Fish and Aquatic Conservation

illustration of a Channel catfish

Channel catfish

Ictalurus punctatus (Rafinesque, 1818)

Cool Facts

The oldest reported age for a channel catfish is 24 years. The heaviest reported age for a channel catfish is 26.3 kg (57.9 lbs.) The albino form of the channel catfish is very popular in the aquarium trade. Channel catfish have been introduced throughout the U.S. to provide recreational fishing opportunities for anglers.

SIZE: Common length for channel catfish is 57 cm (22 inches) with the longest maximum reported length at 132 cm (52 inches).

RANGE: The range of Channel catfish extends from southern Canada into northern Mexico. They are found within the central drainages of the United States.

HABITAT: Adult channel catfish inhabit rivers and streams. They prefer clean, well oxygenated waters, but can also live in ponds and reservoirs.

DIET: Channel catfish feed primarily on small fish, crustaceans (crayfish), clams and snails, aquatic insects and small mammals. There are even reports of channel catfish eating small birds.

Natural History

Male channel catfish turn dark during spawning season and develop a thick pad on the top of their heads. Female channel catfish require cool water and short day lengths during the winter months for proper egg development. Channel catfish spawn, depending on the latitude, during the months of April through July, when temperatures reach 27 or 28 degrees Celsius (80‐82 degrees Fahrenheit).

The spawning catfish pair will dig a depression on the bottom of the river or stream, or find a suitable sub-surface cavity to deposit their eggs, which is then guarded by the male catfish. Egg incubation will last between 3 to 8 days, depending on the water temperature. Channel catfish larvae will take 12 to 16 days to develop.


The channel catfish is neither federally listed nor imperiled. Channel catfish are a popular recreational fish and are managed by state recreational fishing regulations through creel and size limits.

Channel catfish, when introduced to non‐native waters, can negatively impact indigenous fish species because they are such opportunistic feeders. They may eventually outcompete native fishes for habitat and food.