Channel Catfish

Ictalurus punctatus


channel catfish
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.

Ictaluridae (bullhead catfishes) in the order Siluriformes (catfishes)


Also known as spotted cat, blue cat, fiddler, lady cat, chucklehead cat and willow cat. Like all Missouri catfish, the channel cat has smooth, scaleless skin and barbels (“whiskers”) around the mouth. The channel catfish, like the blue catfish, has a deeply forked tail, but can be distinguished by the dark spots on its sides and an anal fin with a rounded edge. Adults stay in deep water of larger pools during the day and move to shallows or near cover at night to feed.


Total length: 12-32 inches; weight: 1-15 pounds. Specimens as large as 45 pounds are uncommon in Missouri.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs in a variety of habitats, but prefers large, rather turbid streams with low or moderate gradients. Adults are found in larger pools, in deep water or about submerged logs and other cover. Young often occur in riffles or the shallower parts of pools.


Omnivorous bottom feeders, eating insects, mollusks, crustaceans, fish and plant material. Channel catfish less than 4 inches long eat mostly small insects. Locate food primarily by taste and smell.

image of Channel Catfish distribution map
Distribution in Missouri



Game fish. Especially characteristic of the Prairie streams of north and west Missouri, the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and the larger Lowland streams and ditches of the southeast. Less abundant in the central Ozarks than elsewhere. Also occurs naturally or as a result of stocking in artificial impoundments statewide.

Life cycle

Spawn in late spring or early summer when water temperatures reach 75° F. Males select nest sites in dark secluded areas such as cavities in drift piles, logs, undercut banks and rocks. Males guard the nest. Fry remain in the nest, guarded by the male, for about a week after they hatch.

Human connections

One of the most sought after fish in Missouri. A wide variety of baits is used to catch channel catfish including liver, worms, grasshoppers, shrimp, chicken, cheese and stinkbait. Trot or jug lines, or rod and reel are favored fishing methods. Raised commercially for food in catfish “farms."

Ecosystem connections

Catfish search stream bottoms, preying on creatures that will fit in their mouths, grazing on plants and cleaning up dead animal matter. When they die, they become food for other animals. And despite notably attentive parental care, their eggs and young frequently are eaten by other animals, too.