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Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) are a very popular food and game fish in Ohio. Like other catfish, they are scaleless. Channel “cats” are bluish-silver on top and a whitish color on the bottom half of their body. Adult females and young channel cats have few to many spots. They have barbels around the mouth and a deeply forked caudal fin, fan-shaped anal fin, and sharp spines on the dorsal and pectoral fins. It is the only catfish with both a forked tail and spots. The channel catfish that do not have any or many spots are sometimes confused with the blue catfish, which is found only in the Ohio River and is very rare.
Native to Ohio, channel catfish can be found throughout the state in large streams, lakes and farm ponds. Ideal habitat includes deep, moving waters with a gravel or sand bottoms.
Spawning occurs when water temperature reach 70 º F. Females will utilize natural cavities and muskrat burrows in which to lay 8,000 - 15,000 eggs. Both parents will stay at the nest and remain to guard the young after hatching. Channel catfish will grow to an average twelve to fourteen inches and weigh one to five pounds, although ten pounds is not uncommon.
Channel catfish are active at night and after a rain. They rely on their barbels to help them find food. They are omnivorous bottom feeders. Their diet is varied, including worms, minnows, crayfish, dead fish, and other animal and plant material. Because of their nocturnal activity, evening is a popular fishing time. When caught, people are often "stung" by the spines on their fins – not the barbels. A folk remedy for the stinging is to rub the belly of the fish on the wound.
The record channel catfish was caught in 1992, weighing just over 37 lbs.
There was some concern in the beginning of the twentieth century over decreasing numbers of channel catfish due of the increase in the number of mill dams that were preventing the fish from migration. However from 1920-1950 they were abundant throughout the state. In the 1940s, the commercial catch of channel catfish from Lake Erie was a yearly average of 725,909 lbs.
As early 1908, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has raised channel catfish in state fish hatcheries to help the fishing populations. In 1998, ODNR released 133,500 channel catfish into 69 lakes. Every year, hundreds of pounds of channel cats and other fish are stocked daily in the ODNR fishing pond at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, allowing children 14 years and younger to try their luck.