Channel and White Catfish
Ictalurus punctatus and Ameiurus catus
(A.K.A. - Mudcats, Cats)
Key Distinguishing Markings:
- Channel and white catfish are members of the bullhead catfish family,
Ictaluridae, and are a freshwater species that are commonly found in
- Catfish are long slender fish with barbels on the chin that look like
long black whiskers. There are four pairs of barbels ("whiskers") around the mouth, two on
the chin, one at the angle of the mouth, and one behind the nostril.
- Unlike other fish, catfish do not have scales.
- Bullhead catfishes all lack scales and possess an adipose fin, as well
as a single, often serrated spine in the dorsal and pectoral fins.
- The channel catfish is generally gray to greenish-gray on the upper part
of its slender body, silver to white on its lower half and belly and has a
deeply forked tail. It has dark specks scattered over its body.
- Small adults and juveniles have black or dusky spots on their body.
- White catfish are bluish-gray on their back and sides and white
underneath. Their tail is moderately forked and they have a noticeably broad
head and stout body and are smaller in size than channel catfish.
- Channel catfish size and age at maturity varies between sexes. Males in
the Susquehanna River range between 0.2 and 0.9 inches larger than females.
Females mature as early as age 3 at 8-10 inches. The oldest channel catfish
was captured in Canada and was estimated to be 24 years old.
- White catfish mature at ages 3-4 at approximately 7-9 inches. Longevity
of white catfish has been estimated to be 14 years.
- The native range of channel catfish extends from southern Canada, through
the Great Lakes and central United States drainage system, to Mexico
including all the Gulf states and some of the Atlantic coast.
- However, due to extensive introductions, their current range includes all
of the Pacific and Atlantic drainage systems in the 48 continental states.
- As an introduced species, channel catfish have become very successful in
the Chesapeake Bay.
- White catfish inhabit fresh and brackish water bodies along the Atlantic
and Gulf coast states from New York to Florida, and are native to the
Chesapeake Bay system.
- Channel catfish live mainly in fresh water and can be found in the upper
Chesapeake Bay and upper parts of most all rivers. Channel catfish are not
native to the Chesapeake. They were stocked into ponds in Maryland and
Pennsylvania and washed into the Bay rivers by floods.
- Native to the Chesapeake Bay system, White catfish inhabit fresh and
brackish water bodies including sluggish, mud-bottomed pools, open channels,
and backwaters of small to large rivers.
- Catfish are bottom feeders that feed at night.
- Catfish and bullheads are opportunistic feeders with highly varied diets.
- Common food items include aquatic plants and seeds, fish, mollusks,
insects and their larvae, and crustaceans.
- Although catfish and bullheads have poor eyesight, their barbels
(whiskers) are well-equipped with taste buds which help them find food at
night and in muddy waters.
- Channel catfish spawn in late spring when water temperatures
reach 75oF and lay approximately 2,000 to 21,000 eggs in
turbid tributaries, sometimes in areas of fairly swift current.
- It is not uncommon for these fish to spawn twice in one season.
- These fish select nest sites in dark depressions, cavities, or
undercut stream banks, or inside crevices, hollow logs, or man-made
- Spawning success is dependent on available cover.
- Upon hatching, catfish fry sometimes aggregate in tight schools
after leaving the nest until suitable cover is found.
- Fingerlings school together during daylight hours and disperse
and feed at night.
- White catfish spawn in early summer when water temperatures
reach 68-72oF in still or flowing waters near sand or
- Large, saucer-shaped nests of White catfish are formed by both
the male and female fanning their sides and fins on the bottom.
Approximately 1,000 to 4,000 adhesive eggs are laid. Males guard the
nest and aerate the eggs to keep sediments from depositing on them.
Males may remain close to the nest after hatching until the fry stop
schooling and disperse.
- Channel catfish are very good to eat.
- Fresh baits such as peeler or soft crab, shrimp, squid, and cut fish are
best for catching channel catfish.
- Popular methods for fishing include bait casting, bottom fishing, and
use of traps.
- It is not known to what extent catfish are taken for subsistence in the
Bay region, however, the large percentage of small fish taken by anglers
surveyed is evidence that catfish are targeted by more than just pure sport
anglers. Catfish are resident species that may experience high levels of
fishing pressure during their spawning seasons.
Click here to see the
recreational regulations for catfish.
- The largest channel catfish caught in Maryland's portion of Chesapeake Bay
weighed 28.3 pounds and was caught in Piscataway Creek.
- The sportfishing record is a specimen from Georgia that weighed 32
- Catfish have numerous external taste buds, many of which are located on
the barbels. Consequently, they can taste something by simply touching it
with their barbels.
||Ictaluridae (North American freshwater
||Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)
|| Ictaluridae (North American freshwater
||Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)
For more information on channel and white catfish and their management,
Illustrations by Duanne Raver