Channel Catfish

Illustration by Duane Raver
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Scientific Name: Ictalurus punctatus

Classification:  Nongame Fish

Abundance: Common throughout NC.

Catfish State Records


Juvenile channel catfish (Photo by Melissa McGaw/NCWRC)


Catfish Management in North Carolina's Southeastern Rivers

Additional Information

The channel catfish has a deeply forked tail with black spots on its back and sides. Its top and sides vary from gray to slate-blue and are often olive with a yellow sheen. Its body is scaleless, and it has eight barbels (whiskers) around its mouth that serve as taste sensors for locating food. To distinguish between a channel catfish and a blue catfish, look at the anal fin. The anal fin of a channel catfish is round with 24 to 29 rays. The anal fin of a blue catfish has a straight outer edge and 30 to 36 rays.

Young channel catfish feed mainly on plankton and aquatic insect larvae. As they grow older, they feed on aquatic in-vertebrates and small fish. Adults are omnivorous, eating plant material, insect larvae, crayfish, mollusks, small fish and even dead fish. They are bottom feeders and rely on taste buds on their skin and barbels to locate food.

Native to the Mississippi Basin, channel catfish have been introduced throughout the United States. Highly adaptable, they are found in ponds, streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs throughout North Carolina. Tens of thousands of channel catfish are grown in the agency’s state hatcheries annually and stocked at various Community Fishing Program sites to provide angling opportunities in urban settings.

Channel Catfish are considered nongame fish by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. There are currently no limits on recreational and commercial harvest, except for the one-fish daily creel limit for Blue Catfish greater than 32 inches on eight Piedmont reservoirs and the six-fish daily creel limit on forked tail catfishes on Commission game lands and Community Fishing Program ponds.

The following fishing regulations are effective Aug. 1 of each year.

Nongame Fish Size and Creel Limits

Nongame Fish Regulations

Fishing Tips: Channel catfish feed mostly at night and are especially active from sunset to midnight. “Stink” baits (cut fish, chicken livers, cheese, shrimp, crayfish blood baits, etc.) are some of the best natural baits to use. Deep-diving crank baits fished slowly along the bottom, spoons and, occasionally, spinners are popular artificial lures. The best months to fish for channel catfish are April, May, September and October.

Places to Fish: The Black, Cape Fear, Lumber, Neuse and Yadkin/Pee Dee rivers are good places to fish. Community Fishing Program sites are stocked periodically with harvestable-size channel catfish from April through September and offer some of the best catfishing in the state.