Stocking blue catfish into Milford other Kansas reservoirs has been a good thing. There are probably 100-pound blues in Milford from the original stocking in 1990. Fish of 30 to 40 pounds are common there and even 50-pounders aren’t a surprise. Stocked later, fish of more than 40 pounds have been caught at Melvern Reservoir. Closer to home, El Dorado Reservoir has a solid blue cat population up to about 20 pounds and growing.
But for Kansas’ blue cat fishery to reach its potential, some regulations need to be tightened before their popularity becomes their undoing.
On a spring weekend, it’s common for 40 or more boats on a popular fishing area at Milford. Similar flotillas are building on Melvern, Coffey County Lake (Wolf Creek) and to a lesser degree, El Dorado. Anglers are coming from every surrounding state, and some beyond those, for the big blues.
That’s too much pressure with current regulations.
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The limit is five blue cats per day, of any size, at most waters. The number is fine, but we need size restrictions considering our largest blue cats at Milford might be 25 years old. Those fish are too valuable to end up as fillets when they could be the fish of a lifetime for more people in the future. Super-sized females also need to have their genetics preserved so they can keep producing super-sized young.
The concept of protecting big blues isn’t new. Every serious blue catfish angler I’ve met releases all blue cats of 10 pounds or larger. But not all are like that.
Still, I’ve seen photos of someone with their limit of five dead fish that average around 30 pounds. Two years ago, a Milford angler bragged to me that he and two friends caught and kept numerous 40- to 60-pound blues from trotlines every morning of a three-day weekend.
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism biologists are investigating more restrictive length limits for blue catfish for Milford. I’d like to see them imposed on all lakes with blue catfish. It’s only a matter of time before all of those lakes draw crowds of hopeful anglers.
Most serious guides and anglers I’ve talked to would also like to see the agency give some protection to mid-sized blues, around the time the slow-growing fish reach sexual maturity and can contribute to the population.
El Dorado Reservoir has an admirable new limit that protects blues between 25 and 35 inches. The lake’s special limit allows two, of the daily limit of five, to be be blues 35 inches or longer. That still seems like a lot of pressure on big fish.
Personally, I see no reason to allow the keeping of any blues 35 inches or longer. Five around 20-24 inches provide a lot of fillets. Ideally, I’d like all the bigger fish to swim free. But I also realize sometimes a huge fish is going to swallow a hook and die. Such fish should be kept and cleaned. Allowing the keeping of one 35 inches or larger would be fine.
So my suggestion is mandatory releasing of all between 25 and 35 inches, with no more than one of the daily limit of five measuring 35 inches or larger.
We also need to realize we still have a lot to learn.
While we have a good idea of blue cat population dynamics at Milford, we need to see how blues impact other fish in other lakes. We don’t want them out-competing other species of sport fish for food or habitat. At some lakes, the blue cat population may need to be kept relatively low so fish like crappie, walleye or bass can survive at numbers high enough to provide good fishing.
That could easily be fixed with a little loosening of the regulations for that lake to increase the harvest.
Unfortunately, fixing an over-harvest is never that easy. Let’s play it conservative with big blue catfish.