Catfish have always been a fascination of mine. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the north where there were almost none of them and I went through childhood hoping to some day catch a catfish. Actually, I’m told that I caught my first one in Indiana at the age of 3 on a cane pole before ever moving to Canada, but I can’t say I remember.
I live in Pennsylvania nowadays and here in Pennsylvania, as in most states, catfish can generally be divided into 3 groups by size: madtoms (the smallest), bullhead (medium) and then the big 4: white catfish (southeast), channel cat, flathead (southwest) and blue cat (southwest). You could live and fish here for a long time and never know that the various madtoms even exist as their top-end size is around 6 inches and 3 inches is more typical. Bullheads (black, yellow and brown) are often abundant and a great size for eating. I’ve never caught a white cat but they’re intermediate in size between bullheads and channel cats, as I understand it. If you’ve caught only one catfish ever, it was probably a channel cat – widely distributed, often abundant and big but not huge. The two remaining cats are often huge: flatheads and blues. I think that International Game Fish Association records for both of these now stand at over 140 pounds though the Pennsylvania records are considerably smaller.
So, it’s a diverse group. It might be fair to say that if Pennsylvania had no species of bass or trout, we’d still have a diverse fishery here thanks to catfish. They’re also a great addition to Pennsylvania’s piscine lineup because they’re cooperative – they don’t require enormous talent to entice and hook, generally speaking. If you can tie a string and hook to the end of a pole or maybe a straight branch, you’re in business. They eat just about anything though serious catfishers all have their own favorites. My favorite baits include hot dogs, chicken liver, nightcrawlers, cut sunfish and large live minnows. The truth is that I probably don’t need to educate anyone on catfish; if you’re a fisherman, you probably have experience with them.
And I guess cats are just on my mind at the moment. My dad and I have been catching a few lately near home – a good midsummer option now that trout and bass aren’t at their best. Not that I need an excuse to turn to cats, they’re actually a favorite. I like nothing better than swinging in bullheads on a 10-foot pole. Then too, I have to add that my girlfriend’s gotten in on the action also and that she took the largest cat I’ve seen yet this season – a 6 pound fish. The fish fries have been excellent over the last couple of weeks but the 6-pounder is still swimming and growing in a nearby creek!