Catfish are a diverse group of ray-finned fish. Named for their prominent barbels, which resemble a cat’s whiskers, catfish range in size and behavior from the heaviest and longest, the Mekong giant catfish from Southeast Asia and the second longest, the wels catfish of Eurasia. Most catfish are bottom feeders. In general, they are negatively buoyant, which means that they will usually sink rather than float due to a reduced gas bladder and a heavy, bony head. flattened head allows for digging through the substrate as well as perhaps serving as a hydrofoil. Most have a mouth that can expand to a large size and contains no teeth. Catfish generally feed through suction or gulping rather than biting and cutting prey.
Catfish Fishing Locations
Catfish can literally be found around the world. What do you look for, to find catfish habitat? Even if you are on a good catfishing river or a good catfishing lake or reservoir, you still have to look for the right spot to fish. Catfish habitat has certain special characteristics that help you locate the honey hole. If the body of water offers a choice, look for the locations where there is a hard bottom, both in the shallower water and the deeper water. If there is rock or pebbles, so much the better. Belzoni, Mississippi is actually the catfish capital of the world.
Catfish Fishing Techniques
I believe the most important step in catching catfish after finding a good location is using the right bait. The best bait will vary from time to time, depending on time of year, weather, water condition, atmospheric pressure and probably several more conditions I haven’t thought of right now. To select the perfect bait for any given fishing trip, just use a little common sense. If the fish are in a feeding frenzy, as they frequently are, any bait will catch fish. But when fishing is slow, bait choice becomes very critical. The closest thing you can find to a perfect bait, is a bait that comes from the natural food supply of the fish you are after. I strongly recommend catching, collecting or purchasing your bait from the local water. Whatever food is most abundant and available to the fish is what they are accustomed to eating. It is the bait they will most quickly and automatically take.
In discussing catfish species, we will start with the three most common types of catfish that we fish for here in North America. Other catfish species will be discussed as we go along, as some of our readers may enjoy different kinds of fishing or live outside North America. But we will start with the three that really excite the catfishing enthusiast of North America.
Channel Cat: The channel catfish has a slender body with a distinguishing deep forked tail. The anal fin is rounded and has 24 to 29 rays. Their color goes from a dark blue or blue gray on the back, to light blue or silver gray sides, to a white belly. The smaller or younger fish have black spots scattered over their sides. The spots tend to lighten or disappear as the fish get older and larger. Predominant size ranges from 2 to 5 pounds, with frequent catches up to about eight pounds. Catches over 15 pounds are infrequent, although the world record is 58 pounds.
Blue Cat: The blue catfish is very similar to the channel cat. Their natural range is the central part of North America. They are found in rivers and tributaries that feed the Mississippi and rivers that feed into the Gulf of Mexico and in lakes, reservoirs and ponds of that area. The blue catfish has a heavy body with a humped back in front of the dorsal fin and a deeply forked tail. Their anal fin is straight, as if trimmed with scissors and has 30 to 35 rays. Their backs are dark blue or blue gray. The color lightens down the sides to a white belly.
Flathead Cat: This catfish species is frequently called yellow cat, or Opelousas cat. They range the central part of North America. They are found in rivers and tributaries that feed the Mississippi and rivers that feed into the Gulf of Mexico and in lakes and reservoirs of that area. This catfish species likes moderately strong currents and clear to milky water. They like water temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees and normally hold in or close to deeper water. They spawn in late spring or early summer. A couple other species of catfish that are less popular but still notable are as follows.
White Catfish: The white catfish is actually a branch of the bullhead category. They are also sometimes called a forked tail catfish. Their biological name is Ameiurus catus. Color ranges from a blue-black top to sides that are blue-gray and mottled (but not spotted). They fade to a whitish belly. The tail is moderately forked and the anal fin is short and rounded. The anal fin has 19 to 22 rays. The chin barbels may be white or yellow. The head is somewhat rounded. Normal size ranges up to 18 inches and about 3 pounds, with very few being larger. The largest on record is 18.8 pounds, caught in the Withlacoochee River in Florida.
Bullhead Catfish: The bullhead catfish is found in most all waters of central and southern United States. They are very common, being found in most all places other catfish are found. They are also found in small ponds and streams that dry up to small water holes. They are frequently referred to as mud cats. There are actually two well known species of bullhead catfish, the black bullhead and the yellow bullhead.
The BLACK BULLHEAD is actually dark brown or dark blue-brown. It has a slight fork in the tail fin and 17 to 30 rays in the anal fin. The black bullhead has black barbels hanging from the chin.
The YELLOW BULLHEAD is actually a light brown to light yellow. It has a flat to rounded tail fin and 24 to 27 rays in the anal fin. The yellow bullhead has white barbels hanging from the chin. BOTH have a maximum size of about 6 pounds, with a normal size of about 2 pounds or less.
Catfish Cooking And Flavor
Catfish have been widely caught and farmed for food for hundreds of years in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. Judgments as to the quality and flavor vary, with some food critics considering catfish as being excellent food, others dismiss them as watery and lacking in flavor. Catfish is eaten in a variety of ways; in Europe it is often cooked in similar ways to carp, but in the United States it is typically crumbed with cornmeal and fried. A good catfish recipe is the difference in dining pleasure and dining ecstasy. Cat fish is good any way you cook it, but some recipes make you think you have died and gone to heaven. Blackened Cajun style Catfish is one of the best ways to prepare the fish. Try out King Of The Cajun’s “Cajun Catfish” Recipe and Cajun spices for an amazing meal. Ask your catfish fishing guide or catfish fishing charter captain for their favorite recipe and they will usually be glad to share one or more.
Have you ever felt the thrill of pulling in channel catfish, one after another, until you were breathless?… what about the almost heart-stopping excitement when you realize that the movement of your line is almost unstoppable, and when you try, the drag on your real pays out like it was hooked to a train! The monster on your line makes catfishing one of the most exciting types of fishing you will ever do.