Randy Steele is a newcomer to the Perry area; he moved here last fall from Oklahoma.
Randy and I talked on several occasions about canoeing and fishing on the Raccoon River and finally arranged a time that was agreeable for both of us to get on the river. We launched our canoes at the new Dawson Boat Ramp and would take out at Perry several miles downstream later in the afternoon. Randy’s whitewater solo canoe looked a little out of place on the shallow, slow moving Raccoon River. Randy said he had a passion for whitewater canoeing; he has paddled many streams in the United States with Class-III to Class-V Rapids. The shape of his boat did not affect his fishing.
We tried our luck at the first log jam a short distance from the boat ramp. I formed a teardrop shape of commercial blood-dough bait around a treble hook. Randy was using a sticky, smelly bait that he applied with a stick to a “sponged” treble hook. We cast into the river and let the lines drift downstream a few feet. Soon I had a peck on the line, another peck, and then a firm tug. I pulled back on the rod setting the hook and reeled in a one pound channel catfish. I heard some water splashing behind me and I turned and looked to see Randy bringing in a catfish that was more than twice the size of the one I caught. A little further downstream we stopped and fished in a deep hole near Sportsman’s Park. In a short time Randy had another good sized fish on the stringer, while I had a backlash in my reel and a hook in my finger. Later I caught a six inch channel catfish and released it. However, I think it followed my canoe down the river- I seemed to have kept catching the same fish for the rest of the trip. Randy had a stringer full when we headed for home.
The two common catfish caught in the Raccoon River are the channel catfish and the flathead catfish. It is easy to tell these two apart. The channel cat has a silver-gray body with spots on its sides, and a deeply forked tail. The flathead has brownish mottled skin, and a slightly forked tail, also its lower jaw protrudes in front of the upper jaw.
Iowa’s twenty thousand miles of streams can provide good habitat for catfish. Studies have shown that some rivers can produce more than 500 pounds of catfish per mile of stream, if the water is clean and free of pollutants.
Channel catfish are bottom feeders and eat a variety of plant and animal materials. They will eat seeds, algae, insects, worms, crayfish, frogs, and minnows. They have a keen sense of smell and are attracted to smelly commercial baits that are made from blood and cheese. Chicken livers and night crawlers are also used for bait. It has been found that the larger catfish feed almost exclusively on other fish. Catfish do get big. The state record for channel catfish is 38.2 pounds. It was caught in the Missouri River in 2005. The largest flathead catfish was caught in Lake Ellis in 1958- it weighed 81 pounds. The fish that Randy Steele and I caught were not record breakers but they were fun to catch and they will make a good meal.