Channel Catfish Fish Identification, habitats, characteristics, fishing methods.
Channel catfish is the most popular and abundant sport and tasty fish. Their flesh is prized by many anglers and the popularity of channel catfish for food has allowed the rapid growth of aquaculture of this species. Fishing success will depend on your ability to find these concentrations of fish. The channel catfish is an adaptable fish, usually found in clear, warm lakes and moderately large to large rivers, over clean sand, gravel or rock-rubble bottoms. They prefer deep pools and runs in rivers that have alternating pool and riffle habitats, could be found in reservoirs, lakes and farm ponds, and larger streams.
A combination of understanding the fish and the techniques used to catch them will help you to hook more fish to the end of your line. Better knowing and understanding of the fish that you are trying to catch will make you a more successful angler, whether you are fishing for trout on a river or surfing on the beach or trolling on the open water.
Channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, is North America's most numerous catfish species. They are also known as Willow Cat, Forked-tail Cat, Fiddler, Spotted Cat, and Lady Cat. The native range of channel catfish is believed to be the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River watershed, the Missouri River system, the Mississippi River watershed, Gulf of Mexico watershed and parts of Mexico. Channel catfish are found in nearly all of our lakes, ponds, streams and rivers throughout the United States.
Channel catfish are easily distinguished from all others, except
Blue catfish, by their deeply forked tail fin. The upper jaw projects beyond the lower jaw which distinguishes Channel from flathead catfish. Coloration depends on the color of the water they inhabit. They are olive-brown to back blue-gray on the back and sides light blue to silvery with scattered dark olive to black spots, shading to silvery-white on the belly. Adults have some small, black spots. In clear water they may appear almost black, while in muddy water they may be a light yellow.
A channel catfish has a body is located on the back between the dorsal and caudal fins. They can grow up to 4 ft (1.2 m) and weight up to 58 lbs (26.3 kg). They have wide head, flat to slightly rounded above; eyes are large, above midline of head; 4 pairs of barbells around the mouth. The barbells are arranged in a definite pattern with four under the jaw and one on each tip of the maxilla (upper jaw). The channel catfish fins are sharp, hard spines a deeply forked tail. The anal fin has 24-31 nasty, painful soft rays, while blue catfish always has 30 and more rays in the anal fin. Their caudal fin deeply forked and outer edge of anal fin rounded. An adipose fin (lacking rays) shading to the off-white ventrally.
Young channel catfish are irregularly spotted on their sides, but the spots tend to disappear in the adults.
Habitat and Habits
In natural waters channel catfish live in moderate to swiftly flowing streams, but they are also abundant in large reservoirs, lakes, ponds and some sluggish streams. They are usually found where bottoms are sand, gravel or rubble, in preference to mud bottoms. They are seldom found in dense aquatic weeds. Channel catfish are freshwater fish but they can thrive in brackish water.
Channel catfish generally prefer clear water streams, but are common and do well in muddy water. During the day they are usually found in deep holes wherever the protection of logs and rocks can be found. Most movement and feeding activity occurs at night just after sunset and just before sunrise. Young channel catfish frequently feed in shallow riffle areas while the adults seem to feed in deeper water immediately downstream from sand bars. Adults rarely move much from one area to another and are rather sedentary, while young fish tend to move about much more extensively, particularly at night when feeding.
Catfish, by and large, are omnivorous feeders with a well developed sense of smell. They consume a wide variety of food items, and the fish is most often attracted to smelly morsels of food. The single greatest determinant of catfish food preference is body size. Smaller catfish, those less than 14 inches, feed primarily on bottom-dwelling organisms, such as aquatic insect larvae and other invertebrates. As catfish grow to a larger size after 16 inches, their diet changes and a wider variety of food items are eaten, either alive or dead. Fish become an important part of the diet for channel catfish larger than 18 inches total length, and in natural waters fish may constitute as much as 75 percent of their diet.
The diet of channel catfish also varies with the different seasons. During late winter and early spring the most abundant food is a wide variety of organisms, including fish that have succumbed to the harsh winter. As the water warms into late spring and summer the diet of catfish shifts continually to food items that are again most available and vulnerable. The most prevalent foods at this time of the year are aquatic and terrestrial worms, fish, frogs, crayfish, mulberries, insects and their larvae forms, elm seeds and algae. Many other items are consumed but usually make up only a small portion of the menu. Catfish food habits in the fall along with aquatic invertebrates and terrestrial insects. Frogs become increasingly important for food as they move into streams before the onset of winter. Under the ice cover catfish feeding is reduced to a low level and consists mostly of dead fish that are picked up from the bottom.
