Several times I have blogged about the tagging of flathead catfish at Branched Oak Reservoir; Flathead Tagging, Some Field Work, 71.6 on your radio dial–All Flatheads All the Time! And this year I blogged about some of the results of that work, Branched Oak Flatheads. That research is really cool and I am thrilled to have been able to slip out of the office once in awhile to assist. Simply put, the work being done on Branched Oak flathead catfish is some of the most in-depth fisheries research that ever had been done on reservoir flathead catfish. I have bragged about the catfish fishery in Branched Oak being among the best in the country, especially the flathead catfish fishery, and Branched Oak Reservoir is in a class by itself when it comes to flathead catfish research as well.
But there has been one thing missing.
I have not caught one of those tagged flatheads. I have seen lots of them with tags when I have assisted with the sampling being done at Branched Oak, but I have not caught one on rod-and-reel.
I know Branched Oak anglers who have caught several of the tagged flatheads. I will not tell you that I spend quite as much time fishing Branched Oak as they do, but I ain’t a “Johnny come lately” when it comes to fishing Branched Oak, not by a long shot. I have fished Branched Oak for a darned long time, going on 30-some years now, and have caught a darned lot of fish there including a lot of flatheads. I have caught tagged walleyes in South Dakota, tagged trout in Nebraska, my son caught a tagged bluegill on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, and I have tagged and caught tagged walleyes from Elwood Reservoir (Fish Recycling), but nothing from Branched Oak.
We estimate that fully one-third of all the flatheads larger than 10 inches in Branched Oak have been tagged since that project began in the summer of 2010. Since tagging began in late July of 2010 my fishing partners and I have caught 18 flatheads from Branched Oak and not one of them had a tag. Believe me, the first thing we look for every time we put one in the landing net is a tag.
I slipped out to Branched Oak again on an evening a little over a week ago. I caught a nice, fat channel cat right after I started fishing and then long after dark I finally got another fish to thump my bait. It was a nice fish, took me a few minutes to land it, but when I did I saw this!
Finally, I caught a Branched Oak flathead with a tag!
If you look close, here is the tag number.
The fish was 37-inches long, I am guessing it weighed right around 25 pounds. I only got one dark photo of the fish before my camera battery expired, and then I turned it loose.
Now, I work with a bunch of great folks here in the Fisheries Division of the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission. A few of them can be smart alecks (imagine that!). A few days ago I was called out of my office for some bogus reason and discovered a bunch of my fellow fish squeezers standing around waiting for me. I knew something was up. They had a “major award” to present to me.
That is the form letter that is sent to every angler who reports catching a tagged flathead at Branched Oak. My comedian co-biologists framed it and made a big deal about giving it to me. They knew I had been trying to catch one with a tag in it.
Here is a closer view if you are interested in all the details.
If you must know, I caught the fish pretty much in the same place it was tagged. I doubt that it spent all of its time there, but I am sure that was a place it liked to frequent.
I will always tell you that every fish a person catches can be special in its own way. If you catch as many fish as I have over the years, some of them are more special than others. Part of what we love about fishing is that you just never know what you might encounter on the end of your line. That fishing pole you hold and that line in the water are links to the unknown!
I have landed a lot larger flatheads from Branched Oak, and really it is not that big of a deal to catch one with a tag in it, but it is neat to finally catch one and to be part of the process from the research that is being done to personally catching one.
Now I gotta catch some more!