The catfish has over two thousand different species being represented on every continent except Antarctica. They accounts for over eight percent of all the species of fish in the world. Catfish have two defining characteristics; the first is the very distinctive barbells around the mouth. This gave rise to the fish’s name as they have resemblance of cat’s whiskers. The other is that no catfish has scales.
A catfish’s barbells (whiskers), although commonly believed to be so, are not any sort of defence mechanism and cannot inflict pain. They are a sensing tool that the fish uses to detect food even in darkest muddiest water. That does not mean that the catfish is without armaments, it has barbs or spines in its dorsal and pectoral fins sharp enough to puncture human skin. These barbs will secret a stinging protein that will induce significant pain and so catfish should be handled with care.
Most catfish species are relatively small averaging 10 to fifteen pounds, but there are some species that grow to enormous sizes the biggest of which is the Mekong Catfish which has its home in Asia. Mekong catfish have been caught weighing in excess of six hundred pounds. Both Europe and the USA have big catfish species that are in excess of one hundred pounds.
The three most targeted catfish in the USA are:
The Blue Catfish (Ictalurus Furcatus) also known as the channel cat, humpback blue, great blue cat and the fork-tail cat. This catfish has a forked tail and is light grey or silver in color with a blue sheen which leads to their name. A typical weight is between twenty and forty pounds with a world record of 124 lbs and they are present in most large rivers and lakes of the southern USA.
The Channel Catfish (Ictalurus Punctatus) also called the spotted cat, silver cat, squeaker cat and river catfish. They also have a forked tail but are grey, silver and almost black with a white underbelly. The young channel catfish will have many black spots on its side but these fade as the fish gets older. They are usually two to ten pounds with a world record of 58 lbs. The channel is common throughout the USA and will be the normal catfish of the smaller waters such as ponds and creeks. They are also raised in managed pools for food purposes.
The Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis Olivaris) commonly called shovelhead, mud cat and yellow catfish. They have a square tail and the head is flattened between the eyes (leading to their name). They are distinguished by their lower jaw being longer than the upper jaw. They are yellow-olive through to brown in color with a yellowish white underbelly. Weighing in at ten to forty pounds with a world record of 123.9 lbs. They originate from the Mississippi and its tributaries, but due to their popularity as a sporting and food fish have been transported throughout the USA and are now considered an invasive species in some states where they decimated the populations of local fish. They live in large slow-moving waters and will be found in most of the large lakes, reservoirs and rivers in many states.
Catfishing is the specialised sport of angling for catfish both for sport and food. Carried out with rod and line and using every technique unlike trout and salmon its main sporting rivals. In recent years there has been a re-birth of the method used by Native Americans called “Noodling”. In this method the angler uses his hand as the bait and when the fish bites he grabs the fish and hauls it from the water. If the fish is very large it is a major battle between the angler and the fish and therefore there is element of danger which accounts for noodling to be judged an extreme sport.