World Record Channel 0001

Anglers seeking that big trophy catfish check out the middle Mississippi River.  It is this section that produced not only the state record Blue Catfish but also the World Record.

According to Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist Butch Atwood, all three species are in these waters.  Not many of the brown and yellow bullheads are there these days.  The Channel Catfish, Blue Catfish and Flathead Catfish are the trophy species.

That Blue Catfish world record came from the area of the river near where the Missouri River empties into the Mississippi.  In that area there are three pools: Pool 24, Pool 25, and Pool 26.  After that the river is open from Alton to Cairo, Illinois.  According to Atwood, that seems to be the area where blue cats are the most prolific.  He adds that he has seen them upriver as far as Dam 22 and people do fish for them there.

Since 1980 the biologists have found some Blue Catfish moving from the lower part of the river up into the pools.  Atwood describes that section of the river as “an interesting stretch because of the pools and the open river.”

The pools in this section operate a little bit differently than the upper pools near Rock Island, Illinois.  Water management and control in the upper sections at the dam point is the primary goal.  The control at the dam point tries to maintain a flat pool off the time even during high water.  But, in 24, 25 and 26 which the St. Louis District of the Corps of Engineers operates they operate on the hinge point.  “In other words their control point is the middle of the pool.

As soon as the waters start to rise, they open the gate to create an open river.  They get to open river as fast as they can because they do not own enough real estate in the lower end of the pool like they do upstream.  They operate it more like a river.

This type of water management may be why the Blue Catfish seem to like it.  They like that more riverine environment.  They like more current and as such prefer the main channel.  The wing dams kind of give an illusion of a main channel and the blues get things washed down to them.

That northern section of the river has produced some nice Flathead Catfish of larger size.  Atwood has personally seen them up to 70 pounds in weight.  He has netted other that probably ran close to 100 pounds but did not have a scale upon which to weight them.  Those fish came from the tailwaters about a half mile below Mel Price Lock and Dam at Alton, Illinois.

Butch recommends fishing the scour holes off the wing dams.  He explains that there are a few catfishermen out there and they are friendly with one another.  The anglers share information because there are not a lot of them.

When it comes to bait, the usual rig contains cut shad.  For the big blues, skipjack herring heads are the bait of choice.  The open portion of the river has a pretty good population of skipjack and they are all the way up to Lock and Dam 22.  Beyond that they become fewer.  Tailwaters are the best place to find skipjack and fish up to a pound are caught with regularity.

When it comes to Channel Catfish, Butch says one can catch up to 50 pound fish in the open river.  He has caught some nice ones in his nets and by electro-fishing.  Fish in the 5- to 10 pound class are pretty common.  He has found that the open water below Mel Price Dam produces some pretty big Channel Catfish.

When choosing a bait and rig for these giants of the river, it is wise to consider their feeding habits.  Flatheads eat in the bottom of the water column, blues above them and the channels are closer to the surface or in more shallow water.

Regardless of the species sought, catfish provide some of the best big fish action and the Mississippi River along the western edge of Illinois is home to some of the largest ones available anywhere in the country.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has available several booklets on the Mississippi River that describe the fishery and access to it.  The free publications are available at Department offices across the state and from the main office in Springfield.  The address there is IDNR, One   Natural Resources Way, Springfield, Illinois62702-1271.



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  1. Planning a trip to Alton area to target blues and big channel cats. Any pointers on a starting point, boat launch, tackle shops or any other info would be greatly appreciated.

    • Best option is to watch where other boats are going. They will be down stream from the dam. You should find the locals friendly and they will tell you where to fish and how. That group is out there all the time. It is a group of go0d ole boys. You can probably finds bait shops by Goggling Alton or by contacting the Corps of Engineers office in St. Louis, MO. The Missouri Department of Conservation Website usually has updates on what fish are biting and on what through their website. They list this area as middle Mississippi river. Good luck wish I was going with you.

      • Thanks for info! I will hopefully be able to put it to use this coming weekend.

        Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE DROID

        dave fontaine
  2. Lots of great trophy cats on the mighty Mississippi!


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