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A flathead catfish caught on the Wisconsin River. - Photo credit: DNR
A flathead catfish caught on the Wisconsin River.Photo credit: DNR

Contact(s): Bradd Sims, DNR fisheries biologist; 608-574-2604, Meredith Penthorn, Fisheries Management policy specialist, 608-316-0080,
February 25, 2020

MADISON, Wis. - A suite of regulations aimed at providing sustainable bow, crossbow and hand fishing opportunities for catfish will go into effect on March 1.

These regulations are part of a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources permanent rule that establishes size and bag limits as well as season and gear restrictions for taking catfish with a bow and arrow, crossbow or by hand.

In general, the daily bag limit will be five channel catfish and one flathead catfish with no size limit for either species. The bow and crossbow season will coincide with the rough fish spearing season, which is continuous on most waters. For hand fishing, the season will run from June 1 to Aug. 31, and no special gear, including snorkeling equipment, spawning boxes, hooks, ropes or gaffes may be used to take catfish.

An emergency rule in 2018 was established in response to a change in state law allowing catfish to be harvested with these methods. Previously, only rough fish could be taken by these methods. The size and bag limits, season dates and gear restrictions in both rules aim to protect overwintering and spawning catfish from overharvest while allowing the opportunity to harvest catfish with a bow, crossbow or by hand.

Bullheads and rough fish may also be taken with a bow, crossbow or by hand. For bullheads, the bow and crossbow season runs concurrent with the rough fish spearing season for the specific water body, while the hand fishing season runs from June 1 to Aug. 31. No size or bag limits apply for bullheads or rough fish.

On boundary waters shared with Michigan and Minnesota, bow and crossbow fishing for catfish may only occur during the open rough fish spearing season, and only in the territorial waters of Wisconsin.

Some exceptions to the general size restrictions, bag limits and season dates apply, such as when a specific season and size limit for hook and line catfish fishing are in effect on a certain waterbody. Commercial harvest is also prohibited using these methods. Anglers should consult the Spearing, Netting and Bait Harvest regulations pamphlet for more details.

To learn more about these catfish fishing regulations, visit the DNR website.

Last Revised: Tuesday, February 25, 2020

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