Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
Common names: blue channel, Mississippi cat, speckled cat, sand cat, river cat
If your a fisherman, chances are you’ve hooked a channel catfish at some point in your life. These slimy creatures love just about any kind of bait and are an easy catch for even the most initiated and youngest of anglers. With their large mouths and scaleless bodies channel catfish make for an exciting and sometimes tasty catch. Served in restaurants throughout the United States, catfish are one of the most popular freshwater dishes. And their tolerant lifestyles make them perfect for aquaculture as well as catch and release stocks in you’re backyard pond.
Range: Originally found in only the Gulf states and in the Mississippi Valley, channel catfish are now found in ponds and rivers throughout the United States.
Description: Like all native North American catfishes, a channel cat has a body that is cylindrical in cross section and lacks scales. Fins are soft rayed with the exception of the dorsal and pectoral fins which have sharp hard spins that can inflict a nasty wound if catfish is not handled with care. A spineless adipose fin is located on the back between dorsal and caudal fins. One conspicuous characteristic of all catfish is the presence of barbels, often mistakenly called whiskers, around the mouth. The barbels are arranged in a definite pattern with four under the jaw and two located above the mouth. The channel catfish is the only catfish in North America with a deeply forked tail. There are 24-29 rays on the anal fin. They are generally drab green to blue on the back shading to off-white ventrally. Their coloration is largely dictated by the water quality of the water they inhabit. In clear water they appear almost black, while in muddy water they can appear yellow. Young channel catfish are irregularly spotted on the sides, with the spots disappearing as maturation progresses.
Biology and Life History: In natural waters, channel catfish inhabit moderate to swiftly flowing streams, but they are abundant in large reservoirs, lakes, ponds, and rivers. They prefer sand or gravel bottoms, but can also exist on mud bottoms. Seldom found in heavily weeded areas, channel catfish are predominately freshwater, but can survive in brackish habitats. They can survive in an array of water qualities, preferring freshwater, but can thrive in muddy heavily clouded waters. During the day, when water temperatures rise, catfish can be found in deep holes, or underneath shelter such as logs or large rocks. Most feeding and activity occurs at dusk or night. Adult channel catfish are primarily sedentary, choosing to stay in one area of the majority of their life span, while young catfish move around more frequently often in search of food. Feeding occurs at any time of the day or night and consists of a diet rich in plant and animal material. Channel catfish feed on the bottom, but will feed at the surface, most often when food is being provided from an outside source, such as in an aquaculture facility. Young catfish feed mostly on aquatic insects, while adults have a more diverse diet that includes crawfish, aquatic insects, plant material, snails, green algae, seeds, small fish, and there are even records of small birds being eaten. Channel catfish grow best in warm waters and the average size is 2 to 3 pounds. The largest catfish caught on record was 58 pounds. Catfish usually reach one pound by 2 to 4 years old, and the longest recorded living catfish was 40 years old. Most channel catfish harvest commercially are about 2 years old. Channel catfish are cavity spawners, choosing to lay eggs in dark holes, or under logs and rocks. They usually spawn in the summer months when water temperatures are the highest.
Stocking: Channel catfish can be stocked in ponds up to 50 fish per acre. They are usually stocked when the reach a length of 6-8 inches. They do not naturally spawn in ponds, so structures, such a milk crates, or buckets may be added to the pond bottom to encourage spawning. These fish are hardy, and can be fed a pelleted food, or left to survive off the natural food sources provided by a pond. It is important to talk to an extension specialist before stocking your pond to make sure it has the adequate characteristics to facilitate a healthy channel catfish population.