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Lake Barkley & Kentucky Lake Fish Species - Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish
(Ictalurus punctatus)

KY State Record- 32 lbs.
TN State Record- 41 lbs.
Channel Catfish
The channel catfish is a strong and tasty game fish that is becoming more and more popular with anglers. It is commonly found in large rivers and will eat just about anything that comes in front of its nose.

Common Names:
spotted cat, blue channel cat, river catfish

Channel catfish closely resemble blue catfish. Both have deeply forked tails. However, channels have a rounded anal fin with 24-29 rays and scattered black spots along their back and sides. They have a small, narrow head. The back is blue-gray with light blue to silvery-gray sides and a white belly. Larger channels lose the black spots and also take on a blue-black coloration on the back which shades to white on the belly. Males also become very dark during spawning season and develop a thickened pad on their head.


Feeds primarily at night using taste buds in the sensitive barbels and throughout the skin to locate prey. Although they normally feed on the bottom, channels also will feed at the surface and at mid-depth. Major foods are aquatic insects, crayfish, mollusks, crustaceans and fishes. Small channels consume invertebrates, but larger ones may eat fish. Contrary to popular belief, carrion is not their normal food.

Spawning occurs mostly in rivers and streams in the spring and early summer when waters warm to 70 to 85 degrees. They also will spawn in larger lakes where suitable habitat is available. Eggs are deposited in nests secluded under banks or logs or over open bottom. The male selects the site, often a natural cavern or hole, clears the nest and guards the eggs and young. A female may lay 2,000 to 21,000 eggs that hatch in six to 10 days depending on water temperature. Males protect the fry until they leave the nest in about a week.

Most common in big rivers and streams. Prefers some current, and deep water with sand, gravel or rubble bottoms. Channel catfish also inhabit lakes, reservoirs and ponds. They adapt well in standing water where stocked.

SPORTING QUALITIES - Most channels are caught by bottom fishing with baits such as dried chicken blood, chicken livers or gizzards, and nightcrawlers. They prefer dead or prepared stinkbaits to live bait, but at times will take live minnows and lures such as spinners and jigs. Strong fighters with good endurance, they are frequently caught on trotlines. Since channel catfish can also be taken by commercial fishermen, except where stocked by the Commission, they are not legally classified as sportfish. However, specific regulations apply and they are eligible for the "Big Catch" program.

Fishing Techniques
Channel catfish feed mostly at night and are especially active from sunset to midnight. "Stink" baits (cut fish, chicken livers, cheese, shrimp, crayfish blood baits, etc.) are some of the best natural baits to use. Deep-diving crankbaits fished slowly along the bottom, spoons and, occasionally, spinners are popular artificial lures. The best months to fish for channel catfish are April, May, September and October.

EATING QUALITIES - Considered one of the best-eating freshwater fish. The meat is white, tender and sweet when taken from clean water. Florida aquaculturists and commercial anglers provide these fish to markets and seafood restaurants throughout the state

Fun facts

Catfish can't "sting" you. But these fish have a sharp spine in the top and side fins. If you're not careful, you can accidentally poke your hand on these spines. The world record, 58 pounds, was taken in South Carolina.