Among anglers, the channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is North America’s most popular catfish species. Approximately 8 million anglers in the USA target channel catfish at least some of the time.
A member of the Ictalurus genus of American catfishes, channel catfish have a maximum recorded size of approximately 40-50 pounds (18-23kg). The world record channel catfish weighed 58 pounds and was caught in 1964 in the Santee-Cooper Reservoir, South Carolina. Realistically, a channel catfish over 20 pounds is a spectacular specimen, and most catfish anglers view a 10 pounder as a very admirable catch. Furthermore the average size channel catfish an angler could expect to find in most waterways would be between 2 and 4 pounds. Channel catfish flesh is prized by many anglers and the popularity of channel catfish for food has allowed the rapid growth of aquaculture of this species throughout the United States.
Channel catfish are well distributed across the United States. They thrive in many areas including small rivers, large rivers, reservoirs, natural lakes, and ponds. From an angler’s perspective, these catfish will feed on a variety of natural and prepared baits including nightcrawlers, minnows, shad, frogs, bullheads, sunfish, and suckers. Channel catfish possess very keen senses of smell and taste. Located at the pits of their nostrils (nares) are very sensitive odor sensing organs with a very high concentration of olfactory receptors. In channel catfish these organs are sensitive enough to detect several amino acids at about 1 part per 100 million in water. In addition channel catfish have taste buds distributed over the surface of their entire body. These taste buds are especially concentrated on the channel catfish’s 4 pairs of barbels (whiskers) surrounding the mouth- about 25 buds per square millimeter. This combination of exceptional senses of taste and smell allows the channel catfish to find baits in dark, stained, or muddy water with relative ease. This combined with the fact that channel catfish will readily scavenge for food explains why cutbaits (fresh cut pieces of fish- usually minnows, shad, herring, sunfish, suckers, etc.) are particularly effective for catching this species of catfish. In addition prepared baits such as dipbaits, punchbaits, bloodbaits, and other “stinkbaits” can be effective in many situations. These baits usually are made from some combination of ground fish, chicken, beef, cheese, sour grains, and many other “secret” ingredients.