still watch him and relish every fish he catches, kisses and releases. There is a fisherman in almost all of us, and they have tapped into our thrill of feeling the tug on our line. 

I can still remember those early days with my dad and grandpa when I was learning. I also remember my father’s mother going with us to New Mexico and sitting on the bank of the Chama River while we were fishing. She decided that she wanted to catch a trout, and didn’t have a fishing license. 

My dad baited her hook, put it in the water for her, and celebrated her brook trout about eight inches long. He also paid the fine that she acquired for fishing without a license. I learned a lesson.

Catfish aren’t just catfish. Channel catfish are the most common and arguably the best eating of the catfish family. Bullhead catfish are common at the Bottoms. 

Pelicans and other birds swallow them headfirst to fold down the lateral fins. Blue catfish are in most of the large reservoirs and get huge. There is a slot limit on these beautiful fish, so pay attention to that restriction. 

They seem to be increasing in numbers and size — which is terrific for Kansas fishermen! Flathead catfish have a mystic about them that hooks all of us. They live in rivers and lakes, and prefer live bait.

Folks set limb lines and trotlines and use various baits including gold fish and shad. I have a couple of friends that have perfected the process of catching these huge fish with small jigs. 

They can also be taken by hand fishing. If you want to get the big flatheads out of a river — find a good hand fisherman. It is a learned skill that I have never tried.

One of the best times to catch catfish in the reservoirs is about now when the gar go to the shore to lay eggs. The catfish swarm the area to eat the eggs and their feeding response is wide open. It’s not a very well known event, but when you get it right the fishing is amazing! 

I have a bucket of soybeans soaking and fermenting to use as chum for the next catfishing trip. I also have some chopped up shad and stuff in ladies panty hose for the same purpose. I get some looks when I buy three pairs at a time.

Lloyd Jaynes and I used to make stink bait out of cheese, ground-up shad, and some spices and let it ripen. You put it in a jar, and use a sponge with a worm or shrimp and dab that sponge in the jar. 

We waded the Smokey and Saline and caught a lot of fish in those brush piles. The odor of sponge bait will linger long after a shower and can perfume a garage to the max.

Catfish have given us joy, exercise, food, anguish and cost us some money. Probably some of the best money we ever spent.

Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast. He can be reached at