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Bonus Catfish

I got outta the office this week to help stock some fish.  Stocking fish is nothing unusual, we will stock over 30 million fish in over 250 Nebraska waterbodies again this year, and once in a while I lend a hand.

The species of fish I helped stock was nothing unusual either, channel catfish.  We will stock over 200 thousand channel catfish in over 160 different Nebraska waterbodies just this year.  No, what made this unusual was the size of fish stocked. . . .

Most fish stockings are relatively small fish.  It simply is not possible to raise numbers of large fish for stocking.  An exception would be the stockings of catchable-size, approximately 10-inch, rainbow trout that we stock in urban and parks waters around the state each fall, winter and spring.  Rainbow trout are relatively easy to raise in confinement and can be grown to a catchable-size in a relatively short period of time.  Pretty much every other species of fish simply takes too much time and too much space to raise to sizes that are much more than a few inches.

What made this stocking exceptional is I am going to tell you that the average size of the channel catfish I helped stock this week was somewhere around six pounds!  No, we do NOT produce more than a few of those fish in our state fish hatcheries.  Channel catfish are warm-water fish, some of the slowest-growing fish in Nebraska waters, and it takes years to grow them to a size of six pounds.

So, how did we come up with a few hundred large channel catfish to stock?  First of all, let me say that NO, we did not net or capture large channel catfish from any Nebraska waterbody and then move them to another waterbody.  I deal with that rumor often, and it simply is BALONEY.  No, we had a few large channel catfish to stock because there is a settling pond on one of our state fish hatcheries and a few channel catfish exit from the rearing ponds and end up in the settling pond.  They live a few years in the settling pond growing fat and happy.  In recent years we have taken advantage of this unintended windfall of relatively large channel catfish, collected what we can from the settling pond, and stocked them.

Now I am not talking about a lot of fish.  We stocked 370 of those relatively large channel catfish this week.  Before I tell you where we stocked them, I am going to tell you that you may be disappointed because obviously, we are not talking about numbers of fish that can be stocked all over the state.  Your favorite waterbody likely did not receive any of these fish.

With only a few hundred to stock, we did stock them in waters that receive a lot of fishing pressure, waters where we believe a large number of beginning anglers, especially kids, will have a chance to tangle with a relatively big catfish!

Fifty of those relatively large channel catfish went into Bowling Lake in Lincoln, and another fifty in Lake Halleck in Papillion.  The rest were stocked in Wehrspann Reservoir.

Here is the stocking truck at the last stop:

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Yes, we worked in the rain–perfect day to haul and stock fish!

Open the gate and let ’em go!

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I will mention one other curiosity about these fish.  There were three fish on the load that were very unusually colored, I call ’em “Bronco” channel cats.  I am betting I hear about someone catching these fish:

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As with any stocking we do, I can tell you the fish are there, but I cannot make ’em bite.  These particular “bonus” channel cats were certainly big enough to provide immediate fishing opportunity.  They might have been stressed after riding in a stocking truck for awhile, but I am betting they are biting now!

Speaking of fishing opportunity, we did not stock these relatively large channel cats to fill freezers; we stocked them to provide quality fishing opportunity.  Every one of those channel cats could be caught, released, and caught again providing the maximum opportunity for multiple anglers.  Or they could be caught once, given a ride home in someone’s pickup, and never seen again.  Take a picture, turn ’em loose!

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About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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