QUESTIONS 17 18: Flathead catfish rule changes in the Lake Winnebago system

Flathead catfish are one of the most important recreational and predator sport fish in the Winnebago System. It is a long-lived species that takes many years to reach trophy/quality size. Age and growth analysis has estimated these fish can live more than 30 years and are capable of attaining weights in excess of 60 pounds. Due to their long life span these fish populations may be particularly sensitive to angling pressure and harvest. In the Winnebago System, flathead catfish angling effort is directed by a combination of conventional rod and reel gear, setlines, and bankpoles. In the Wolf River, recent surveys of setline and bankpole effort indicate fishing pressure has remained at relatively high levels. Several measures have been taken to reduce exploitation including a ban on commercial fishing and lowering of daily bag limits in 2002. However, exploitation rates have still remained high, often reaching 33% or more of the quality to trophy size stock. Other concerns include the potential over harvest and/or snagging of flatheads during the late fall and winter. Anglers have voiced concern over declining flathead catfish numbers and size and have worked together with the department to formulate several management options to improve the quality of the fishery including:

                       

Implementing a 30 inch minimum size limit for flathead catfish in Winnebago system waters, with possession of fish between 36-42 inches prohibited, and a 1 fish daily bag limit (anglers could keep 1 flathead between 30-36 inches, or 1 larger than 42 inches). There is currently a 2 fish daily bag limit for flathead catfish in Winnebago system waters, with no minimum size limit.

 

One of the major concerns expressed by anglers was a desire to improve the density of larger, trophy- sized (>40 inch, or 30+ pound) flathead catfish. This regulation would ensure protection of both young and old spawning stock. This is especially important considering these fish can live up to 30+ years of age and some of the larger females are capable of producing massive numbers of eggs. This regulation should improve overall population abundance, recruitment, and trophy potential for Winnebago System flatheads.

                       

For general anglers, establish a harvest season for flatheads that would open on the first Saturday of May and close on September 30 of each year (catch and release would apply the rest of the year). The current setline/bankpole season would remain the same.

 

Currently, the flathead catfish season for general anglers is continuous. Information collected from radio telemetry tracking studies show flatheads have strong tendencies to congregate in large numbers and in select locations during over-winter periods (September March). During the early and late phases of these periods they can be particularly susceptible to angling pressure and overexploitation since these fish do not move far from their over-winter habitat. In addition, during mid-winter coldwater periods the fish become very inactive and are easily snagged. The department has received several reports of anglers snagging catfish in both the Fox and Wolf Rivers. Having a closed harvest season during this period will ensure these fish are adequately protected during a vulnerable stage of their life history.

                         

Do you favor changing the open season for flathead catfish in Winnebago System waters from a continuous season to one that would open on the first Saturday of May and close on September 30 of each year?

 

17. YES_______ NO_______

                         

Do you favor implementation of a 30 inch minimum size limit for flathead catfish in Winnebago system waters, with possession of fish between 36-42 inches prohibited, and a 1 fish daily bag limit (anglers could keep 1 flathead between 30-36 inches, or 1 larger than 42 inches) ? There is currently a 2 fish daily bag limit for flathead catfish in Winnebago system waters, with no minimum size limit.

 

18. YES_______ NO_______