Fish become more active in Spring

Photos by Garry Brandenburg — Catfish are just one critter beginning to “wake up” from a winter of low grade activity. As ice melts from area rivers, lakes and ponds, those waters will begin a slow warming as the power of the sun’s insolation increases. And with those warming waters, catfish will begin seeking food sources. Winter ice and thick snow cover this past winter did cause some fishes to die from a lack of sufficient dissolved oxygen. Now those dead fish are a food source for surviving fish. Catfish are just one species that utilizes a variety of available food, dead or alive. A view of a taxidermists craft shows gizzard shad being pursued by a catfish, a very typical event taking place out of our sight. Predator/prey scenarios in a fishes aquatic world are part of normal food web energy transfer.

SPRING officially arrived on March 20th. Warmer weather, at least by comparison to normal winter air and snowy conditions, means lots of natural happenings will be begin their slow warm up, wake up, and show increased activity. Catfish are just one aquatic species to respond to a new spring season. They are hungry after a long winter of hanging out in a low activity mode. Now the urge to get busy finding food is a top priority.

For area rivers like our Iowa River, it means a migration is taking place. From large winter time holding areas of the Coralville Reservoir near Iowa City, all kinds of fish species are moving upstream to repopulate areas of water they left late last fall. All along the way fish will be looking for, touching with its long whiskers, and smelling food sources. Catfish have excellent odor detecting abilities.

CATFISH confined to area lakes or farm ponds cannot go anywhere….except to the deepest portions of the water body and just wait for winter to become history. When the ice goes out, they will begin to explore. And along pond and lake edges, they may find some fish that died last winter due to thick ice and thick layers of snow that significantly reduced any oxygen production. Winter is also a time when aquatic plant life from last year dies, and during its decay, uses oxygen. Living plant life in a pond uses carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. And fishes need at least three parts per million of dissolved oxygen, or more, to live. Now that ice cover is melted, oxygen levels will start to rebound.

Iowa DNR fisheries bureau staff have received lots of calls reference seeing dead fish along the edges of ponds. Last winter’s icy conditions and thick snow cover shut off sunlight. Therefore plant life could not make oxygen via normal photosynthesis processes. According to fisheries biologists, “winter kills are rarely complete kills. Our advice to pond owners is to fish the pond in the spring, note the species, number and size of what you catch and talk to their local fisheries biologist about the health of a pond.”

Catfish are omnivores. They will gorge themselves on all manner of living or dead material. Even in turbid water conditions, a catfish can smell its prey. Daytime feeding may be in the deep water of a pond or river. At night time, they will move to shallower water. Spawning takes place when water temperatures reach 75 degrees. Eggs are deposited in obscure places such ass overhanging rock ledges, cut banks, hollow logs or other cavities. Once the eggs are in place, the male catfish defends those eggs. A female channel catfish weighing from one to four pounds will likely produce 3,000 to 4,000 eggs. It takes six to ten days for those eggs to hatch.

Iowa has bullheads (black, yellow and brown), catfish (blue, channel and flatheads), and some much smaller types called Stone Cat, Slender Madtom and Tadpole Madtom. For angler record purposes, it is the first varieties mentioned that get noted in big fish award literature. The biggest black bullhead tipped the scale at 5 pounds 8 ounces and was 22 inches long. For brown bullheads, its record is 1 pound 4 ounces, and it was 12.5 inches long. Yellow bullhead record is 2 pounds 6 ounces with a length of15.2 inches. Blue catfish are residents of our major border rivers. Here a blue catfish record is 101 pounds 0 ounces and its length was 53 inches . Channel catfish are found all over Iowa and its top was 38 pound 2 ounce fish that was 40 inches long. It was caught in the Missouri River, Pottawattamie County on June 11, 2005 by Dustin Curtis of Omaha, NE. Flathead catfish record is an 81 pound 0 ounce 52 inch long critter from Ellis Lake in Lucas, County on June 1, 1958.

STRIPED SKUNKS are waking up from winter dens. They are active now since the mating season for this Mustelid family`member is in full swing. And unfortunately for skunks that like to be active at night, vehicles may strike them along a roadway. This is because skunks have a rather slow gait and are reluctant to give ground to predators or motor vehicles. The experience of striking and killing a skunk will, shall I say, be a long lasting memory. It may take up to two weeks for the odor to dissipate.

IOWA TAXIDERMY ASSOCIATION will host their membership spring conference at Honey Creek Resort State Park next weekend, March 26 -28th. This is a new location for ITA with lots of room for exhibitors, seminars, and display area for mounts the members bring with them. The variety of mounted fish, game birds, mammals and reptiles is always top notch. The artistry exhibited by each taxidermist is amazing in terms of quality and specific attention to detail.

Honey Creek Resort has a full compliment of rooms, activity center with swimming pool and food services. It is a very family friendly location along the north shore of Lake Rathbun. Public viewing hours for taxidermists art works will be Saturday afternoon, March 27th and Sunday morning March 28th. Lake Rathbun area is a large lake, an impoundment of the Chariton River, and is located just a few miles north of Centerville, IA. It is a great place for camping, cabin rental, trail walking, water sports and when open, a chance to see the fish hatchery facilities run by the DNR fisheries bureau staff.

“Never say ‘No’ to adventure. Always say ‘yes’ or otherwise you’ll lead a dull life.”

— Ian Fleming, writer,

journalist, British Naval

Intelligence officer.

Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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