Channel catfish

Common name

Channel catfish

Scientific name

Ictaluras punctatus 

Fish family


Also known as

spotted cat, blue channel cat, river catfish, catfish, graceful catfish

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What they look like

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. Some anglers mistakenly call channel catfish with few or no spots blue catfish, but blue catfish are rarely found in Washington, and are only known to inhabit the waters of the mid-Columbia and Snake rivers.

Channel catfish are scaleless, have slender bodies, deeply forked tails, long whisker-like barbels about the mouth, and curved anal fins with 24- 30 rays. Channel catfish are spotted as juveniles and small adults, but spots fade with size and age yielding a solid color as large adults. Their color is a bluish gray or bluish olive, with irregular small black spots on sides and silver to white on belly. The fins and barbels are moderately to darkly pigmented . Channel catfish mouth has patches of numerous fine teeth on jaws . They have 8 obvious barbels (4 pairs; 2 pair on the chin, 1 pair on the side of its upper jaw (near corner of mouth), 1 pair on top of the snout).

Breeding adults are similar to non-breeders, although males may be more bluish and have a swollen area above and behind eyes and juveniles are similar to adults, with pronounced spots and a generally lighter color.

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Where they live

Most common in big rivers, especially deep stretches with sand, gravel or rubble bottoms. Channel cats prefer cooler, deeper, cleaner water than bullheads. They like some current, but not as much as blue catfish. Channels are also found in lakes, reservoirs and ponds. Their preferred temperature range is 75 to 80 °F. During the day, they hide among rocks or logs.

Channel cats have been stocked in a number of Washington lakes in the last decade by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. These non-reproducing populations were introduced in an attempt to increase predation on over-abundant forage fish populations, and to add diversity to mixed-species fisheries. These efforts have been highly successful in several lakes. Of the dozen or so lakes planted since 1982, Fazon Lake, Sprague Lake, McCabe Pond, Swofford Pond, Gissburg ponds, Harts Lake and Kress Lake have produced the most significant fisheries so far.

The first reported introduction of channel catfish Into Washington waters was in 1892, when 75 fish went into Clear Lake, Skagit County. That same year, 125 were stocked into a privately-owned, unnamed farm pond near Vancouver, and 50 were liberated in Deer Lake, Spokane County. In 1893 the Boise River in Idaho (a Snake River tributary) received 100 adult or yearling channel cats, and a few were released in the Willamette River in Oregon. Additional releases were made in various lakes and streams across the state in the ensuing years, as all forms of catfish (mainly bullheads) became abundant and popular in the region with both sport and commercial anglers.

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What they eat

Adult channel cats are known to forage on an incredible variety of food organisms, including frogs, crawfish, clams, snails, worms, pond weeds, seeds, snakes and birds, in addition to the more traditional forage of fish and insects, but will just as willingly devour dead fish, or anything else it happens upon. As with the other catfish, feeding activity is generally greatest at night, but this species seems to rely more on sight than the bullheads.

Young catfish eat mostly insect, crayfish, other fish and even tree seeds. In turn, small catfish are probably eaten by many other fish.

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Life cycle

Channel catfish may live as long as 25 years. This advanced age can be accompanied by a body size of 30 pounds. At such a large size, adult channel cats probably have no predators except man. Channel catfish have a top-end size of approximately 40-50 pounds. There have been records of channel cats reaching 40 years of age and one of the largest catfish species found in North America weighed 58 pounds.

Realistically, a channel catfish over 20 pounds is a spectacular specimen, and most catfish anglers view a 10 pound fish as a very admirable catch. Furthermore the average size channel catfish an angler could expect to find in most waterways would be between 2 and 4 pounds. They grow faster than white catfish, but slower than blues or flatheads.

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Channel catfish spawn only in lakes, rivers and streams that can reach a temperature of 75° F by late spring. Currently, naturally-reproducing populations are found only in the Snake, Columbia, lower Yakima (50 miles) and Walla Walla rivers. Sexual maturity comes at five to eight years of age. They lay approximately 2,000 to 21,000 eggs. It is not uncommon for the male fish to spawn with more than one female.

These fish select nest sites in dark depressions, cavities, or undercut stream banks, or inside crevices, hollow logs, or man-made containers. Spawning success is dependent on available cover. A golden-yellow gelatinous egg mass is deposited in the bottom of the nest. Males guard the nest until the fry leave, and may actually eat some of the eggs if they are disturbed. The eggs, if not devoured, typically hatch in 5-10 days following spawning, and the youngsters grow quite rapidly. 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.

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State Record

36 lbs. 3.2 oz. caught in I-82 Pond #6, Yakima County by angler Ross Kincaid on September 6, 1999

World Record

58 lbs. caught in Santee-Cooper Res., South Carolina by angler W.B. Whaley on July 7, 1964

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