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CHANNEL CATFISH

At-a-Glance

  • Scientific Name: Ictalurus punctatus
  • Found in Illinois: Statewide
  • State Average: 18"
  • State Record: 45lbs/4oz (1987)
  • Best Lures: cut bait, shrimp, small shad, minnows, chicken livers, and night crawlers
  • Best Lakes (based on average size): Evergreen, Shelbyville, Shabbona

Angling Tips:

Use cut bait or stink bait fished on the bottom of the river or reservoir/lake. Circle hooks have become a popular option for many catfish anglers, especially when using live bait or cut bait. When used properly, circle hooks reduce the chance of the fish swallowing the bait as they are typically caught in the corner of the mouth and are designed to hook the fish themselves, rather than the angler having to set the hook.

Habitat: Although the channel catfish has been stocked in many ponds, lakes and reservoirs, it is basically a stream fish that usually reaches its greatest abundance in fast-flowing, sand and gravel-bottomed rivers of medium to large size (e.g., the Mississippi, Rock, Spoon, LaMoine, Embarras, Kaskaskia and Wabash Rivers), but can tolerate a wide range of conditions. Despite this, however, channel catfish can be found in nearly all waters in Illinois.

Feeding and Habits: Food is located primarily by touch and taste and, to a lesser extent, by sight. The channel catfish takes most of its food from the bottom, and its diet is highly varied, including fish, insects, mollusks, and plant material. The fish is an omnivorous feeder, feeding on both aquatic plant and animal material. During periods of high water, particularly in the early spring (March–April), catfish move into the mouths of small streams, foraging for food.

Reproduction: Peak spawning activity usually occurs from late May into June when temperatures are in the mid-seventies. The channel catfish becomes sexually mature at age 4-5 and is quite selective in its breeding habits. It prefers obscure places to deposit its eggs: overhanging rock ledges, rip-rap, deeply undercut banks, underwater muskrat runs, hollow logs and even large field tiles. The eggs are deposited in the bottom of the nest in a gelatinous golden-yellow mass. They hatch in about a week and the fry remain in the nest for 7 to 8 days. The male guards the fry only until they leave the nest. In artificial culture and perhaps in the wild as well, females and even the guarding male will often devour the eggs if disturbed too frequently.