Channel Catfish, Ictalurus punctatus

Channel catfish

Identifying characteristics: (Native Fish) Two dorsal fins including one adipose fin, forked tail, barbels (whisker-like sensory organ) around the mouth, slender body with speckled sides. The strongly forked tail is the key characteristic for distinguishing Channel Catfish from the other catfish species in Michigan.

Channel Catfish live in a diverse array of habitats, including four of the five Great Lakes (Lake Superior excluded), inland lakes and medium to large rivers. They are most common in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula. In rivers, young Channel Catfish generally are found in shallow riffles. Adult catfish typically inhabit deep pools with log jams or rocks for cover during the day and move into shallow water at night.

Channel Catfish feed both day and night. They take a large part of their food from the bottom, but they also feed at the surface and are better adapted to sight feeding than other catfish species. Young fish feed primarily on aquatic insects and other aquatic invertebrates. Adult catfish consume a wide variety of plant and animal materials, including fish, frogs, crayfish, insects, mollusks, algae and pondweeds. The best fishing periods for Channel Catfish are from dusk until midnight or when water levels are rising (i.e., after rains have washed food into the lake or stream).

In the late spring or early summer, male Channel Catfish build nests in dark, secluded areas such as underwater holes or undercut banks, log jams or rocks. The female leaves the nest soon after depositing the eggs, while the male stays behind to protect and fan the eggs. The eggs hatch in five to 10 days. Fry normally remain in the nest, protected by the male catfish, for about seven days after hatching.

Most Channel Catfish reach sexual maturity at five to eight years of age. They are capable of living more than 15 years, and individuals up to 24 years of age have been reported. In productive waters, Channel Catfish often grow to over 30 inches and weigh more than 10 pounds. The current state record Channel Catfish weighed 40 pounds.

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.