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Catfish Fishing

Overview

Indiana is home to 13 species of catfish and madtoms that can range from 2 inches to over 4 feet in length. Some can weigh over 100 pounds. Catfish species are recognizable by their lack of scales, barbels near their mouths (“whiskers”), adipose fin (small fleshy fin found on the back between the dorsal fin and tail), and a sharp spine at the front of the dorsal (top) fin and pectoral (side) fins.

Blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus), channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) and flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) are the most popular catfish species in the state. Channel catfish are found in many Indiana waters, including midsize streams, small ponds, lakes, and large rivers. Flathead catfish are found in large lakes and large rivers and streams. Blue catfish are only found in large rivers and streams. Indiana is also home to white catfish (Ameiurus catus), which are limited to a few reservoirs and private ponds and a limited portion of the Ohio River.

Blue, channel, and flathead catfish are extremely popular for both commercial and recreational fisheries and provide excellent table fare for many Indiana residents. Please consult the fish consumption advisory for more information.

Catfish Angler Survey

A catfish social survey was designed for us to better understand our anglers. Click below to take the survey.

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Feeding and Habits

Blue, channel and flathead catfish spawn during the early summer when water temperatures are in the mid-seventies. They are all cavity nesters meaning they deposit eggs near overhanging rock ledges, rip-rap, deeply undercut banks, underwater muskrat runs, or hollow logs.

Because blue, channel, and flathead catfish reside at the bottom of lakes and rivers they use touch and smell and, to a lesser extent, sight to feed. Because of this, many anglers use smelly baits such as hotdogs or cheese to attract fish, but live night crawlers or even artificial worms can be effective. Check out How to Catch Catfish for more information about catfish fishing.

Population Status

In rivers and streams, and in some large reservoirs, catfish populations are maintained through natural reproduction. In the early 1960s DNR began stocking channel catfish in ponds and lakes around the state where natural reproduction was limited by habitat. Annually, DNR stocks around 100,000 channel catfish across the state. Information about recent stockings can be found at the DNR stocking website. In urban areas where ponds are small and angler use is high, larger sized channel catfish are stocked more intensively. Visit the Urban Fishing website for urban stocking locations, numbers, and timing.

Regulations

Catfish regulations vary by lakes and rivers.  Visit the Fishing Guide website for catfish regulations.

Identification

Artwork by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unless otherwise noted.

  • Black Bullhead

    Black Bullhead

    The upper jaw projects beyond the lower jaw. The tail is not noticeably forked. The adipose fin (on the back, between the dorsal fin and tail) is a free lobe, widely separate from the tail fin. The rear margin of the tail fin is slightly notched (not straight, and not deeply forked). The chin barbels are dusky or black (never uniformly white) and the barbel at the corner of the mouth does not reach farther back than the base of the pectoral fin. The back and sides are not strongly mottled with a darker color.

    Black Bullhead

  • Blue Catfish

    Blue catfish are silvery blue in color with a white belly and lack dark spots on the back and side and a deeply forked tail. They can look similar to channel catfish, but the anal fin (fin on bottom of fish in front of the tail) is straight-edged (not rounded), has 30 to 35 rays, and tapers toward the back in a flat line, like a barber's comb. The base of the anal fin is also relatively longer than in the channel catfish.

    Blue Catfish

    Artwork by Rick Hill Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

  • Brown Bullhead

    The upper jaw projects beyond the lower jaw. The tail is not noticeably forked. The adipose fin (on the back, between the dorsal fin and tail) is a free lobe, widely separate from the tail fin. The back and sides are usually strongly mottled rather than uniformly colored, and the barbel at the corner of the mouth is longer, reaching well behind the base of the pectoral fin in adults.

    Brown Bullhead

  • Channel Catfish

    Tail is deeply forked. They possess scattered dark spots on their back and sides (the spots are often absent in older fish). The outer margin of the anal fin is rounded outward (convex) rather than straight, the base is relatively shorter than in the blue catfish and consists of 24 to 29 rays. The profile of the back, from the dorsal fin forward, is gently sloping and slightly rounded outward, so the head and forward part of the body are less distinctly wedge-shaped than in the blue catfish.

    Channel Catfish

    Artwork by Rick Hill Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

  • Flathead Catfish

    The flathead catfish is distinguished by its broad, flattened head with small eyes on top, and the lower jaw projecting beyond the upper jaw. The tail fin is mostly squared off, with a slight notch (it is not deeply forked), and the anal fin is rounded, with 14–17 rays. The body is often strongly mottled with brown or black.

    Flathead Catfish

    Artwork by Rick Hill Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

  • White Catfish

    The rear margin of the tail fin is moderately forked (not merely notched, but also not deeply forked as in channel, blue, and flathead catfish). This chubby catfish has a short anal fin, the length of its base going more than four times into the standard length (measured from tip of snout to base of tail). The body lacks black spots and is often conspicuously two-colored, with a well-defined line of demarcation between the darker back and upper sides, and the white lower sides and belly. The chin barbels are white; all barbels are similar in color to the adjacent body parts while the fins are dark.

    White Catfish

  • Yellow Bullhead

    The upper jaw projects beyond the lower jaw. The tail is not noticeably forked. The adipose fin (on the back, between the dorsal fin and tail) is a free lobe, widely separate from the tail fin. The rear margin of the tail fin is slightly notched (not straight, and not deeply forked). The yellow bullhead can be distinguished from Indiana’s three other bullheads by their uniformly whitish colored chin barbels.

    Yellow Bullhead

    Artwork by Rick Hill Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.