White Catfish (Ameiurus catus)


White catfish are a common and popular fish with more limited range than other catfish species, and with commercial as well as recreational value. They have been successfully stocked in pay-to-fish ponds and are also cultivated for commercial bulk harvest. Their flesh is white and fine, and they make excellent eating, especially when caught from clean environments.

Identification

The white catfish looks somewhat like a cross between a channel cat (see: Catfish, Channel) and a bullhead (see), owing to its slightly forked tail, broad head, and squat body. Midsize specimens are often thought to be huge bullhead. The white catfish has a moderately forked tail, which distinguishes it from the flathead catfish and the bullhead, whose tails are not forked.


Its anal fin is rounded along the edge and has 19 to 23 fin rays, fewer than in either the blue catfish (see: Catfish, Blue) or the channel cat. Without close inspection, it could be confused with other catfish, although it doesn’t possess the spots seen on young channel catfish. This fish is olive gray or slate gray on the head and bluish gray or slate gray on its back and sides, tapering to a white belly. As with other catfish, the white cat has heavy, sharp pectoral and dorsal spines, as well as long mouth barbels; its chin barbels are white.

Size/Age

White catfish are smaller than their blue, channel, and flathead brethren but may grow larger than bull-head. The all-tackle world record for this species is a Connecticut fish that weighed 21 pounds, 8 ounces, but a 22-pounder has been reported from California. These are the known upper limits for this species, but it may grow larger. Most white catfish are small, averaging 10 to 14 inches, and are often confused with bullhead. They are a relatively slow-growing fish, reaching sexual maturity at 3 to 4 years. They have been reported to live 14 years but
may get older.

Spawning behavior

This species spawns in the spring and the early summer, depending on latitude, and its spawning behavior is generally similar to that of the bullhead. The parents build a nest on sand or gravel substrate, usually near shore and often in places associated with some form of sheltering cover; spawning occurs when the water reaches approximately 70°F, and both parents guard the eggs and the young.

Food and feeding habits

White catfish have a broad appetite and consume aquatic insects, crayfish, clams, snails, mussels, fish eggs, assorted small fish, and some aquatic plants. Adults primarily feed on fish and are active at night, although they are less nocturnal than are other catfish.

Other Names

catfish.

Distribution

The native range of the white catfish is freshwater and the slightly brackish water of rivers along the Atlantic coast from southern New York to Florida. It exists along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas and has been introduced to some inland waters in the eastern and western parts of the United States, including several New England states, plus Oregon and Nevada; it is well established in California.

Habitat

White catfish inhabit the silty bottom areas of slow-moving streams and rivers, as well as ponds, lakes, and the low-salinity portions of tidal estuaries. They generally avoid the swift water of large rivers and do not thrive in weedy or muddy shallow ponds.
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