Information Courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Southwest Region
Catfishes are characterized by scaleless skin and barbels, better known as whiskers, about their mouth. Channel catfish have a deeply forked tail and dark spots. The spotting, however, diminishes with age. Consequently, older channel cats are frequently mistaken for as blue catfish. But the anal fin on blue cats has a flat outer edge and channels have a rounded edge. If that doesn’t tell them apart look into the gut. A channel catfish has an air bladder that’s divided into two sections. The blue catfish’s air bladder has only one chamber. Young channel catfish are silvery blue-gray and their coloration darkens with age.
Channel catfish naturally occurred in the central and eastern United States and southern Canada. They ranged throughout the Mississippi River drainage to northeast Mexico; to the east from the St. Lawrence River, along the western slope of the Appalachian Mountains to central Florida. They were conspicuously absent along the watersheds of the Atlantic seaboard. The species has been widely introduced for sport fishing throughout the United States.
They prefer clear, slow-moving water but will tolerate muddy water. They live in warm or cool water habitats of large rivers, pond, or reservoirs. Because they are sensitive to light, they seek out shaded, deep pools around submerged logs, rocks, and other debris. Their peak activity occurs from dusk to about midnight. Most of their feeding is done at night when they "feel" for food with their barbels.
The channel catfish is an opportunistic omnivore, gorging itself on nearly any form of living or dead material. Being primarily a nocturnal animal, channel catfish must rely on its sensory organs, including the well-developed barbels, to find food. Their diet consists of aquatic insects, worms, clams, crayfish, snails, and fish, all of which could be dead or alive. Their stomachs might be packed with vegetable materials dropped into the water or minnows depending on what’s available. However, big channel catfish eat almost nothing but fish.
REPRODUCTION AND GROWTH
The channel catfish prefers obscure places to nest. Overhanging rock ledges, undercut banks, submerged beaver and muskrat dens, hollow logs, and even large cans, serve as nuptial domiciles. They spawn from May to July when the water temperature reaches 75 degrees. Males and females engage in a prolonged courtship before mating. Eggs are deposited in a yellow-colored, gelatinous mass and are incubated for about 6 to 10 days. As many as 20,000 eggs may be laid in one nest. After spawning, the male drives the female from the nest and guards it by himself. Newly hatched fish stay near the nest for several days, all the while the male guards. Females mature at 14 inches and males somewhat smaller. At one year old, channel catfish are about four inches long. By their fourth year they have usually reached 12 inches.
Among North American warm water fishes, the channel catfish is the most widely cultivated. Channel Catfish are raised for sport fishing at Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery at Burnet, Texas, Uvalde National Fish Hatchery, Uvalde, Texas, and Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma.
Because of their penchant for the putrid, catfish will take nearly any kind of bait, and on occasion a spinner or crankbait. Anglers frequently put out trot lines or setlines over night, baited with chicken liver, shrimp, or night crawlers. Waters that are unproductive for other sport fish usually have channel catfish as they are more tolerant of murky water. The world record fish weighed in at 45 pounds.
"DID YOU KNOW . . . ?"
Contrary to popular belief, it is the spines on the dorsal and pectoral fins that sting. The whiskers are harmless. But if you do get poked with a spine there is an effective folk remedy. Simply rub the fish’s belly on the wound.
Ictalurus, Greek for "fish cat." punctatus, dotted. Refers black spots on young fish.