The Best Of Iowa Cats Anglers in all parts of Iowa enjoy outstanding opportunities to catch catfish this month. Let's look at the waters that promise the most success with the whiskerfish this year. By Dan Anderson The author with a couple of eating-sized channel cats that he caught during a summer afternoon at Big Creek Lake. Photo by Dan Anderson Iowa's on the verge of a catfishing revolution. After decades of so-so catfishing, Hawkeye State anglers are experiencing breakthroughs in attitudes and opportunities that are changing how we fish for catfish. Want proof? How about the 101-pound blue catfish, taken last summer from the Missouri River in southwest Iowa, that set a new state record for that species? How about reports of Iowa Department of Natural Resources biologists finding 25-pound flatheads in creeks so small that the researchers couldn't use boats to travel them? How about walleye anglers complaining that they can't troll crankbaits without being harassed by 2- to 5-pound channel catfish? Iowans have never had so many opportunities to catch catfish. Here's why -- and where. GOOD CATFISHING MADE BETTER Iowa's rivers and streams have always been rife with cats, but our lakes and ponds weren't always as productive as they now are. Despite years of stocking fry and fingerlings in hundreds of lakes, catfish never really took off in those waters. Largemouth bass were often the culprits, it turned out. Small catfish tend to school in tight swarms, and in just two or three passes, a wide-mouthed bass can gulp down entire schools of tiny cats. Once IDNR scientists identified the problem, they began stocking larger channels, in the 7- to 8-inch range, and catfish populations in lakes blossomed. "It's safe to say that 99 percent of the channel catfish in Iowa lakes are there because we stocked them," said Lannie Miller, IDNR regional fisheries biologist. "Once we figured out how to help them survive predation, catfish populations exploded." Miller cites Storm Lake, a natural lake in northwest Iowa, as an example. "We actually had to reduce our stocking rates a little bit at Storm Lake," he said. "There are so many 2- to 5-pound catfish in that lake that walleye anglers complain they can't troll or drift for walleyes without catching catfish." One Iowa lake that has no need of stocked cats is Lake Darling. This southeast Iowa lake supports a population of flatheads that are unique in being well able to perpetuate their numbers without human intervention. "A few years back, (IDNR fisheries biologist) Don Kline hauled a bunch of 5- to 20-pound flatheads from the Skunk River and put them in Lake Darling to see if they would help control an overpopulation of bullheads," said Vance Polson, IDNR fisheries technician. "There's now a pretty good self-reproducing population of flatheads in there, some of them better than 40 pounds." Polson surmises that stocking larger flatheads allowed the fish to reproduce unmolested. As he explains it, a big male catfish standing sentry over its nest isn't something that a raider wants to trifle with. "I think that a 3-pound largemouth bass doesn't have too much trouble driving a 2-pound channel cat off its nest so the bass can feed on the eggs or the fry," he said. "But if a 3-pound bass tries to bother a 20- or 30-pound flathead that's guarding a nest -- well, that bass is just going to be a snack for the flathead." Kline's experiment with stocking flatheads ultimately reined in Lake Darling's oversized complement of bullheads. The same strategy was used at Prairie Rose Lake, near Harlan in western Iowa, to deal with an out-of-control population of bullheads in that lake. Prairie Rose now has a healthy population of flatheads up to 35 pounds, a vestigial population of (very nervous) bullheads, and a fast-growing population of crappies that came to flourish once the bullheads grew substantially fewer.