Channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, are North America's most numerous catfish species. They are also the most fished types of catfish, with approximately 8 million anglers in the USA targeting them per year. A member of the Ictalurus genus of American catfishes, channel catfish have a top-end size of approximately 40-50 pounds (18-23 kg). The world record channel catfish weighed 58 pounds and was caught in 1964 in the Lake Marion, South Carolina. Realistically, a channel catfish over 20 pounds (9 kg) is a spectacular specimen, and most catfish anglers view a 10 pound (4.5 kg) fish as a very admirable catch. Furthermore the average size channel catfish an angler could expect to find in most waterways would be between 2 and 4 pounds. Channel catfish flesh is prized by many anglers and the popularity of channel catfish for food has allowed the rapid growth of aquaculture of this species throughout the United States.
Channel catfish are well distributed throughout the United States and thrive in small rivers, large rivers, reservoirs, natural lakes, and ponds. Channel catfish are omnivores who can be caught on a variety of natural and prepared baits including crickets, nightcrawlers, minnows, shad, crawfish, frogs, bullheads, sunfish, and suckers. Catfish have even been known to take Ivory Soap as bait . Another method of catching catfish is using stinkbaits, which are prepared baits made of things such as dead fish, crawfish, garlic, blood, meat, cheese, dough, and even Kool-Aid powder. Sometimes these stinkbaits are prepared into a doughball and mashed onto a hook, other times they are smeared in special tubes meant to hold these baits, and fished slowly on the bottom. Grocery store baits such as chicken livers, shrimp, dog food and bubble gum will also catch plenty of channel cats. Channel catfish possess very keen senses of smell and taste. At the pits of their nostrils (nares) are very sensitive odor sensing organs with a very high concentration of olfactory receptors. In channel catfish these organs are sensitive enough to detect several amino acids at about 1 part per 100 million in water. In addition channel catfish have taste buds distributed over the surface of their entire body. These taste buds are especially concentrated on the channel catfish's 4 pairs of barbels (whiskers) surrounding the mouth—about 25 buds per square millimeter. This combination of exceptional senses of taste and smell allows the channel catfish to find food in dark, stained, or muddy water with relative ease.
This combined with the fact that channel catfish will readily scavenge for food explains why cutbaits (fresh cut pieces of fish—usually minnows, shad, herring, sunfish, suckers, etc.) are particularly effective for catching this species of catfish. When removing the hook from a catfish, be careful of the spines on the pectoral fins and dorsal fin. Catfish trapping is regulated in some states. Catfish traps include "slat traps," long wooden traps with an angled entrance, and wire hoop traps. Typical bait for these traps include rotten cheese and dog food. Catches of as many as 100+ fish a day are common in catfish traps.
Catfish trapping, however, has recently come under media scrutiny due to the recovery process. The inherent nature of a trap means that the fish can be confined to small areas for, at times, up to twenty-four hours before traps are checked. The channel catfish requires a full range of motion in order to perform aerobic respiration, but since this is not possible in many traps the catfish suffocate. Animal rights activists believe that federal regulations for larger trap sizes should be put in place.