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Channel Catfish

CHANNEL CATFISH
Copyrighted picture of a channel catfish from

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Ictalurus punctatus

CHARACTERISTICS: This slender, elongate catfish has a deeply forked caudal fin and a protruding upper jaw. Adult channel cats are dark gray along the back, grading to light yellow or greenish yellow along the sides, and white on the venter. Juveniles are typically light gray on the back and silvery on the sides and venter. The sides of juveniles and adults have scattered dark spots. The head profile of the channel cat is curved from the dorsal fin to the snout. The same dimension in the blue cat is straight, giving the head of this similar species a wedge-shaped appearance. Small adult channel catfish are confused with blue catfish but are distinguishable by the above characteristics plus anal fin morphology. This fin on the channel catfish has a rounded margin and 24 to 29 soft rays, while on the blue catfish the free margin is straight and rays number 30 or more. The pectoral spine has well-developed serrae on the posterior edge.

ADULT SIZE: 15 to 24 in (380 to 610 mm). The state angling record (40 lb) was caught in Inland Lake, a tributary of Locust Fork in the Black Warrior River system, in 1967.

DISTRIBUTION: This species is native to Alabama, but its range has greatly expanded in the United States and Canada through its introduction into and sometimes escape from private and commercial fish ponds.

HABITAT AND BIOLOGY: Channel catfish inhabit rivers, reservoirs, small to large streams, backwaters, swamps, and oxbow lakes. We have collected species in conditions ranging from slow to moderate currents over sand, gravel, and silt and around submerged trees and aquatic vegetation. Spawning begins in May and continues for several months, for we have collected gravid females as late as August. Males guard the nest and schools of fry and small fish. Carlender (1969) reports fast growth in the first years of life, with eight-year-olds reaching 18 or 19 inches. Maximum age in northern climates is 24 years and in southern climates 15 years. Channel catfish feed on aquatic insect larvae, crayfish, mollusks, and small fish, along with baits such as cheese, chicken, dough balls, redworms, and cut bait.

REMARKS: This species is the most important food fish in Alabama (see 1995 harvest statistics in family introduction). In 1980 and 1981, anglers and commercial fishermen in southwest Alabama harvested more than 282,000 pounds of channel catfish in the Mobile Delta and lower Tombigbee River (Malvestuto et al., 1983).

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION: Rafinesque described the channel catfish in 1818.

ETYMOLOGY:
Ictalurus means fish cat.
Punctatus means spotted.

This copyrighted information is from the Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin.

ADDITIONAL COMMON NAMES: In the southeast, anglers also call channel catfish: blue channel, willow cat, government cat, spot, speckled cat, sand cat, fiddler (young), sharpies, forked tail cat, river cat, eel catfish, Mississippi cat, white cat, and silver cat, according to Cloutman and Olmstead in Fisheries (Vol. 8, No. 2).

Note: In Alabama, it is illegal to stock or move any fish, mussel, snail or crayfish to any public water without a permit.

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