Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Flathead Catfish - Pylodictis olivaris

(This page was last updated - 06/15/2007)

Scientific name: Pylodictis olivaris (Pylodictis = "mud fish", olivaris = "olive colored ")

Common names: flathead catfish, yellow cat, mud cat, shovelnose cat

 flathead catfish
A small Tellico Reservoir flathead catfish - photo by Jim Negus

Species Overview

Flathead catfish is one 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 large rivers. They are highly valued as a food fish.

Flatheads are considered an invasive species in many areas of the country where they have been introduced. They have been linked to the decline of native fish populations in various states (link).

The Tennessee state angling record taken from the Hiwassee River in 1993 weighed almost 86 pounds. A 92 pound flathead taken by a commercial fisherman from the Mississippi River in 2000 holds the non-sportfishing record.


flathead catfish
A large Norris Reservoir flathead catfish - photo by Jim Negus


Flatheads, as the name implies, have very compressed heads and are therefore not easily confused with any other large Tennessee catfish. Channel and blue catfish also have deeply forked tail fins while that of a flathead is rounded. Flatheads have a relatively small anal fin when compared to blues and channels. Very young flatheads might be rarely confused with the bullheads or madtoms.


 flathead catfish head
A Tellico Reservoir flathead catfish - photo by Jim Negus


Young feed mostly on aquatic insects. Adult flatheads tend to be solitary and eat almost exclusively live fish. Unlike blues and channels, they are rarely caught by anglers using stinkbaits or livers.

They reach sexual maturity around age three and have a maximum life span of approximately 20 years.


flathead catfish
A Tellico Reservoir flathead - photo by Jim Negus

Life Cycle

Spawning takes place in late spring within depressions or cavities. Both the male and female construct their nest in holes in the banks, under logs, or within cavities along rocky banks. The female leaves the nest after spawning while the male remains to fan out debris and aggressively defend the nest until the fry leave the area.

Females can lay anywhere from 4,000 to 100,000 eggs depending on her size.


 young flathead
A young Fort Loudoun Reservoir flathead catfish - photo by Jim Negus


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

Pennsylvania Sea Grant. Flathead Catfish, Pylodictis olivaris (invasive) pdf