Channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, is North America's most numerous catfish species. It is the official fish of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Tennessee, and is informally referred to as a "channel cat". In the United States, they are the most fished catfish species with approximately 8 million anglers targeting them per year. The popularity of channel catfish for food has contributed to the rapid growth of aquaculture of this species in the United States.
Distribution and habitat
Channel catfish are native to the Nearctic, being well distributed in lower Canada and the eastern and northern United States, as well as parts of northern Mexico. They have also been introduced into some waters of landlocked Europe and parts of Malaysia and almost as many parts of Indonesia. They thrive in small and large rivers, reservoirs, natural lakes, and ponds. Channel "cats" are cavity nesters, meaning they lay their eggs in crevices, hollows, or debris, to protect them from swift currents. In Canada, the species is largely, though not exclusively, limited to the Great Lakes watershed from Lake Nipigon southward.
Channel catfish possess very keen senses of smell and taste. At the pits of their nostrils (nares) are very sensitive odor sensing organs with a very high concentration of olfactory receptors. In channel catfish, these organs are sensitive enough to detect several amino acids at about one part per 100 million in water. In addition, the channel catfish has taste buds distributed over the surface of its entire body. These buds are especially concentrated on the fish's four pair of barbels (whiskers) surrounding the mouth — about 25 buds per square millimeter. This combination of exceptional senses of taste and smell allows the channel catfish to find food in dark, stained, or muddy water with relative ease.
Channel catfish are omnivores, and can be caught using a variety of natural and prepared baits, including crickets, nightcrawlers, minnows, shad, crawfish, frogs, bullheads, sunfish, and suckers. Catfish have even been known to take Ivory soap as bait . Another method of catching catfish is using stinkbaits, which are prepared with dead fish, crawfish, garlic, blood, liver, meat, cheese, dough, and even Kool-Aid powder. Sometimes these stinkbaits are prepared into a doughball and mashed onto a hook; other times they are smeared in special tubes meant to hold these baits, and fished slowly on the bottom. Grocery store baits such as chicken livers, shrimp, dog food, squid, and bubble gum will also catch plenty of channel cats.
Juglines, trotlines, limb lines, and bank lines are popular methods of fishing for channel catfish in addition to traditional rod-and-reel fishing. Another method uses traps, either "slat traps" — long wooden traps with an angled entrance — and wire hoop traps. Typical bait for these traps include rotten cheese and dog food. Catches of as many as 100 fish a day are common in catfish traps.
When removing the hook from a catfish, anglers should be mindful of the sharp spines on the pectoral and dorsal fins.
Length and weight
A member of the Ictalurus genus of American catfishes, channel catfish have a top-end size of about 40–50 pounds (18–23 kg). The world record channel catfish weighed 58 pounds, and was taken from the Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina, on July 7, 1964. Realistically, a channel catfish over 20 lb (9 kg) is a spectacular specimen, and most catfish anglers view a 10-lb (4.5-kg) fish as a very admirable catch. Furthermore, the average size channel catfish an angler could expect to find in most waterways would be between two and four pounds.
Channel catfish will often coexist in the same waterways with its close relative, the blue catfish, which is somewhat less common, but tends to grow much larger (with several specimens confirmed to weight above 100 lb).
As channel catfish grow longer, they increase in weight. The relationship between length and weight is not linear. The relationship between length (L, in cm) and weight (W, in kg) for nearly all species of fish can be expressed by an equation of the form:
Invariably, b is close to 3.0 for all species, is the length of a typical fish weighing 1 kg. For channel catfish, b = 3.2293, somewhat higher than for many common species, and cm.
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- Animal Diversity Web, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan (retrieved 22 Aug 2010)
- Understanding the catfish spawn, gameandfishmag.com
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- R. O. Anderson and R. M. Neumann, Length, Weight, and Associated Structural Indices, in Fisheries Techniques, second edition, B.E. Murphy and D.W. Willis, eds., American Fisheries Society, 1996.