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     If you’ve ever had the good fortune to travel to Selkirk, Manitoba, you’ve probably met Chuck. Chuck isn’t just anybody … he’s a 7.6 metre long catfish effigy! Built in 1986, this fiberglass monster promotes Selkirk as a catfishing hotspot due to the abundant population thriving in the nearby Red River.

     The channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is a warm water fish, and is North America’s most common catfish species. Ictalurus comes from the Greek “ichtys” meaning fish, and “ailouros” meaning cat, which is appropriate since the fish appears to be whiskered like a cat. Although Manitoba’s Red River is a “channel cat” hotspot, several other large, southern rivers, including the Assiniboine, Winnipeg, and Whitemud, as well as Lake Winnipeg, house populations of this fish.

     These catfish are less common in Saskatchewan but do reside in the Qu’Appelle River watershed. Although channel catfish
do not inhabit the streams of Alberta, skeletons and bone fragments found along the rivers of southeastern Alberta show a historical presence. Channel catfish can also be found in southern Ontario, throughout the United States, and in northeastern Mexico.

     The smooth skin of the catfish is scaleless and steel blueish-grey or yellow dorsally, fading to a silver-white abdomen. A large, flat head and a deeply forked tail further characterize the channel catfish and differentiate it from the similar brown bullhead catfish. The channel catfish must be commended for its outstanding senses of smell and taste. A pair of barbels, or fleshy whiskers, project from the nose of the fish, and two larger barbels adorn the corners of its wide mouth. Four more barbels, which sprout from the bottom lip of the fish, give the appearance of a goatee. A multitude of taste buds cover these barbels and are also scattered over the whole body of the fish. These taste receptors, working in combination with odoursensing organs in the nostrils, or nares, of the fish, give the channel cat the ability to find food in dark, turbid waters with absolute ease. Channel catfish also use smell and taste receptors to communicate complex information to others of their kind. The cats can release substances that give information about the fish’s sex, age, and hierarchical status, and can even warn of danger.

     While most of its fins are soft rayed, thechannel catfish’s dorsal and pectoral fins are supported by spines. The pectoral spines aid the fish in another form of communication called stridulation, in which the bony parts of the fins are used to create clicking and grinding sounds that also give information onthe characteristics of the fish.

     Within a waterbody, channel catfish will seek out quiet water away from strong current. Features such as deep pools, logs, and undercut banks provide excellent lounging areas, and a sand or gravel bottom is ideal.

    Spawning occurs in late spring or early summer and begins with a male finding a hidden, protected nesting site such as under debris or in a crevice. After engaging in a courtship ritual and mating, the female releases a sticky orange mass of 5,000 to 20,000 eggs that hatch in six to ten days. Following spawning, the male remains at the site to provide protection to the eggs as they incubate, and he continues to provide care throughout the larval stage of the young. Although this behaviour seems entirely altruistic, the male does occasionally snack on a few of the eggs.

     Young feed mainly on aquatic insects and invertebrates, while the larger adult’s varied diet mainly consists of fish, but also includes clams, snails, mussels, amphibians, leeches, and aquatic insects. Although catfish seem to have unlimited growth potential, typical length ranges from 14 to 21 inches and weight ranges from two to four kilograms. The flesh of the catfish is white, juicy, and tender, and is important both as a game fish and as a farmed fish species.

     To some, sitting on the banks of the Red River and chucking a line into the water to land a catfish may not sound particularly enthralling. Noodling is a far more exciting method of catching supper. (Note: This may not be a lawful technique in your province). Using this technique, anglers locate likely catfish hideouts and, immersing their hands in the water, wiggle their fingers in imitation of tempting bait for the fish. If a catfish latches on, the noodler then grasps the fish’s mouth and pulls it from the water.

     Be sure to read the sport fishing regulations for the particular water body you’re fishing to check for open seasons, retention limits, and of course, lawful methods of angling, before heading out to catch yourself a channel cat!


Author: Chloe Marshall.
Chloe is an associate member of the
Manitoba Natural Resource Officers
Association and is a regular
contributor to WCGW.

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