There are 37 official families and over 2200 different species of catfish in the world (37 species in the U.S.) and are found on every continent except Antarctica. The latest family was discovered in So. Mexico in June, 2005. They are primarily freshwater fish, although a few live in saltwater. Its recently been discovered that some of them travel from costal water to fresh water to lay their eggs.
They aren't called catfish for nothing and are easily recognized by their whiskers or Barbells. The barbells are elongated, tactile organs located close to their mouth, and like cats, are used to sense its environment and surroundings. They can sense food concentrations in as little as 1-2 parts per million and are used when hunting fish in low visibility conditions.
All catfish are scaleless. There are some with smooth skin, some that have rows of spiney plates, and some that have over-lapping plates covering their bodies.
Almost all catfish have a stiff, hollow leading ray on their pectoral and dorsal fins. It's used to inject a protein when the fish is annoyed or scared. This protein stings and 1 kind of cat can sting a person badly enough to require hospitalization. One thing you can do to relieve the pain from a sting is to rub the fishes tail on the wound. The mucous contains an antidote for its venom.
The one catfish without spines you don't want to mess with. He's a heavy-weight from Africa (50 lbs.) and instead of delivering a sting, it delivers a 300+ volt jolt of electricity. So, don't stand in the water.
Catfish make-up about 8% of the fish that swim in the water, and as you can imagine, they come in all shapes and sizes and colors.
They're Long- The Wells, or sheatfish (southern, eastern Europe,& so. Russia), can grow to 15 feet and weigh-in about 450 lbs. Its been said they eat small kids, dogs, and birds swimming on the surface, but. There isn't an available record.
They're Fat- The Mekong catfish can reach 10 feet and weigh over 600 lbs. The record is a 9 foot, 646 lb. whopper caught in Thailand in 2005. South American catfish like the gilded cat (85 lbs. 8 ozs.) or the redtail (97 lbs 7 ozs.) are said to reach 200 lbs., although none have been caught.
They're weird- The African upside-down catfish, which swims upside-down, or the Asian glass cat. You can actually see its heart beating,until it dies anyway. Then the fish turns white.
They're Small- Like the Corydoras I have in my aquarium. They are about one and a half inches long, and I love to watch them sifting through the sand. It looks like someone raked the sand with a little bitty rake when they get done.
Another nasty little one is the" Vampire of Brazil". The Candiru catfish. So called because these little 1/2 inch long, eel-like cats, work their way into the gill cavities of other fish, anchor themselves, and suck blood. Unfortunately, they can do this to humans also. We don't have gill openings, but there are other openings that they can enter. I hear its very, very painful.
Here in the U.S., we have some trophies too. The largest is the Blue catfish. They're native to the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River systems, down through Mexico, and no. Guatemala. The record is 124 lbs., 58 inches long. He was caught by Tim Pruitt in the Mississippi River, Illinois.
Next is the Flathead, or yellow catfish. They also live in the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River systems, the Great Lakes east to Lake Erie and Florida. This guy is ugly, with a big flat head, big pot-belly, and beady eyes, but gets 3 - 4 feet long and can get to the 100 lb. range. 50 lbers. aren't uncommon. The record is 123 lbs., caught at Elk City Res., Kansas by Ken Paulie.
Another is the Channel cat. They are commercially raised, and the ones most likely to be at the restraunt. They roam all over the U.S., so. Canada, and Mexico. The record is 58 lbs., bagged at the Santee-Cooper Res. S.C., by W. B. Whaley in 1964.
Others are smaller, aren't as common or so spread out.
Now that we know a little about catfish, it's time to get some equipment to catch them. Luckily there's nothing fancy to buy. For the newbies, if you're going after the big three, Channels, Blues, or Flatheads, get ready for a fight, especially if you hook a big one.
RODS: There are a wide variety on poles to use. Bass Pro Shops have a good selection and useful tips in their fishing library. It all depends on the fish you're targeting. For smaller cats and bullheads, a light spinning combo will work well. If you're someplace where 6 - 10 pounders are common, a 6 - 7 foot, medium action bait-casting or spinning rod will do. If you're hunting 100 pounders, you'll need an 8 foot or longer bait-casting rig.
