Using catfish to create, motivate anglers

Posted on: October 18, 2017 | Bob Frye | Comments

Catfish swim, too, you know.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission wants to make that clear.

It’s most closely associated with stocked trout. They’re popular with anglers – they rank as the No. 1 species among the state’s anglers – but also costly to raise and distribute.

Catfish, meanwhile, exist just about everywhere. In many places, they sustain themselves in catchable numbers by natural reproduction. And they fight hard on the end of a line and taste good on the table.

Catfish are good as table fare.

Biologist Tim Wilson demonstrates how to fillet a catfish.
Photo: PA Fish and Boat Commission

Too few people realize that or know how to take advantage of it, though, said Carl Richardson, education manager for the commission.

To address that, the commission held two “learn to catfish” events over the summer. One was at North Park in Allegheny County, the other on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

The goals, Richardson said, were to raise awareness of catfishing opportunities, increase knowledge of how to catch and then prepare for them for the table and make them confident in their abilities to do so.

“We talk a lot about trout and bass a lot more glamorous species. But there are an awful lot of opportunities out there,” Richardson said.

“One thing we wanted to do was take people who had never fished for catfish before and kind of walk them through the experience.”

He believes they succeeded.

The events

The events were different in a couple of ways. The commission stocked catfish for the one near Pittsburgh and included a mentored youth fishing opportunity. Participants had to have a license or a mentored youth permit, too.

The one in Philadelphia was more of a do-it-yourself type of thing. No licenses were required.

The Pittsburgh event drew 127 people, the Philadelphia one 73.

Anglers at two catfish events were able to taste fish.

Deep fried catfish fillets.
Photo: PA Fish and Boat Commission

In both cases, three quarters of attendees were male. Almost all considered themselves urban or suburban.

Most importantly, Richardson said, many at both were catfishing newcomers. Only 22 percent of those in Philadelphia had ever sought catfish before. In Pittsburgh, it was 50 percent.

“We take that as a very good thing because there are sometimes where we’re really preaching to the choir. But really in this case we weren’t,” Richardson said.

What’s more, at both events, follow-up surveys showed that people rated them at 4.83 on a scale of 1 to 5, Richardson said. And at each, 83 percent said they were likely to go catfishing again.

Commission president Rocco Ali of North Apollo attended the Pittsburgh event and came away impressed.

“I thought it was very well organized,” Ali said.

Commission executive director John Arway credited Rick Lorson, area fisheries manager based in Somerset, with conceiving of the catfish program. He saw a resource and figured “out a way to promote its use,” Arway said.

Next year

So now it’s a matter of what comes next.

The commission plans two things, Richardson said.

One is, next year, to compare data from its automated licenses system to the names of people who took part in the catfish events. That, Richardson said, will tell whether any of them bought licenses – as many said they would – to pursue catfish again next year.

The other is to do two more catfishing events in 2018. Most details on those will follow later.

But one is scheduled for the southwest corner of the state, the other in the southeast. The commission will stock catfish for each, in locations able to handle lots of people.

The education component will be more informal, though, than this year.

Richardson is hoping to get another good response, though. And he’s expecting it, based on what happened this time around.

“We’ve got people asking for more,” he said.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.