IF YOU HAVE A FACEBOOK account or e-mail address, you have probably seen the photos of anglers in the water with huge, yellow-skinned catfish with a subject line like, “Angler’s Noodle World Record Flathead” or something like that.
“Noodling” is the practice of feeling around with your hands and grabbing catfish by the mouth and wrestling them to shore.
The photos passed around the Internet of anglers with super-sized flatheads are not really flatheads at all. They are Wels catfish from Europe. They look almost exactly like flatheads except for the fins, which grow like a tadpole.
Then there is the size. Wels grow up to 10 feet in length and catches of fish over six feet are common. The world record flathead was just over five feet in length.
My wife Lisa and I both caught Wels over seven feet in the Segra River in Spain in 2005 and nearly everyone who sees the photos thinks they are flatheads until we tell them differently.
Interestingly, the guide on our trip told us that divers in that river work on and inspect the dam in shark cages. “The dam divers work in shark cages because of the giant catfish,” he said.
The Wels (which can grow to over 10 feet in length) are aggressive enough to attack them. I was a bit skeptical of the attacks, but then he pulled off his shirt and showed us a massive scar across his back where a Wels bit him when he got into the water to try and land it.
The largest catfish in North America are the blue and flathead, both of which live at many Texas reservoirs. They can weigh more than130 pounds, and I have no doubt there are specimens quite a bit larger. In my opinion this legend began with a diver seeing a record-sized catfish in murky water and then the story grew from there. A Volkswagen-sized catfish would weigh closer to a ton. Such fish don’t exist here in the United States.
The next time you see photos of giant catfish supposedly “noodled” look closely at the fins. It is probably a Wels. And the next time you hear of giant catfish below the dams, realize there is no way they are the size of an economy car.
Blue Catfish (Ictalurus is Greek meaning “fish cat”, and furcatus is Latin, meaning “forked”, a reference to the species’ forked tail fin). 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.
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. Although invertebrates still comprise the major portion of the diet, blue catfish as small as four inches in length have been known to consume fish. Individuals larger than eight inches eat fish and large invertebrates. 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.
Blue catfish are primarily large-river fish, occurring in main channels, tributaries, and impoundments of major river systems. They tend to move upstream in the summer in search of cooler temperatures, and downstream in the winter in order to find warmer water.
Blue catfish are native to major rivers of the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi river basins. The range also extends south through Texas, Mexico, and into northern Guatemala. In Texas it is absent from the northwestern portions of the state including the Panhandle, but present elsewhere in larger rivers.
The blue catfish is the largest freshwater sportfish in Texas. Where mature populations exist, 50-pounders are not unusual. Typically, the largest fish are caught by trotliners, some of whom have landed specimens in excess of 115 pounds. The Texas rod-and-reel record is 121.5 pounds. Catfish is the second most preferred group of fish among licensed Texas anglers, and blues rank third behind channel and flathead catfish. Like the channel cat, the blue catfish is considered an excellent food fish.
—story by CHESTER MOORE