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Flathead Catfish

Flathead Catfish
Copyrighted flathead catfish picture from

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pylodictis olivaris

CHARACTERISTICS: In Alabama, the flathead is the only large catfish with a head that is flattened between the eyes, a projecting lower jaw, and recurved tooth patches on either side of the upper jaw. The back and sides of the body and fins are mottled with black, white, olive, and even pale yellow, with the venter white or pale yellow. The short, rounded anal fin contains 14 to 18 rays. The caudal fin is slightly notched, and the top of the upper lobe is white on all but extremely large individuals. See Rafinesque (1818b) for original description.

ADULT SIZE: 18 to 24 in (460 to 610 mm). The state angling record (80 lb) was caught in the Alabama River near Selma in 1986. We have collected flatheads in the 30- to 50-pound class from the Tennessee River drainage south to the Alabama River and also in the tail-waters of several locks and dams.

DISTRIBUTION: Pylodictis olivaris is widespread and occasionally abundant in all rivers and reservoirs of the Mobile basin. It is common in the Tennessee River and many of its major tributaries. Flathead catfish have been introduced into the Conecuh and Escatawpa rivers in southern Alabama; they are fairly common in the former drainage and rare in the latter. Future sampling will probably expand the known range of this species in Alabama.

HABITAT AND BIOLOGY: We most frequently capture flathead catfish in flowing water over sand, gravel, and mud substrates. Individuals are usually associated with underwater structures such as fallen trees, stumps, rock ledges, and riprap. Flatheads are aggressive predators and opportunistic feeders. Young feed on aquatic insect larvae, crayfish, and small minnows. Adults eat crayfish and live or dead fish. Spawning over excavated pits occurs in June and July in Alabama and Tennessee (Etnier and Starnes, 1993). Young flatheads school, but they soon separate and become solitary after reaching lengths of several inches. Etnier and Starnes (1993) report a life span of 19 years.

REMARKS: The flathead catfish is a favorite food fish in Alabama. Malvestuto et al. (1983) report that 30,924 pounds of flathead catfish were harvested in the Mobile Delta and lower Tombigbee River in 1980 and 1981.

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION: Rafinesque described the flathead catfish in 1818.

Pylodictis means mud fish.
Olivaris means olive-colored.

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

ADDITIONAL COMMON NAMES: In the southeast, anglers also call flathead catfish: appaloosa cat, opelousas, ops, yellow cat, mud cat, goujon, bashaw, shovel-headed cat, bean eye, blue cat, and tabby, 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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