In an attempt to simulate this phenomenon and increase redbreast sunfish numbers, Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR) personnel removed flathead catfish of all sizes collected by electrofishing in a 70 km stretch of the Ocmulgee River over four consecutive years (R. Weller, GADNR pers. comm.). After four years, the size structure of the flathead catfish had drastically declined, but the catch rate of the species did not change. This in turn led to no change in redbreast sunfish abundance.
In the Apalachicola River, flathead catfish have become popular with anglers for the sport and quality of the flesh. Cailteux et al. (1999) reported that 31% of anglers interviewed on the Apalachicola River (N=279) fished to some extent for flathead catfish. The Blountstown Rotary Club started the first flathead catfish tournament in 1996 in which 154 anglers competed and has become an annual event. Since then, two other local civic groups, one in Bristol and one in Wewahitchka, also started annual tournaments. These events have become the major fundraiser for all three of these groups. From 154 up to 353 anglers have competed in each of these events. A rudimentary economic study was done on these three events in 2001 to assess the impact these tournaments had on the local economies of these rural counties (Cailteux et al. 2002). Estimated direct business sales ranged from $32,000 to $59,000 per each one-day tournament. These groups have turned a bad situation into a worthwhile cause.
While the Apalachicola River has the most abundant flathead catfish population, four other north Florida rivers have varying levels of population densities. The Escambia River (Pensacola area) currently holds the state record for flathead catfish (22 kg) that was caught in 2000. However, relative abundance in the Escambia River (11-27 fish/hr.) is much lower than in the Apalachicola River (69-84 fish/hr.; Cailteux et al. 1999). Flathead catfish relative abundance in the Ochlockonee (0 to 2 fish/hr.) and Yellow (1 to 8 fish/hr.) rivers are much lower than either the Apalachicola or Escambia rivers. This suggests that fish were introduced into the latter two rivers earlier than any of the others studied. In summer 2002, flathead catfish were collected in the Choctawhatchee River (1 fish/hr.) for the first time. Although, flathead catfish have been collected from the Blackwater River (D. Yeager, FWC, pers. comm.) no estimates of relative abundance have been reported.
Prior to flathead catfish introduction, spotted bullhead A. serracanthus (Figure 2) was probably the dominant ictalurid in most of the rivers east of and including the Choctawhatchee River in north Florida. Anecdotal evidence exists that suggests this was the case in the Apalachicola River (C. Mesing FWC pers. comm.) although as of summer 2002, only 2 fish/hr. were collected. In contrast, the Suwannee (no flatheads collected to present) and Choctawhatchee rivers have yielded estimates of 46 to 95 spotted bullhead/hr in every sample collected (Cailteux et al. 2002). As flathead catfish begin or continue to prosper in these systems, relative abundance of spotted bullhead will probably decrease as it has in the Apalachicola River.
The continued spread of flathead catfish into other Florida rivers will likely occur in the future, perhaps in part due to their appeal to anglers. Efforts to educate the public to the many negatives of introducing species outside their native range are ongoing. While the flathead catfish is not a welcomed addition to the ichthyofauna of north Florida rivers,
The Conecuh River and
Escambia River constitute a single 258-mile-long river in Alabama and Florida
in the United States.
The Conecuh River rises near Union Springs in the state and flows 198 miles in a general southwesterly direction into Florida near Century. The river's name changes from the Conecuh to the Escambia at the junction of Escambia Creek, 1.2 miles downstream from the Florida-Alabama line. After this point, the Escambia River flows 60 miles south to Escambia Bay, an arm of Pensacola Bay.
This is Florida’s best Flathead River only second to the Apalachicola, it may not have the numbers to keep up with the Apalachicola River but it makes up with its size of fish.
Each year fish are taken over 70lbs with dozens up to 60lbs taken, some have even been recorded over 80lbs on this diverse river. This river is home to Florida's first official state record Flathead. Also look for large blue cats that make this river their home. This river also held the old state record Blue Cat.
This river has everything from sand bars to deep holes, and is home to the largest log jam in Florida. At any given point on this river a giant could be taken.
Flatheads entered this
river system sometime in the late 80s many locals say, so old fish are swimming
these waters. The potential to produce a fish up to 100lbs in the next few
years is very possible.
The river can be dangerous at times during droughts with less than 2 feet sections littered with dead heads; a good GPS is needed for safe night fishing. The southern parts of the river are very deep and safe for night fishing with plenty of large Flatheads to be caught.
In Florida it is illegal to use sunfish for any other method besides Rod N Reel, no bush hooks, limb lines, trot lines or on any other set line.
It’s also illegal to use jugs without anchoring them properly
It’s also illegal to use non-native fish for bait, which includes tilapia, gold fish and some carps and possibly juvenile flatheads and blue cats. The commercial sale of flathead catfish and blue catfish in Florida is prohibited.