Research In Action—Anecdotal reports suggest barge traffic may increase angler success on rivers, but no scientific studies had been done to verify this phenomenon. The Missouri Department of Conservation evaluated the effects of barge traffic on catfish angler success in a section of the Mississippi River from Grand Tower, Illinois, to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Catch rates were recorded for anglers fishing from anchored boats and from the bank as barges approached and passed their fishing location. Catch rates also were recorded during times of no barge traffic.

About 300 catfish (channels, blues, and flatheads) were caught during 250 angler hours, a catch rate of 1.2 fish per hour. Despite barge traffic only accounting for about 30 angler hours, more than half the total catch occurred during barge traffic (5.4 fish per hour).

The higher catch rates in the presence of barge traffic may be a learned behavior related to acoustic transfer of sound such as barge motor noise, cavitation, and splashing of water on the hull of the barge, coupled with water displacement.  Acoustic transfer may act as a “dinner bell,” as water displacement may cause a temporary increase in drifting benthic insects and disoriented baitfish, leading to increased feeding activity and higher catfish catch rates.

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