Common Name: Channel Catfish a.k.a. Fiddlers
Scientific Name: Ictalurus punctatus
Appearance: With their deeply forked tail fins, elongated jaws, and prominent barbels (“whiskers”), channel catfish are fairly unmistakable in appearance. They tend to be brown to black on top, fading to yellowish or greenish near the belly, with dark spots over the entirety of their bodies.
Distribution: Native to the entire length of the Mississippi River and neighboring waters from Mexico to Canada, channel cats have been successfully stocked throughout North America. Any river, stream, or lake with a sand or rock bottom, preferably with dense vegetation, has great catfish potential.
Spawning: Channel cats spawn in temperatures ranging between 75° and 85° F, anytime from late February through late August depending on local environmental conditions, though more often than not the spawn will occur around May. Channel cats spawn in secluded areas with low light levels. Males build nests in holes along the banks or else in logs or rocks, clearing out the muck and debris with their tails. A female will deposit 3,000 or more eggs (depending on her body weight) in the nest, embedded in a gelatin-like substance. From then until a few days after hatching, the male will defend and care for the eggs, using his tail to clear out waste and bring in more oxygenated water. Once hatched, the fry will live off their yolk sac for up to 5 days before swimming up out of the nest in search of other food.
Female catfish spawn only once per season, while males might spawn multiple times (though it’s rare in the wild).
Angling: Contrary to stereotype, channel cats are not primarily bottom feeders, though they do prefer to hide out in deep holes during the daylight hours. Rather, channel catfish will swim at various depths, feeding off whatever organic matter they can find floating in the currents. At night, when they’re most active, they can be found just about anywhere in the water.
Not picky eaters, channel cats can be caught with worms, grasshoppers, minnows, or even cheese and marshmallows, among other things. During the day, it’s best to let a bait drift slowly to the bottom of a deep section of the water, then “hop” it along the bottom for a short distance before retrieving. At night, let the bait drift with the current for a good distance before retrieving and trying again. Bobber fishing is an effective technique for catfish, and you should set the hook the instant it is pulled under the water.