Feeding can occur during day or night, and they will eat a wide variety of both plant and animal material. Channel catfish usually feed near the bottom in natural waters but will take some food from the surface. The adults have a much more varied diet which includes insects, snails, crawfish, green algae, aquatic plants, seeds and small fish. When available, they will feed avidly on terrestrial insects, and there are even records of birds being eaten. Channel catfish primarily detect food with their sense of taste. Taste buds are found over the entire external surface of catfish as well as inside the mouth, pharynx and gill arches. They are most numerous on the barbells and gill arches. In clear water, eyesight can be an important means of finding food. However, in turbid water, taste is the primary way catfish locate food. The organ of smell (olfactory organs) may play some role. The olfactory organs are found in the nostrils (nares) which are located on top of the head just in front of the eyes.
Channel catfish spawn in late spring or early summer when water temperatures reach 75°F. Males select nest sites which are normally dark secluded areas such as cavities in drift piles, logs, undercut banks, rocks, cans, etc. A golden-yellow gelatinous egg mass is deposited in the bottom of the nest.
Males guard the nest, and may actually eat some of the eggs if they are disturbed. The eggs, if not devoured, typically hatch in about a week. Fry remain in the nest, under the guardianship of the male, for about another week. In clear water, young fish appear to be much more susceptible to predation and survival rates during the first year of life are much lower.
Channel catfish less than 4 inches in length feed primarily on small insects. Adults are largely omnivorous, feeding on insects, mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and even some plant material. Sexual maturity is reached in 2 to 6 years in captivity. Most are mature by the time they reach 12 inches in length.
Using the right bait is probably the most confusing part of channel catfish fishing. Bait selection ranges from nightcrawlers, chicken blood, chicken liver, chicken or fish guts, crawdads, grasshoppers, water dogs, live and dead minnows, cut bait, and a multitude of prepared "stink" baits. The prepared baits most often have one thing in common -- cheese. The most important points to consider when selecting catfish bait are to determine the size of fish sought and the water temperature of the lake or river that will be fished.
The rule of thumb is to use cut-bait or dead minnows for the best luck in late winter and spring-time just after ice-out. This bait is composed of half-rotten fish and should be fished when the water temperature is less than 60 °F. Catfish actively feed on fish flesh and other animals that diet during winter and sink to the bottom. The stronger the rotten odor of bait in winter, the better the success in fishing. The shallow water warms faster and attracts catfish into the near-shore reaches. Catfish can be caught under ice conditions, but feeding begins in earnest after the water temperature reaches 40 °F.
The keen sense of smell possessed by channel catfish make it one of the few species of game fish that can be readily caught during high stream flows in the spring, summer, and early fall. Fish surely become more active during this time and less active during falling levels and are less susceptible to the angler. During periods of stable or rising water levels nearly all baits will produce good catches of catfish.
The prepared bait is most effective for pan-sized catfish during mid-summer -- June, July and August when temperatures warm to 70 °F and above. Anglers seeking larger fish during this period use large-sized baits such as dead bluegill, live chubs, water dogs, crayfish and frogs. Large catfish like a good-sized meal and the movement of these creatures will attract their attention.
Lake anglers use relatively short rods, but stream anglers seem to have the best success when using longer rods from 8 to 12 feet in length. The advantage to the longer rods, when stream fishing, is the reach they afford for better placement of the bait when casting. Or just drop the line near a likely spot with no more line out than the rod length that provides excellent control of the bait for better placement and improves the chances of hooking a fish after a natural-like presentation. Ten-pound test line is recommended over lighter weight line because the bait is fished on the bottom and often near underwater snags.
Channel catfish is the most popular and abundant sport and tasty fish. Lakes and ponds also produce excellent catfishing, and it is in these waters that the largest specimens are found. Catfish, like all fish, are not randomly distributed, but are congregated in particular locations. Fishing success will depend on your ability to find these concentrations of fish. Light tackle catches more fish, but heavy tackle is required in snags and structure when catching large fish. Use dead minnows or cut-bait in the late winter and early spring when the water temperature is 35 to 60 °F. Use prepared cheese baits in the summer when the water temperature is above 70 °F. Cheese baits are most effective on fish 10 to 16 inches in length. Live bait is best for larger above 3 pounds fish.
Great rods for Channel catfish fishing are:
11 ft Light Casting Rod
13 ft Tele Casting Rod
12ft Casting Fishing Rod
15 ft Telescopic Fishing Surf Casting Rod
18ft Telescopic Surf Casting Rod
4.5m Telescopic Surf Casting Rod
15 ft Telescopic Surf Casting Rod 98% Carbon