Channel Catfish Species Information

Channel Catfish - Ictalurus punctatus

The channel catfish is olive to light blue in color with black speckles on the sides, has a forked tail, whisker-like organs around the mouth, a broad flat head, and a slender body. Males generally are darker in color and have larger heads than the females. Catfish have a very keen sense of smell and taste. The whiskers, known as “barbels,” are around their mouth with the purpose of helping them locate food in the dark waters. In addition, they have taste buds all over the surface of their body.

Geographic Range

The Channel Catfish is native to St. Lawrence-Great Lakes, Hudson Bay (Red R. drainage), and Missouri-Mississippi R. basins from southern Quebec to southern Manitoba and Montana south to the Gulf of Mexico. It also possibly is native on the Atlantic and Gulf Slopes from the Susquehanna River to the Neuse River, and from Savannah River to Lake Okeechobee, Florida, and west to northern Mexico and eastern New Mexico. It has been introduced throughout most of the U.S. and is common to abundant in most areas.

Habits of the Channel Catfish

Learn about the habits of this catfish species.


The Channel Catfish varies greatly in color. Most individuals have scattered black spots on a silver back and side. Very small individuals, which usually have black-tipped fins, and very large individuals, which are blue-black, lack dark spots. The Channel Catfish is white below, has white to dusky gray barbels, a rounded anal fin with 24-29 rays, and a slightly rounded predorsal profile. The air bladder lacks a distinct constriction. To 50 in. (127 cm) total length.

Channel Catfish: Image Gallery

Length & weight

A member of the American catfish genus Ictalurus, channel catfish have a top-end size of about 40–50 pounds (18–23 kg). The world record channel catfish weighed 58 pounds, and was taken from the Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina, on July 7, 1964. Realistically, a channel catfish over 20 lb (9 kg) is a spectacular specimen, and most catfish anglers view a 10-lb (4.5-kg) fish as a very admirable catch. Furthermore, the average size channel catfish an angler could expect to find in most waterways would be between 2 and 4 pounds.

Channel catfish often coexist in the same waterways with its close relative, the blue catfish, which is somewhat less common, but tends to grow much larger (with several specimens confirmed to weigh above 100 lb).

As channel catfish grow longer, they increase in weight. The relationship between length and weight is not linear. The relationship between length (L, in cm) and weight (W, in kg) for nearly all species of fish can be expressed by an equation of the form.

Food Value

Life Span

16 - 24 years


The Channel Catfish lives in deep pools and runs over sand or rocky bottom in small to large rivers, and is found over sandy and rocky areas of lakes. The species is rarely found in upland, high-gradient streams.


The inferior division of the inner ear, most prominently the utricle, is considered the primary area of hearing in most fishes. The hearing ability of the channel catfish is enhanced by the presence of the swim bladder. It is the main structure that reverberates the echo from other individuals’ sounds, as well as from sonar devices. The volume of the swim bladder changes if fish move vertically, thus is also considered to be the site of pressure sensitivity. The latency of swim bladder adaptation after a change in pressure affects hearing and other possible swim bladder functions, presumably making audition more difficult. Nevertheless, the presence of the swim bladder and a relatively complex auditory apparatus allows the channel catfish to discern different sounds and tell from which directions sounds have come.

Similar species

  • The Blue Catfish, I. furcatus, occurs over much of the range of the Channel Catfish but lacks dark spots on the body, and has a straight-edged anal fin with 30-35 rays and a straight predorsal profile.
  • The Headwater Catfish, I. lupus, is nearly identical to the Channel Catfish but has a deeper caudal peduncle, and a broader head and mouth.
  • The Yaqui Catfish, I. pricei, has a shorter pectoral spine, dorsal spine, and anal fin base.