Catfish Fishing (Ictalurus punctatus/furcatus; Pylodictis olivaris; Ameiurus catus)

All Tackle Record
58lbs/143lbs; 123lbs; 19lbs, 5oz

Catfish Fishing (Ictalurus punctatus/furcatus; Pylodictis olivaris; Ameiurus catus)

Catfish are well known freshwater omnivores, so widely distributed that the only continent not hosting them is Antarctica. Regional varieties are extensively targeted throughout the world for their accessibility, availability, good game qualities and excellent flavor.

Catfish are a family with numerous subspecies which evolved according to their habitat, with over half of all species distributed throughout the Americas. Most species have elongated barbels around the mouth, after which they get their name. These barbels help locate prey in the absence of light and serve as taste receptors.

How big

The Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is the smallest, known to attain weights up to 60lbs, but commonly caught only up to 10lbs. The Blue Catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) is the largest, growing up to 150lbs and caught on average between 20 and 40lbs. The Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) is substantial as well, with the largest catch on record 123lbs and with frequent catches between 5 and 15lbs. The White Catfish (Ameiurus catus) is closer to the family of Bullheads. They grow up to 20lbs, but the majority are caught only between 1 and 3lbs. Gafftopsail Catfish (Bagre marinus) are the smallest of the bunch and are most frequent up to 2lbs.

A fat Blue reeled in with Cathunter's Freshwater Guides in Pensacola, FL

When & Where

The five major mentioned Catfish species are abundant in North America:

  • The Channel Catfish is common thoughout central USA and can be found in northern Mexico and southern Canada. They migrate actively throughout river tributaries and streams during spawning season.
  • The Blue Catfish is native to the major rivers of the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri basins. They can also be found north to South Dakota and Minnesota, east to the Panhandle and south to Mexico and Guatemala. They have been artificially introduced to rivers in Virginia. They like fast currents and are active throughout winter as well.
  • The Flathead Catfish can be found throughout the Blue Catfish range, but extends farther east to Lake Eerie. They have been broadly introduced outside this range.
  • The White Catfish inhabits coastal waters of the western Atlantic from New York to central Florida. It's been introduced to Texas and throughout the west coast.
  • Gafftopsail Catfish are distributed throughout the southeastern USA as north as New York and throughout the Gulf coast. They spawn inshore May through August.

How to catch

Catfish will mostly go for natural bait. The type will depend on the prey available in the specific region, but any small baitfish should work, including herrings, shad, goldeye or mullet. They are very effective when cut, because of the oils they release into water, but whole bait will gladly be taken as well, especially if alive and active. Crawfish and night crawlers are also excellent bait choices, if available. Various jig heads with bait will also be successful.

The most common rigs used for targeting Catfish are slip-sinker rigs, with optional floaters to suspend the bait closer to the surface. This will depend on where in the water column the particular species feeds.

Catfishing should be done either early in the morning or at night. Foraging Catfish can often be spotted around weedy areas in shallow waters at night time, when their barbels give them an edge over resting prey.

Flathead Catfish picked up at night with Flathead Catfish Hunters in Pensacola, FL

Good to eat?

Most Catfish are succulent and mild in flavor.


Bag and size limits should be checked for individual species on the state websites for parks & wildlife / fishing & hunting or in local tackle shops.

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