Freshwater Fish Identification
Other names: Willow cat, forked-tail cat, fiddler, spotted cat, lady
Status: Texas game fish
Ictalurus is Greek and punctatus is Latin, meaning "fish
cat" and "spotted," respectively. Channel catfish are easily distinguished from
all others, except blue catfish, by their deeply forked tail fin. Unlike
flathead catfish, the upper jaw projects beyond the lower jaw. Coloration is
olive-brown to slate-blue on the back and sides, shading to silvery-white on the
belly. Typically, numerous small, black spots are present, but may be obscured
in large adults. The anal fin has 24-29 soft rays, in contrast to the blue
catfish which always has 30 or more rays in the anal fin.
Channel catfish ranks behind only bass and crappie as the most preferred fish
to catch in Texas. Popular with trotliners as well as rod-and-reel anglers,
channel cats may be captured on a wide variety of baits including liver, worms,
grasshoppers, shrimp, chicken, cheese and stinkbait, among others. Undoubtedly,
part of the reason for their popularity is their delicious flavor when cooked.
Channel catfish in excess of 36 pounds have been landed in Texas waters. The
North American record stands at 58 pounds.
Channel catfish are most abundant in large streams with low or moderate
current. They 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 two or three years in captivity, whereas data from
natural populations indicates channel catfish in Texas reach sexual maturity in
3-6 years. Most are mature by the time they reach 12 inches in length.
Channel catfish are native to North America east of the Rockies from southern
Canada, south into northeastern Mexico, and east of the Appalachians with the
exception of much of the coastal plain north of Florida. The species has been
widely introduced in other areas as far west as California. Today channel
catfish range throughout Texas, however, it is believed that the species was not
native to the upper Rio Grande and Pecos basins.
to catfishes page