With flathead catfish spawning season underway and National Catfish Day set for June 25, many Iowans have trophy fish on their minds.
National Catfish Day was established in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan when he issued a proclamation in recognition of "the value of farm-raised catfish." It lands every year on June 25 and coincides with the peak of the flathead catfish spawning season in Iowa, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Management Biologist Ben Dodd.
"It's definitely a good day to celebrate a month of catching large catfish in the state of Iowa," Dodd said. "And the popularity of catfishing has really grown."
According to Dodd, spawning season in June is the ideal time to go fishing for channel catfish and flathead catfish.
"Timing is important," Dodd said. "And really June is a great month to be targeting catfish because they're actively moving. They're spawning and protecting nests."
Dodd's Iowa DNR district covers seven central Iowa counties. In that district, Dodd said the most popular catfishing spots are the Raccoon River and Des Moines River.
"We now have a lot more catfish tournaments that occur on our rivers," Dodd said. "And traditionally catfish were popular to catch for consumption. Now there's been somewhat of a shift from utilizing these fish as a food source, and they've become more popular as a trophy fish."
Iowa state records for catfish
Iowa DNR keeps records on the largest fish caught in the state. The record blue catfish is 101 pounds, caught in the Missouri River in June 2004. The largest flathead catfish on record is 81 pounds, caught in Lucas County's Ellis Lake in June 1958. The record-holding channel catfish, at 38.13 pounds, was pulled from the Missouri River in June 2005.
The biggest fish Dodd has seen caught so far this season is a 71 pound flathead catfish, though 60- to 70-pound catfish are not uncommon in June.
"We're seeing reports of flatheads being caught in that 60- to 70-pound range pretty consistently from year to year annually now," Dodd said. "And I think it's just exciting. You know, when people go out and they're bringing gear to the river, and they could have the potential for catching the largest fish of their life. I think it brings excitement to the table."
The catfish population each year can fluctuate depending on food sources and precipitation's effect on river levels, according to Dodd.
"Since the rivers are our most popular catfishing locations in our district, it's really nice to have a bit of a spring pulse, which is just an increase in flow rates that's kind of a spawning cue that gets them to go ahead and move up river," Dodd said. "So they're kind of using water temperature, photoperiod and then when they get a rise in water level, that's one of their cues to move upstream to find quality spawning habitat."
For first-time anglers, June presents the perfect opportunity to catch catfish while they are most plentiful, he said.
"We have catfish resources throughout the state, but my biggest recommendation is to really target the month of June," Dodd said. "Making sure you're effective with the time that you have to recreate is important. So targeting the rivers, at least in our district, in the month of June is a really good piece of advice."
A catfish day tournament is scheduled for 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 25 at Lake Icaria near Corning. The Bottom Feeders of Iowa will also be hosting a catfish tournament from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 25 at Coralville Lake in North Liberty.
For more information and to find other scheduled catfish tournaments in Iowa, visit the special events page on the Iowa DNR website.
Grace Altenhofen is a news reporter for the Des Moines Register. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @gracealtenhofen.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: June is the perfect time in Iowa to catch large catfish. Here's why.