Catfish Regulations on the Ohio River

Please help us catfishing friends, Kentuckys fisheries on the ohio river is being used to continuously stock Private pay ponds. This trend is a growing, if not booming, business that keeps the demand for large fish increasing year after year. The center of the pay pond universe seems to be centered in southern Ohio, with convenient access to a supply of big fish to stock their ponds with.

The ironic thing is that the states of Ohio and West Virginia don’t allow commercial fishing in their waters. Also, Tennessee and neighboring Alabama have world class blue cat fisheries that are protected in that only one fish over 34 inches is allowed per person, per day.

hooking a catfish

All this has led to a perfect storm of sorts for Ohio River catfishermen, as commercial fisherman all across the region looking to satisfy the demand for big fish logistically close to their customer, have focused most of their efforts on the Kentucky portion of the Ohio River, west of Cincinnati.

Commercial pressure that was once spread out over several states has now been focused on less water, and sport fisherman across the state are worried this increased pressure is making large fish harder to come by.

If you would like to help, let your KDFWR or State representative know that you support regulations to protect these large catfish from over exploitation.

You can also voice your opinion in the public meeting on November 1st 2013 in frankfort Kentucky at The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
#1 Sportsman’s Lane
Frankfort, KY 40601
(502) 564-7109

A trending decline in trophy catfish populations in Kentucky

I’ve caught my fair share of trophy size catfish over the past 10 years and I am thankful for every experience I have had, plus I have enjoyed helping others in their journey to catch some big cat fish too. It’s great to see folks to succeed and catch their first huge Monster.

But there is an ongoing issue with Kentucky’s catfish regulations that is really concerning me and many other sportsman to the point of desperation. I believe if the issue isn’t addressed quickly many future new comers joining the sport may not get the chance to find out what it is like to catch a trophy catfish.

If you didn’t know, bluecats and flathead catfish can grow to weights in the triple digits with the world record currently being 143 lbs. with that being said in recent years these trophy cats have not only become popular with sport cat fisherman, they have also attracted the pay pond industry which had made the demand for these big cats overwhelming which brings me to the main issue of this article, the Kentucky catfish regulations.

What are the regulations you ask?

There are no regulations for catfish in Kentucky.

That is right, there are no regulations in Kentucky to protect the trophy cats the swim in our natural water ways.
Meaning, you can catch as many catfish as you want and any size you want.

You can keep a few for supper, you can keep 100 for a fish fry or you can set trot lines or hoop nets and catch and keep 7000 lbs of trophy size cats only to sell to the pay ponds and this is perfectly legal to do. And this has really created high tensions among the sport anglers, the pay pond industry and commercial fisherman, as the sport fish anglers who are fishing the Ohio River is seeing huge declines in the trophy catfish population do to this over exploitation of this unregulated resource.

My quick Research indicates there are well over 200 pay ponds in the Ohio valley region, probably more, even if just a quarter of the establishments buy 15,000 lbs of trophy cats from the commercial fisherman as indicated by one of the main operations in the region, then that is 750,000 lbs of targeted trophy catfish taken from the Ohio river to supply the pay pond demand.

How has one of our states largest big game species slipped through the cracks, it’s surprising to me because I know the KDWR is well known for their other various resource protection projects such as the sturgeon and alligator gar. Folks think about this, some of these catfish can grow and weigh as much as a one year old Buck and that is a resource that should be enjoyed but protected.

Many surrounding states have already adopted a 34 inch law to help protect their trophy size cats including Alabama and Tennessee which prior to the new law, these states were also targets for the commercial fisherman to catch big numbers of trophy size cats for the pay pond industry however they have recovered from this greatly since the law went into effect.Kentucky catfish regulations

It’s ironic that the state of Ohio has catfish regulations and does not allow commercial fishing, but is still in the center of all this controversy because of the numerous pay ponds in Ohio who purchase these trophy cats from out of state waters.

West Virginia has adopted length and creel regulations and does not allow commercial fishing and in my opinion, is now leading our region in trophy catfish growth in the Ohio river, and I predict in the next five years will be one of the best trophy waters in the United States.catfish regulations

I have talked with many my fellow anglers up and down the Ohio River valley system from West Virginia to Illinois and the consensus seems to be consistence with everyone.

Where have the big fish gone? Or have we all just suddenly forgotten how to fish?

How long can we afford to ignore what happening to our rivers throughout the Ohio valley? Catfishing has become popular in all aspects of the sport and we certainly understand that some folks don’t have access to the big rivers, thus they go for some action at the pay lakes. But I don’t think we can afford to continue to supply the pay lakes demand, without depleting our natural resources from within the Ohio River. If you are a sportsman and believe in preserving a huge Kentucky resource, we would appreciate your support.

What can you do to help?

There is a petition page on that you can sign if you’d like to support this cause. Further, if you feel strongly about this, let your KDFWR or State representative know that you support regulations to protect large catfish. Also you can keep up with our updates and progress here at and you can also help by becoming a member of the Ohio Valley Catfishing federation who has teamed up with the Kentucky League of sportsman to help present our concerns.
catfishing regulations

For more information on how you can help you can contact Steve Douglas at 502-510-0275 or Aaron Wheatley at 270-993-3733.

As sportsmen, we are hopeful that the powers that be will react to our call to action and protect this resource. It would be a shame for the mighty Ohio River that borders our Kentucky banks to not reclaim its position as one of the top cat fisheries in the nation.

Let us be clear though, our mission is not to stop all commercial fishing for catfish in Kentucky. We are just asking for reasonable regulations and enforcement to protect a fishery that should continue to grow in popularity, if allowed to reach its full potential.

Steve Douglas