Channel Catfish


Map showing channel catfish distribution in central and southern Ontario

modified from: Mandrak and Crossman (1992)



Typical length:  36-53 centimetres (14-21 inches)

Typical weight: 0.9-1.8 kilograms (2-4 pounds)

Ontario record:  13.2 kilograms (38.5 pounds)

Similar fish:

Brown Bullhead     


Channel Catfish


Key Identifying Characteristics:


  • Large, elongated fish
  • 4 pairs of dark barbels around the mouth
  • Back is pale blue, pale olive, or grey. Sides are lighter, often with black spots, and belly is grey to yellow to silver white
  • Body lacks scales
  • Tail forked, compared to the square tail of bullhead species



  • Channel catfish range from the prairie provinces of Canada to the Great Lakes and the Ottawa-St. Lawrence basins. It is typical of lakes and large rivers, such as Lakes Huron, Ontario, Erie, St. Clair, Simcoe and its drainage system to Georgian Bay, and the French, Ottawa and upper St. Lawrence Rivers.
  • Channel catfish are found in a wide variety of warmwater habitats in both lakes and streams, and are not as closely associated with the bottom as bullheads and madtoms. Channel catfish inhabit cooler and swifter water than most of Ontario's other catfish. They often occur downstream from power dams where they find the fast water they favour.

Angling Tips:


  • Fish for channel cats in deep holes below riffles as well as under drift piles or overhanging banks and other protected areas. Although channel cats are active feeders all day long, they are often active during low light periods (dawn and dusk) and even through the night.
  • Still-fishing is the best bet for channel cats, although they will sometimes take spinners and small plugs. Try a live minnow, drifted beneath a small float. Or try slip-sinkers and bottom fishing


Common Baits:


  • Crayfish
  • Earthworms
  • Large dead minnows
  • Cheese
  • Strips of cut herring or smelt
  • Chicken entrails




Channel Catfish banner graphic

Illustration credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service