channel catfish
  • Illustration by Joseph R. Tomelleri ©

    Channel Catfish

    Ictalurus punctatus - scientific name

    Identification:

    Channel cats, with its deeply forked tail, are the most popular of the catfish. Two dorsal fins including one adipose fin, barbels (whisker-like sensory organ) around the mouth, slender body with speckled sides.

    Fishing:

    Found nearly statewide, channel cats inhabit both lakes and streams. They are typically pursued by anglers using live, dead or cut bait, though anglers have long used all manner of bait presented on the bottom -- cheese, shrimp, liver, spawn -- or commercially prepared blood or scent baits. 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).

    Diet:

    Typically thought of as bottom scavengers, catfish are highly evolved predators with barbells that serve as sensory organs, catfish are often attracted by scent.

    Life History:

    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.

    Background Information:

    Channel catfish live in all Great Lakes but Superior, 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.

    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.

  • flathead catfish illustration

    Illustration by Joseph R. Tomelleri ©

    Flathead Catfish

    Pylodictis olivaris - scientific name

    Identification:

    Can vary in color from dark brown to yellowish. Unlike channel catfish and others, it does not have a forked tail. Protruding lower jaw. Can reach Michigan record weights of 50+ pounds.

    Fishing:

    Flatheads are caught are mostly on live bait fish and only occasionally on cut or prepared baits. They shelter in cover of submerged logs or other large structures. After dark is prime fishing time for catching flathead catfish.

    Diet:

    Unlike other catfish, flathead catfish feed on only live prey. Adult flathead catfish are ambush predators, seeking out other smaller fish. However, the introduced population in the Flint River system was found to prey largely on crayfish.

    Life History:

    Sexual maturity is at 3-7 years, and is earlier in males. Spawning occurs in late spring when water temperatures reach 21 to 27 degrees Celsius. One or both parents excavate a nest that is usually made in a natural cavity or near a large submerged object. Females lay a mass of up to 100,000 eggs. Males guard the nest and agitate the eggs to keep them clean and aerated. The young remain in a school near the nest for several days after hatching, but soon disperse. Flathead catfish can live up to 28 years.

    Background Information:

    Found in large rivers, streams, inland lakes and Great Lakes, usually over hard bottoms. They prefer deep, sluggish pools, with logs and other submerged debris that can be used as cover. Young flathead catfish live in rocky or sandy runs in the river and in riffles, often under stones on riffles.

  • Brown Bullhead

    brown bullhead illustration

    Illustration by Joseph R. Tomelleri ©

    Ameiurus nebulosus - scientific name

    Identification:

    Two dorsal fins including one adipose fin, tail only slightly notched barbels around mouth. Can be distinguished from other bullhead species by the black to yellowish-brown chin barbels, regular saw-like barbs on the pelvic spines, and the presence of 21 to 24 rays in the anal fin.

    Fishing:

    Brown bullhead live in lakes, ponds and slow-moving rivers. They are most common in shallow water, on or near a soft bottom with lots of vegetation, but they have been found as deep as 40 feet.  Anglers generally fish on the bottom with worms or nightcrawlers. A word of warning; bullheads have sharp spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins and should be handled with care.

    Diet:

    Brown bullhead are nocturnal bottom feeders. Their diet varies depending on food availability and includes algae, plants, mollusks, insects, fish eggs and fish. They may compete for food with other bottom-feeding fish. Bullheads, especially when young, are eaten by muskellunge, northern pike, walleye, flathead catfish and other predatory fish.

    Life History:

    Brown bullhead spawn in the late spring or early summer, in nests or cavities prepared in mud, sand or gravel. These nests are usually located near a log, vegetation or some other form of protection. One or both parents care for the eggs, since they must be diligently fanned and stirred. In a week or so, the eggs hatch and young emerge, looking very much like tadpoles. Their parents accompany them until they reach about two inches in length.

    Background Information:

    Brown bullhead usually reach sexual maturity at three years of age, and their life span rarely exceeds six to eight years. The average adult brown bullhead is only eight to 14 inches long and weighs about one pound. The current state record brown bullhead weighed 3.8 pounds.

    They are easy and fun to catch, and their flesh is delicious. It can be prepared in the kitchen in a number of ways, and is also good when smoked.

  • Black Bullhead

    Ictalurus melas - scientific name

    Identification:

    Dark olive to black in color, with a pale underside. Slightly forked tail. Gray or black barbels. Scaleless and 8 to 10 inches in length. Fin spines sharp, but smooth.

    Fishing:

    After the spring thaw, these hungry scavengers are ready to bite. Simple equipment is the key. Use long-shanked hooks and needle-nosed pliers to more easily retrieve bait, or just snip the line and retrieve your hook at cleaning time. Gloves or a rag will help prevent "stings" from their barbs. Nightcrawlers or cut bait work best. Find shallow lake bays or river eddies to target bullheads. Weight your bait to rest on the bottom.

    Diet:

    Able to thrive in murky waters with lower oxygen, they will eat almost anything, from plant matter to insects, dead or living fish, and crustaceans. Black bullheads have no scales; instead, they have about 100,000 taste receptors all over their bodies, many of which are on barbels near their mouths. The receptors help the fish to identify food in their dark habitats. During the winter, black bullhead's appetite decreases, and may stop eating altogether.

    Life History:

    Bullheads begin to spawn as the summer hits and waters warm. Black bullheads prefer the muddy bottoms. The females form shallow saucer-shaped depressions in the bottom by waving their lower fins. Nests are usually next to as a hollow logs, rocks or brush. Females deposit around 4,000 eggs that are then fertilized by the male. Both the male and female protect the nest and eggs. Hatching usually occurs in five to 10 days depending on the water temperature. Small clouds of bullhead fry travel the shoreline as the parents circle the school to keep them together for about 2 weeks, then they young are on their own. The fish mature in three to four years.

    Background Information:

    Bullheads are probably best known for the sting that can result from careless handling, which is actually a cut from their sharp edged fin barbs.