Don’t ask me why but lately I have been thinking about catfish. That’s right, catfish, those whiskered denizens of a lot of our local lakes and rivers. We have talked about catfish here before but I felt it was time for another little heart to heart about these misunderstood and tasty fish.
So named because of their protruding whiskers or barbels (like a cat) the catfish is found on every continent except Antarctica. What self-respecting catfish would want to live in Antarctica anyway? Fish scientists, ichthyologists, (I often wonder how long those guys and girls go to school before they learn to spell ichthyologist) tell us that there are over 3,000 different species of catfish in the world.
Besides their trademark whiskers, catfish usually have a large boney head and a protruding dorsal fin with a pointed ray or bone that can be very painful if handled incorrectly. The two front dorsal fins often have a similar pointed bone and must be handled carefully. The size of catfish is always good for some entertaining although usually very misinformed chatter at the barber shop and the bait store. Fishermen love to pass along stories of monster catfish at the base of any large impoundment with catfish “bigger than the scuba divers” that saw them or some such. Ever talk to one of these divers? Ever see one of these fish caught locally? No, neither have I.
Just to try to clear some of this monster catfish lore, which I know will be to no avail. (Much like trying to tell people they did not see a mountain lion in their back yard) On the wonderful internet, where anything is possible and the truth never gets in the way, you will often see pictures of a fisherman with a gigantic catfish, say around 300 pounds and seven or eight feet long. The caption will say it was caught at any lake or river in your area. Look closely at these pictures, it is usually a Wels catfish and they are found over much of Europe, you know, Europe across the Atlantic, not in your state or any part of the United States for that matter.
Catfish aficionados have long known that catfish can be taken on a wide variety of baits. Many trend towards “the more it stinks the better it is” mode. Chicken and beef liver, various animal parts, cut bait, (usually fish), and really any organic material with a lot of aroma are all good candidates for catfish bait. Commercially made stink baits have taken this to a new level. Just check out the fishing section at Wally World for an idea of all the catfish stink baits that are out there.
In truth do you need all of the specially made catfish gear and bait to catch fish? No, but some of it may be fun to try. Your medium action bass rods and some live bait may be all you need to have catfish fillets sizzling at your house this week.
OK, I know I wandered a little there, but if you are fishing in most of the good ol’ U S of A, you will be concerned with mainly three species of catfish, the Channel Cat, the Blue Cat, and the Flathead Catfish.
The Channel Cat is the smallest of the three but the most plentiful, which makes him the most popular target for catfishermen. The channel is known to be in swift flowing rivers, but may also be found in lakes. Live minnows, shrimp, crayfish, night crawlers, and cut bait may all produce channels. Channels have a bluish gray tinge with some dark specks and a deeply forked tail.
The Blue Cat resembles the channel but grows much larger; Blue Catfish nudging 150 pounds have been caught and larger ones may be on the way. So let’s go back to where I told you to use your bass rods. Probably not a good idea if you are going to target large blue cats! Something in the salt water range would be more appropriate. Anything from stink bait to live bait will produce blue cats.
The Flathead Catfish is the last of the species on your list. Also called mud cat, yellow or shovel head catfish. This cat is usually a mottled brown with some yellowish color on the sides and a white belly. Like the blue cat, this guy can get some size on him (or her), the current world record is over 123 pounds. So again, I would not be using any ultra-light gear for flatheads. Flathead catfish are known for favoring live bait, usually fish. In many areas a live bluegill or sunfish, “brim” is a favorite.
Of course the best part of catching catfish may be the eating part. Catfish are fairly easy to fillet and rolled in your favorite seasoned flour and fried to a golden brown I think that they are about the tastiest fish that swims. Don’t forget the hushpuppies and Cole slaw.