Variation in Trotline Catfish Catch and Bycatch Rates by Hook and Bait Type in the New River, Virginia

The New River, Virginia, supports a trotline fishery for catfish (Ictaluridae) that coexists with popular recreational fisheries for smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), and walleye (Sander vitreus), yet no studies have examined trotline catches or bycatch of these game fish. Trotline effort was estimated by conducting off-site interviews of trotline fishers and field counts of active trotlines. Catch of catfish and bycatch were estimated with experimental trotline sets that used circle or J hooks and two bait types (i.e., live or cut bait). Catch averaged 12.1 catfish 100 hook nights-1. Experimental trotline sets baited with live bait fish captured predominantly channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) and flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) but caught few smallmouth bass, muskellunge, or walleye. Cutbait caught fewer catfish, particularly flathead catfish, and fewer non-catfish species than live bait. Circle hooks were more effective for catching channel cat sh compared to J hooks. Although game fish were caught at nearly equal rates by both hook types, 67% of J hooks were embedded in the stomach or esophagus compared to only 18% of those caught with circle hooks. Based on our standardized trotline surveys, a catfish angler caught 1 game fish for every 32 catfish that were caught. Overall, our findings suggest that trotline fishing for catfish would likely have a small influence on the abundant smallmouth bass population in the New River, compared to the smaller, developing walleye population.

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