My lifelong connection to large, whiskered fish
Chris Penne is an aquatics biologist in the DWR's Ogden office, where he specializes in reservoir and lake management. He works with a crew of six other biologists and is responsible for fish and amphibians in seven counties of northern utah.
DID I CHOOSE CATFISH or did they choose me? It seems like wherever life takes me, I find catfish. At age 8, my very first fish was a two-pound channel catfish. I landed it on a Snoopy fishing pole at a pond on my grandfather’s farm in Missouri. During countless summers growing up in the Midwest, catfish were some of my favorite quarry.
Then, when it came time for my first college internship, I studied the migration of channel catfish over stream barriers in the waters of southwest Iowa.
Looking back at my family, I would say catfishing is in my blood. My dad and grandfather were almost incapable of fishing for anything else. I still chuckle today about one time I took them crappie fishing when I was a student in college. It was April, and while the catfish bite was slow to nonexistent at the time, the crappie fishing at the local reservoir was on fire.
I briefed my dad and grandpa on the situation: the crappie came into the reservoir’s shallows to feed so they could spawn over next couple of weeks. It was almost guaranteed that we’d catch crappie that day. After rigging up and catching my first couple fish, I looked over and was stunned to see that my dad and grandpa had just rigged up and cast out with their usual catfishing setup (a ball of worm set on a hook six inches below a 1/8-ounce sinker).
My grandpa then looked over to my dad and said, “What are we fishing for again?” It took me reeling in a few more fish to convince them to put away their catfish rigs and join me in catching crappie.
Catfish are even a large part of my job today. As a fisheries biologist who oversees the DWR’s Community Fishing program, I work to maintain quality habitat for the 70,000 pounds of channel catfish we stock annually at Utah’s community waters.
To me, catfishing is the most relaxing fishing experience. You just find a peaceful spot on the shores of the lake or river, cast your bait and wait. The catfish will come to you. They actively search the bottoms of lakes, rivers and streams in search of food, using their barbels (or whiskers) to smell and taste.
I consider myself an industrious person – always working on this or that – but catfishing gives me this almost paradoxical feeling of both relaxation and productivity. Catfishing is about sitting and waiting. It is often a game of patience, so I sit and wait, doing nothing, yet at any moment my inactivity may result in catching a fish.
I’m not sure what my future holds, but no matter where I go and what I do, I’m pretty sure that catfish will somehow be involved.