Catfish make for great fall funThe catfish is the third most popular fish to fish for in Texas behind bass and crappie. Catfish is such a popular fish nationwide, that in 1987 President Reagan named June 25 as National Catfish Day. The United States has thirty catfish species. Worldwide approximately 2, 900 species of catfish have been identified.
Most catfish live in freshwater, but there are a few saltwater catfish. Saltwater catfish in the U.S. live along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast. This includes the Gaff Topsail and Sea catfish. The males of these saltwater species will carry the fertilized eggs in their mouths until they hatch, which is two months. They do not eat during this time. Freshwater male catfish don’t do this.
Catfish get their name from the barbels, or whiskers, around their mouths. The barbels have taste buds on them, and are used to search for food in dark, cloudy waters. Since catfish generally live in holes or at the bottom of rivers and ponds, they have rather poor eyesight, but they make up for it with their sense of “smell.”
Catfish produce sound to communicate with each other. Depending on the species, the sound comes from either rubbing the base of the pectoral spine against the pectoral girdle, which can sound kind of like a cough; or by pulsing the swim bladder. Catfish do not have scales. They range from being smooth to being covered in bony plates. They also have spines that can puncture the skin. When this happens, glands at the base of the spine rupture, releasing venom that can get into the wound, which stings like crazy.
In Texas, the three catfish species considered a game fish are the Blue catfish, Channel catfish and Flathead catfish. The Blue catfish, or Mississippi catfish, is the largest, weighing up to 150 pounds. The largest Blue catfish caught in Texas was 121.5 pounds.
Blue catfish prefer larger rivers, and will move upstream during the summer searching for cooler water, and downstream in the winter for warmer water. They’re found in most of the state except the northwest. Blue cats have a forked tail, with a slate blue color on their back, and white on their belly. Their anal fin has thirty to thirty-six rays, and their bodies do not have spots.
This is good to know, because the Blue catfish can be easily confused with the Channel catfish. While these catfish are smaller than the Blue catfish, on average reaching twenty pounds, they also have a forked tail. Their coloration can range from an olive brown to slate blue, with white bellies. However, they will have spots, and their anal fin only has twentyfour to twenty-nine rays.
Channel cats prefer large streams with a lazy current. They eat only live fish, unlike other catfish species who are also scavengers. The largest Channel catfish caught in Texas weighed over thirty-six pounds. You may know the Channel cat as a Willow cat, Forked-tail cat, Spotted Cat or Lady Cat.
The third game catfish in Texas is the Flathead catfish, otherwise known as a Yellow cat, Mud cat or Pied cat. Flathead catfish have flat heads with a projecting lower jaw. They can also grow very large, exceeding 100 pounds. They are a pale yellow to light brown with spots. The belly is pale yellow to cream colored. Unlike their cousins, the Blue cat and Channel cat, they have a rounded tail fin.
Flatheads live in deeper areas of streams, rivers and lakes in slow moving water. Flatheads are a popular fish and have been introduced into other states where they have in some cases become invasive.
Gause-area resident Shawn Walton is a Texas Master Naturalist with the El Camino Real Chapter. Read more at http://grovesite.com/tmn/ecrmn