Post date: Saturday, March 3, 2012 - 17:00
Updated date: 4/20/17
Ictalurus punctatus - channel catfish


The Channel Catfish is our most common large catfish. An average channel cat is about two pounds, but 10 pounders are common and the record for Minnesota is 39 pounds. Channel cats are fierce fighters, and more prone to hitting artificial lures than any of the other catfishes.


Barbels and Spiny Fins: Catfish have eight barbels around the mouth - which are used for tasting and smelling the water. These "whiskers" are harmless. However, they also have three sharp spines - one at the front of each pectoral and the dorsal fin. Watch out for those spines! The spines can deliver a painful sting - they are coated in an irritant toxin that can cause pain and swelling around the wound. Immersing the wound in water that is as hot as the wounded person can tolerate will detoxify the irritant and relieve the pain. As they get bigger, the spines lose their sharpness, so larger specimens are less of a threat.


Other Names: fiddler, spotted catfish





The channel cat's gray color and deeply forked tail make it easy to identify. Young channel cats have spots on their body; larger fish lose these.





The Channel Catfish is mainly a fish of rivers, although it is very adaptable and is often found in lakes and impoundments as well. Deep, slow sections of water with some cover present are good spots to look for Channel cats. Rip-rap, woody debris, and vegetation can all be good cover for channel catfish.




Channel catfish are true predators, feeding by sight as well as smell. You can catch them reliably with stinkbait. Stinkbait is something that smells bad and is gooey enough to stick to a sponge or lure. You can buy stinkbait in plastic tubs in any good tackle shop. You could probably make stinkbait yourself, but this would involve wallowing in filth and becoming a social outcast so it's better left to the professionals. One of the best stinkbait lures is called the "Devil Worm". This is basically a ribbed plastic worm with a treble hook on the back end. This bait is dipped into a container of evil-smelling stinkbait and slopped around with a stick. Throw this out and let it sit on the bottom of a river and it will attract channel catfish for miles. A good homemade alternative to the devil worm is the "nerf rig". Cut an egg shaped chunk out of an old nerf football, about an inch long, and push it onto a double-hook. Dip this in blood or cheese-flavoured stinkbait, and fish it on the bottom. Fresh liver is a proven bait for channel catfish. Chicken liver, in particular, is productive, although beef liver is easier to keep on the hook and works almost as well when cut into 3" strips. Shrimp are deadly on channel cats, and the more rancid they get the better. Having fished with squid in saltwater and suffered the effects of squid stench on numerous occasions, I would imagine that squid would be a great bait for channel cats, since it's tough as leather and smells bad enough to gag a maggot. Live bait (suckers, chubs, large shiners, fatheads, or crayfish) can be even more effective than stinkbait at times. Channel catfish can also be taken on flies. Andy has done well using heavily weighted Whitlock's sculpins in the Mississippi. Wooly buggers would be another good bet, especially in brown or olive.



Oddball Kitties Down Texas Way


Here's a quick heads-up to those of you who fish the Big bend, Texas area, the Pecos, and the Rio Grande. There are a couple of other species of catfish, very similar to the Channel cat, in the Desert Southwest. This chart illustrates the differences:


from Inland Fishes of the Greater Southwest: Chronicle of a Vanishing Biota By W. L. Minckley, Paul C. Marsh



So, if you ever find yourself catfishing in West Texas or New Mexico, keep your eyes peeled for cats with short spines - they might be a Headwater or Chihuahua Catfish. The headwater Catfish is Ictalurus lupus (which literally means "wolf catfish") and the Chihuahua Catfish is Ictalurus sp. (Which means "some damn kind of Catfish which we scientists haven't thought up a name for yet" - hey ... how about Ictalurus chihuahua? I'm just sayin'). If you catch or photograph either one of these critters, please send me a photo because it's direly needed.





Range Map

Photo Credits:

John Hiebert

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