Fish ID: Channel Catfish

Many of us grew upfishing for channel catfish in the local river or the farm pond down the road.They’re spirited … Continued

Many of us grew upfishing for channel catfish in the local river or the farm pond down the road.They’re spirited fighters and they taste good, too.

Catch a mess ofjuvenile channels and you’ve got the makings of a memorable fish fry. Here’swhat you’ll need to know to help make it happen.

1 WHAT TO LOOKFOR Channel cats are easy to recognize by their deeply forked tails and theirprominent upper jaws, which protrude well past their lower jaws, particularlyon large males. The sides are bluish to greenish gray with a silvery tinge.Juveniles (called fiddlers) have numerous black spots that usually disappear inmaturity. Channel cats resemble blue cats, so much so that they’re often called”blue channel cats.” But the anal fin of a channel catfish is shorterand more rounded than that of a blue.

2 GROWING UP Channel catfish have been known to live more than 20 years, but the usual lifespan is 10 years or less, especially in waters that are polluted or heavilyfished.

In Northern statesabove the Ohio River, it takes seven to nine years for a channel catfish toreach a weight of 3 pounds. In the South, they reach that size in only four orfive years.

Most channel catscaught by anglers range from 2 to 4 pounds. As is true with most catfish, maleand female channel cats grow to roughly the same size.

3 WHERE THEYLIVE Channel catfish thrive in medium to large rivers with slow to moderate current,but they are also found in shallow to mid-depth reservoirs and in small lakesand ponds. Channels tolerate less current than blue catfish withstand. Theyprefer a sand, gravel or rubble bottom with an abundance of cover, such aslogjams, wing dams or brush piles.

Channel catfishare commonly found in tailrace areas where there is an abundance of food. Theirnative range extends from the Appalachian Mountains west to the Rockies, andfrom the Hudson Bay drainage south to the Gulf of Mexico.

The fish’spreferred temperature range, 75 to 80 degrees, is slightly lower than that offlatheads and blues, which explains why their native range extends farthernorth. Channel cats have been widely stocked, particularly in big Westernreservoirs and farm lakes throughout the nation.

4 HOW TO CATCHTHEM Willing biters, channel cats respond to prepared “stinkbaits” betterthan flatheads or blues. They can also be attracted with chum such as rottencheese or fermented grain. Besides stinkbaits, channels can be taken on driedblood, chicken liver, earthworms and night crawlers, live minnows, small chunksof Ivory soap and even artificial lures such as jigs and in-line spinners. Oncehooked, a channel cat wages a strong, determined battle. Though not asacrobatic and preferring to slug it out deep, a channel cat is every bit asstout a sport fish as a largemouth bass.

5 WHISKERHEADLIFESTYLES Channel cats spawn in late spring, usually at water temperatures in the 70- to75-degree range. Like other catfish, they’re difficult to find at spawningtime. They build their nests in dark, secluded spots, such as holes inriverbanks, sunken barrels or alongside boulders or logs. Males protect thenests until the young disperse.

Of all the catfishspecies, channels have the least selective food habits. They forage on livefish and dead or rotting fish and animals, as well as larval aquatic insects,terrestrial insects, crayfish and various shellfish–even some aquatic plants.Channel cats tend to consume more protein in the form of fish as they growolder, and they reach their largest size in waters where fish make up the bulkof their diet.

Channel cats mightfeed at any time of the day or night, but veteran anglers know that the fishfeed heaviest after sundown. Channels are also known for their habit of gorgingthemselves when the water in a river or lake starts to rise. They feed verylittle at water temperatures below 50 degrees.

WORLD RECORD » WEIGHT: 58 pounds PLACE: Santee-Cooper Reservoir, S.C. DATE: July 7, 1964 ANGLER: W.B. Whaley