Recently the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) has taken a renewed interest in catfish.
A big part of their strategy for growing fishing interest in urban and suburban areas is the stocking of the highly popular channel catfish and also managing catfish populations throughout the state for maximum potential.
We have taken the official TPWD catfish species profiles and added some commentary to show the diversity of catfish in the state and also salute their groundbreaking work on conserving catfish populations.
Regional Names: Willow Cat, Forked-tail Cat, Fiddler, Spotted Cat, Lady Cat
Description: Channel catfish are easily distinguished from all others, except blue catfish, by their deeply forked tail fin. Unlike flathead catfish, the upper jaw projects beyond the lower jaw. Coloration is olive-brown to slate-blue on the back and sides, shading to silvery-white on the belly. Typically, numerous small, black spots are present, but may be obscured in large adults. The anal fin has 24-29 soft rays, in contrast to the blue catfish which always has 30 or more rays in the anal fin.
TFG Commentary: Channel cats are likely to be encountered in bar ditches, gullies and small canals. Anglers fishing after a rain in particular catch many channels in unlikely locations. They are the catfish most likely to be caught by Texas anglers.
Biology: Channel catfish spawn in late spring or early summer when water temperatures reach 75°F. Males select nest sites which are normally dark secluded areas such as cavities in drift piles, logs, undercut banks, rocks, cans, etc. Adults are largely omnivorous, feeding on insects, mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and even some plant material. Sexual maturity is reached in two or three years in captivity, whereas data from natural populations indicates channel catfish in Texas reach sexual maturity in 3-6 years. Most are mature by the time they reach 12 inches in length.
Regional Names: Channel Cat, Hump-back Blue
Description: Blue catfish have a forked tail, and are sometimes very similar to channel catfish. However, only the Rio Grande population has dark spots on the back and sides. The number of rays in the anal fin is typically 30-35, and coloration is usually slate blue on the back, shading to white on the belly.
Biology: The spawning behavior of blue catfish appears to be similar to that of channel catfish. However, most blue catfish are not sexually mature until they reach about 24 inches in length. Like channel catfish, the blue catfish pursues a varied diet, but it tends to eat fish earlier in life. Blue catfish commonly attain weights of 20 to 40 pounds, and may reach weights well in excess of 100 pounds. It is reported that fish exceeding 350 pounds were landed from the Mississippi River during the late 1800’s.
TFG Commentary: Texas harbors one of if not the best trophy blue catfish fishery in America. Only South Carlina with Santee Cooper Reservoir (which cranks out monsters) rivals the overall quality. More restrictive harvest of blues will conserve these fisheries and help turn lakes like Livingston, Lewisville and Texoma into trophy blue cat havens.
Regional Names: Yellow Cat, Opelousa Cat, Op, Pied Cat, Mississippi Cat, Mud Cat, Shovelhead Cat
Description: As the common name suggests, this catfish has a flat head, but other than that, it looks like any other catfish: it has smooth, scaleless skin, whisker-like barbels around the mouth, and long spines on the dorsal (back) fin and one on each side of the pectoral (shoulder) fin. Flathead catfish reach a length of 3 to 4 feet and their weight can exceed 100 pounds. Flathead catfish are typically pale yellow (hence the name “yellow cat”) to light brown on the back and sides, and highly mottled with black and/or brown. The belly is usually pale yellow or cream colored. The head is broadly flattened, with a projecting lower jaw. The tail fin is only slightly notched, not deeply forked as is the case with blue and channel catfish. Young fish may be very dark, almost black in appearance.
Biology: Unlike other catfish which are scavengers, flatheads prey only on live fish. Young flathead catfish feed mostly on invertebrates such as worms, insects and crayfish. When 10 inches or larger, their diet consists entirely of fish: shad, carp, suckers, sunfish, largemouth bass and other catfish (including their own kind).
TFG Commentary: This species has received huge national press since shows like “Hillbilly Handfishing” hit a few years ago. “Noodling” of flatheads has become popular but most large specimens are caught on trotlines. There are likely massive flatheads in small canals, oxbows and rivers that are never caught due to a lack of angling pressure. Rod and reel anglers would do well to hit their local waterways at night when flatheads are most active and seek out these giants.
(Black and Yellow both live in Texas)
Regional Names: Mudcat, Polliwog, Chucklehead Cat
Description: Yellow bullheads are typically light yellow to olive-green on the back, often somewhat mottled. The belly is yellowish to white. The tail is not notched, and may be slightly rounded. Chin barbels are white. The anal fin has 23-27 rays. Black bullheads are typically black to greenish-black on the back, ranging to gray or white on the belly. However, in muddy water the back may be yellowish-brown. Chin barbels are dark or black, never white. The anal fin has 17-21 rays.
Biology: During late spring or early summer, yellow bullheads excavate nests in mud bottoms and spawn. Both parents guard the nest, which may contain 2,000 to 12,000 eggs. Bullheads are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of plant and animal material, both live and dead. Immature aquatic insects and crustaceans often comprise a considerable proportion of the diet.
TFG Commentary: Most bullheads utilized in Texas are put on a hook on noodle or trotline to lure in flatheads. They are without question the best bait but this species is not bad to eat. If you can catch those 2-3 pounders there is actually enough meat for a nice meal and its not bad especially if caught in clean water.
—story by TF&G