Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) have a slender, cylindrical body that lacks scales with a distinctive, deeply forked tail. The high short dorsal fin and the pectoral fins have sharp hard spines. There is an adipose fin that lacks both spines and rays that is back towards the tail. The rounded anal fin is fairly large and has 24-29 rays.
Perhaps the most conspicuous trait is the presence of four pairs of barbells around the mouth. Two pair are on the lower jaw, one pair is by the nares in front of the eyes and the longest pair is on each tip of the upper jaw. These contain sensitive taste buds, but there are also many of these taste buds throughout the surface of their entire body. At the pits of their nostrils (nares) there is a high concentration of olfactory receptors.
These give Catfish exceptional senses of taste and smell which lets them find food in dark muddy water with relative ease. They range from olive-brown to slate-blue on the top and sides which shades to silvery white on the belly. There are scattered black spots along their backs and sides. Larger Catfish tend to lose the spots and take on a blue-black color on the back, but again shading to a white belly. The head is small and somewhat flattened.
Did You Know
- A typical Catfish in Montana will be two to four pounds and run about 20 inches in length, but ones have been caught weighing over 30 pounds.
- The world record catfish weighed 58 pounds and was caught in South Carolina back in 1964.
- Channel Catfish are native to North America east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada to Mexico and east of the Appalachians but did not extend out onto the Atlantic coastal plain.
- They have now been introduced into other areas and extend as far west as California as well as to other parts of the world.
- They prefer large rivers and streams with moderate currents and sandy or rocky bottoms. They can also inhabit lakes and reservoirs. Many will reach an age of 8 to 12 years, but the highest recorded age is 40 years.
Spawning occurs between May and early July when the water temperatures warm to between 70 and 80 degrees. Usually spawning takes place in rivers and streams. The male which takes on a blue-black coloration on its back for spawning, selects and prepares a nesting site by fanning out as much mud and debris from dark secluded spots, undercut banks, cavities or under logs.
Once the female lays her mound of 2,000 to 20,000 sticky yellow eggs, the male fertilizes the mass and then drives the female from the nest and starts to guard the nest site. The male will fan the eggs with his fins to provide aeration and remove waste debris. The eggs hatch in six to ten days.
The newly hatched fry will stay near the nest for several days using their large yoke sac for nourishment before swimming off on their own searching for food. The young feed primarily on aquatic insects. During the growth period other insects, snails, crawfish, green algae, aquatic plants, seeds, mollusks, and small fish are added to their diet.
As they grow, other fish become an increasingly important part of their diet. They often feed at night using their keen sense of smell to find food. While often feeding on the bottom they can feed at the surface as well as the middle depths. They usually reach sexual maturity in two to three years.
Catching Catfish On Bighorn Lake
With their widely varying diets, anglers will use a wide variety of bait from chicken livers and night crawlers, to prepared stink baits which allows the Catfish to use its sense of smell to find the anglers bait. When taken from clean water, they are considered one of the best tasting freshwater fish.
Channel Catfish have been doing well in Bighorn Lake even during some of the recent drought years. According to some of the most recent fish surveys Sauger, Smallmouth Bass and Channel Catfish are providing the best fishing on Bighorn Lake.