Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Gamefish Profile: The Channel Catfish

Most of us will never forget our first time catching a catfish. Whether it's the whiskers that stand out to us or the fact that they grunt at you when pulled from the water, these fish leave a lasting impression.  Their unforgettable nature is just one of the many reasons that catfish fishing is second in popularity only to bass fishing.

If its not their curious looks that makes them so memorable then its the fact that catfish are fighters.  They may not give the aerial acrobatics of smallmouth bass but catfish fight to the finish when they are hooked.  Channel cats will try to take you into any cover they can get you into in order to break you off. Even upon getting them close to the bank often times they'll begin to do a death roll in a last ditch effort to get away.  The fighting nature is something you'll always remember especially if you hook into a large cat.

Table Fare: If there is no other reason people fish for channel cats its because they are great table fare.  They taste amazing especially when prepared the right way.  For the best results younger fish in the 12 to 18 inch range have the best taste.  However if you catch larger fish just cut off the darker meat to enhance the flavor.  For better tasting catfish make sure you get all of the skin off of the meat as the skin will make the filets or nuggets for mare fishy than you would like.

Range:  The channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) are the most wide spread of the big three North American catfish species.  As a result of this channel cats are often the first catfish species people catch.  Channel cats range from as far south as northern Mexico to as far north as southern canada and the great lakes. They've been widely stocked in lakes in western states like California and live
naturally throughout east coast freshwater rivers and lakes.

Spawning:  Due to the fact that channel catfish are warm water species they spawn at much higher water temperatures than many other wide spread fish species.  As well due to their large home range which crosses multiple temperature zones channel cats have a large range of temperatures that will induce spawning for the species.  With that in mind, depending on where you are channel catfish spawn in water temperatures ranging from 70 to 84 degrees with 70 to 75 degrees being optimal.

Overall catfish are cavity nesters and channel cats are no exception to that.  Female channel cats will lay their egs in holes in woody debris, burrows under banks, tree roots, and spaces under rocks leaving the males to tend them.  Male channel cats will guard the nest, protecting the eggs from predators and fanning the eggs with their fins to keep them aerated and clear of debris. About 6 to 10 days from the initial spawn the eggs will hatch and the male will continue to guard them until the fry disburse on their own.

Growth Rate: Channel catfish have been known to live for more than 20 years however on average channel cats live about 10 years.  That's not to say that there are no 20 year old channel cats lurking somewhere in your backyard.

When it comes to channel catfish age and size are not relative to one another.  Growth rate for channel cats is actually more dependent on where catfish live opposed to age.  For example in the north, where you have longer winter months, it takes 7 to 9 years for a channel cat to reach 3 pounds.  However in the south, where you have shorter less brutal winter months, channel cats will reach three pounds in only 4 to 5 years.

Thats not to say that there are no exceptions to this rule.  For example catfish that live in hydropower plant reservoirs the rate of growth may be longer as these lakes are usually warmer than natural lakes thus giving catfish longer growing seasons.

While the average size of channel cats taken by anglers range from 1lb to 10lbs, 2lb to 4lb being most common, there are still some giants lurking out there.  For example the all-tackle world record channel cat is W.B. Whaley's 58 pound giant taken from South Carolina's Santee-Cooper Reservoir system on July 7, 1964. In fact because channel cats resemble blue cats so closely, scientist believe it is very possible that larger specimens have been caught but were not reported because they were assumed to be blue cats.

Natural Forage: The diet of channel catfish often changes as they age just like most game fish.  When they are young they feed primarily on aquatic insects like dragonfly larvae, water beetles and hellgrammites.  Along with aquatic insects young catfish will eat snails, yearling crayfish, small freshwater clams along with seeds, aquatic plants and algae.  As they age their forage gets larger while they'll still eat aquatic insects and crawfish they'll also eat frogs, bait fish, dead or dying fish as well as small rodents who take a wayward swim.  While their diets lean mostly to the carnivorous end of things adult channel catfish will also still eat seeds, aquatic plants and algae but fish will make up the lions share of their diets as they grow older. In fact I've seen catfish eating mulberries that have fallen into a local lake.

Channel Catfish Baits: Probably what makes channel cats such highly sought after
game fish is the fact that you can catch the on a huge variety of baits. Baits ranging from night crawlers to home made stink baits draw in huge channel cats all over the country.  However for me I usually boil my channel catfish baits down to three baits that I use consistently.

1. Worms 
Possibly every child's first fishing experience includes the use of worms. Why wouldn't worms be a part of our childhood fishing memories?  You can find them anywhere there is dirt and a simple stick used as a shovel will help you fill a container with enough bait to fish all day.  Not only that but you can pretty much catch any kind of fish on a worm and channel catfish are no different.

When fishing for catfish with worms, size matters. Because worms produce a lot of by-catch you want to use as large a worm as possible when targeting catfish. If you don't have large night crawlers on hand you can simply thread multiple night crawlers on your hook in order to present a larger meal for catfish.

2. Chicken Livers
Next to worms chicken livers are probably the easiest bait to find. No, you can't dig them up in the backyard but what you can do is pick up a container of chicken livers in just about any grocery store in the country.  At a price under $3.00 they are affordable for fishermen and women with even the most modest of budgets.

3. Shrimp
Shrimp is the last of my three go to baits for channel catfish.  It came in last not because it lacks in catching ability behind any of the other four baits but because I'm allergic to shrimp.  As a result this requires me using gloves to rig shrimp up which is just bit of a pain to me.

These are my go to three channel catfish baits but if you want to see the top baits for channel cats click here!

Overall channel cats are willing biters that will test your equipment and give you the opportunity to truly hook into a monster on one lucky cast.

Thanks for reading and tight lines everyone.

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