The rods should be through-action rods. They can better absorb the jerking and run of a large fish. There are several catfish poles on the market.
The Berkley Glowstick; They have a reflector on the tip that doesn't need a battery. It also has a battery-powered LED light that can be turned on and off.
Zebco makes the Night Vision Rod. They have 2 lights, one on the tip, and one in the butt. They have the patented Zebco grip and are about 6 inches longer making casting a breeze.
Ugly Sticks are known for their durability and sensitivity. The Tiger (around since the 70's) and other models are specific to catfishing. They have a graphite core surrounded by fiberglass and through the handle construction for better sensitivity.
Mitchell makes a tough, fiberglass spinning rod, guaranteed not to break.
Quantum makes the Bill Dance Catfish Trigger Rod. They are E-glass constructed, have double-footed guides, and non-slip EVA foam handles.
Bass Pro Shops offer the Power Plus. Unidirectional fiberglass construction eliminates the need for layering, ergo a thinner, lighter rod. That adds flexibility, reducing premature breakage, and reduces stress on your wrist. Its extended EVA handle provide more power and better leverage to battle big ones. It has double-footed aluminum-oxide guides, hook keeper, and graphite reel seats for improved sensitivity.
If you're casting 3+ ounce weights, you might want a longer heavy-duty saltwater rig, so you won't snap you rod casting.
Most of these rods sell for $30 - $40 at Bass Pro.
REELS: Any reel that will hold 200 yards of 15 - 25 pound test will do, but....
Bait-casting reels offer the most power for reeling in the big ones. One with a clicker mechanism will give an audible signal when line is taken and keep soft, steady pressure on your line preventing backlash if the fish lunges or runs.
Spinning reels don't have the power or line pick-up speed of a bait-caster, but will better handle line smaller than 14# test.
Spin casting reels are still a favorite, although without the winching power or line capacity of a bait-caster. They offer simple push-button casting and soft delivery for small baits.
LINE: Catfish have small sandpaper-like teeth in their mouths and can get into some tight places. You'll need a good high-strength, abrasion resistant line. 15# - 25# test mono is adequate in most situations. If you're after the big ones, you may need to up it to 40#, 50#, or even 80# test. Braided line is very strong. Catfish aren't line shy, so you can use heavy or light line as conditions dictate.
Never use wire leaders even in pike water. Their mouths are very soft and can be easily cut.
HOOKS: Small hooks allow for better bait presentation and penetrate quickly, so use the smallest hook possible. They should be heavy gauge suitable to the fish you're after. The hook should be well exposed after baiting. For small fish, a #2 or #1 is good. For cut bait, a hook size from 1/0 to 4/0 may be needed depending on the size of the bait. If you're using live bait, like up 6 inch bluegills or something, you'll need a 5/0 or 6/0 hook. Even bigger baits need even larger baits.
Circle hooks are popular. They quickly penetrate, usually in the corner of the mouth, allowing for a less stressful or harmful release of the fish.
Treble and double hooks should not be used. Their soft mouths can be pinned shut and if they break off the line, they will die from suffocation and starvation from being unable to open their mouths.
WEIGHTS: The most common types used are slip sinkers like eggs and bullet sinkers. Other popular kinds are bell, pyramid, and bottom-bouncers. The kind you choose will depend on water depth, bottom conditions, current flow, and the type of rig you're using. Split-shot sinkers are used for light tackle fishing.
BOBBERS: They add weight and make casting small baits easier. You'll know where the bait is and what it's doing, it'll be held at the depth you want, and you'll get snagged less. If you're fishing 6 -7 feet deep, a fixed bobber will do. For long casts or deeper water, use a slip bobber.
SWIVELS: Catfish like to twist and turn when hooked, so make sure to use a good ball-bearing swivel. Cheap ones may cost you the fish of a lifetime.
BAIT: Cats will eat almost anything. Live minnows, crawdads, night crawlers, worms, insects, shad, leeches, frogs, etc. Dead baits include shrimp, shad, chicken livers, hot dogs, cheese, decayed meat, frogs, you name it. Find something bad, and they'll probably scarf it up.