Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Channel Catfish - Ictalurus punctatus

(This page was last updated - 06/14/2007)

Scientific name: Ictalurus punctatus (Ictalurus = "fish cat", punctatus = "spotted")

Common names: channel catfish, spotted catfish, fiddler (usually in reference to small specimens), white catfish

channel catfish 

Species Overview

Channel catfish is the most common of the three species of large catfish found in Tennessee. They are found in reservoirs and lakes throughout the state and in most of our warmwater streams and rivers. They are one of the most well known, studied, and commercially important species in the southeast.

The Tennessee state angling record taken from Fall Creek Falls State Park Lake in 1982 weighed 41 pounds.



Adult channel catfish that have lost their characteristic spots are sometimes confused with the less common blue catfish. The difference in their anal fin structure is the best distinguishing characteristic. The anal fin of a blue catfish is longer with a straight margin while that of a channel catfish is much shorter and rounded (see the blue catfish page).

Both channel and blue catfish have deeply forked tail fins which distinguishes them from the other 21 species of catfish found in Tennessee.


channel catfish 
A Norris Reservoir channel catfish - photo by Jim Negus


Channel catfish are said to prefer clear water streams, but also do well in muddy water. The young feed on aquatic insects and invertebrates while adults eat other fishes, mollusks, crayfish, and occasional aquatic vegetation. They feed both during the day and at night.

They are very tolerant of low dissolved oxygen (DO) levels and therefore do well in pond situations. The lethal DO level is 1.0 ppm, but reduced growth occurs in concentrations below 4.0 ppm. Channel catfish usually become sexually mature at three years of age, but may not spawn in the wild until the age of five.

Life Cycle

Channel catfish spawn during the late spring and early summer when water temperatures reach 75 F. They are cavity spawners and their spawning behavior is similar to blue catfish. Males construct nests in holes in the banks, under logs, or rocks. They fan out debris and defend the nests until spawning is completed and the fry leave the area.

Females lay a gelatinous mass of eggs on the bottom of the nest and produce 3,000 to 4,000 eggs per pound of body weight. Channel catfish only spawn once a year in the wild, but males have been known to spawn up to nine times in hatchery situations.

There are reports of channel catfish exceeding 60 pounds from Santee Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina. The maximum age is thought to be somewhere around 24 years, though a 40 year old fish has been reported.


channel catfish 
Odd coloration on a Tellico Reservoir channel catfish - photo by Jim Negus


Etnier, D. and W. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee Press.

Southern Regional Aquaculture Center. 1998. Channel Catfish, Life History and Biology pdf