Channel Catfish, Ictalurus punctatus

Channel catfish

Identifying characteristics: (Native Fish) Two dorsal fins including one adipose fin, forked tail, barbels (whiskerlike sensory organ) around the mouth, slender body with speckled sides.

The channel catfish and brown bullhead are members of the Ictaluridae, or catfish family. These fish are readily distinguished by their scaleless bodies, broad flat heads, sharp heavy pectoral and dorsal spines, and long whisker-like barbels about the mouth. Members of the catfish family are all more or less omnivorous, feeding on all sorts of plant and animal matter. They are also mostly nocturnal, and use their barbels to locate food in the dark recesses of deep water.

One of the most fascinating Great Lakes inhabitants is the channel catfish. This species of fish appears to have lived in North America for at least 3000 years. They are presently found in all the Great Lakes except Lake Superior.

In the late spring or early summer, the male channel cat builds a nest in underwater holes, logs or among submerged rocks. The eggs hatch in 5-10 days following spawning, and the youngsters grow quite rapidly. Young catfish eat mostly insect, crayfish, other fish and even tree seeds. In turn, small catfish are probably eaten by many other fish.

Sexual maturity comes at five to eight years of age, but these fish live a great deal longer, some as long as 25 years. In the Great Lakes, 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 cats prefer cooler, deeper, cleaner water than bullheads, and water with a sand or gravel bottom. During the day, they hide among rocks or logs. Channel cats feed both day and night, although they are best fished from dusk through early night. They take a large part of their food from the bottom, but they also feed at the surface. Their impressive size and high quality flesh make these catfish deservedly popular as a sport fish. They are also of significant commercial value, especially to fishermen of Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.

For more information on how and where to catch channel catfish see our Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them and Better Fishing Waters.

Channel catfish graphic courtesy of Joseph R. Tomelleri and copyrighted.