Game Fishing > Catfish Family, Siluridae > Channel-catfish


Channel-catfishThe channel-cat was first described by Rafinesque, in 1820, from the Ohio River. He named it punctatus, or "spotted," owing to the black spots on its sides. It is also known as white­cat and blue-cat in various parts of its range. It is found in rivers of the Great Lake region and Mississippi Valley, and in the streams tributary to the Gulf of Mexico.

It is the most trimly-built of all the catfishes, with a long, slender body and small head. It is olivaceous or slate color above, sides pale and silvery, with small, round, dark spots; belly white; fins usually with dark edgings.

Unlike most of the catfishes the channel-cat is found only in clear or swift streams, never in still, muddy situations. It is a clean, wholesome fish, and feeds mostly on minnows and crawfish. It is a good food-fish, the flesh being white and firm and of a rich flavor. It grows to a weight of twenty pounds, occasionally, though usually to five or six pounds.

The channel-cat is a very fine game-fish. It takes the live minnow readily, also shedder craw­fish, and will not refuse earthworms, cut butcher meat or liver, when hooked it is second to no other fish of its size as a bold, strong fighter beneath the surface. The angler who has "tackled," in a literal sense, a channel-cat of five pounds, on a light rod, can vouch for its gameness.

As it coexists with the black-bass in streams in the Mississippi Valley, and is usually taken by the angler when angling for that fish, the rod, reel, line, and hook recommended for the black-bass will be found eminently serviceable for the channel-cat. It is fond of the deep pools below mill-dams, and in the channels of streams off gravelly or rocky shoals, and near shelving banks and rocks. The method of casting the minnow for black-bass answers well for the channel-cat, though the casts should not be so frequently made, and more time should be allowed for the display of the minnow in mid-water.

Still-fishing with a small, live minnow for bait is the plan generally followed; and as the bait should be left to its own devices for several minutes at a time, a light float is sometimes useful for keeping it off the bottom. When crawfish, cut­bait, or worms are used, the float must always be employed for the same reason. The fish should be given several seconds to gorge the bait, and then hooked by an upward, short, and quick movement of the tip of the rod. When hooked it should feel constantly the strain of the bent rod, and no more line given than is actually necessary; otherwise the struggle will last a long time. No half-hearted measures will answer for the channel-cat, which has a wonderful amount of vitality. He must be subdued by the determined opposition of a good rod and a strong arm.

There are a number of other catfishes that are taken by angling, but none are worthy of the name of game-fishes, though as food they are nearly all to be commended. There are two other species of channel-cats, though neither is quite so good either as game-fishes or for food. They are the blue-cat, also known as chuckle­head cat (Ictalurus furcalus), which may be known by its more extensive anal fin, which has from thirty to thirty-five rays, and its bluish silvery color, and with but few if any spots. The other is the willow-cat, or eel-cat (Ictalurus anguilla), of a pale yellowish or olivaceous color, without spots. Both of these fishes are found in southern waters from Ohio to Louisiana. The channel-cats are often called forked-tail cats, as they are the only catfishes that have the caudal fin deeply forked.

I think no one appreciates the gameness of the channel-catfish, or has such a just estimation of its toothsomeness, as the Kentucky darky. He will sit all day long, a monument of patience, on a log or rock at the edge of a "cat-hole" of the stream, with hickory pole, strong line and hook, and a float. He baits his hook with a piece of liver or a shedder crawfish "soft craw," he calls it, and only uses minnows when the other baits fail.