Catfish Care and Handling

About Catfish

If you are fishing for catfish then it is also important to respect your quarry and ensure it is cared for.

Catfish are soft skinned fish with no scales and are therefore quite delicate and can be susceptible to injury if not handled correctly. Many people are quite afraid of catfish and are nervous about handling them, but there is no need to fear them. They do have a large mouth and are often the largest fish anglers may encounter, but on the bank they are almost always quiet and easy to handle.

Landing catfish

Catfish are long fish and a just 10lb fish is likely to be 36inches long and a 50lb fish is likely to be five feet long, so landing them can be tricky. Coupled with this they can swim backwards which complicates things further!

Ideally if you are going catfishing get the right tackle in the form of a catfish landing net of 60in or 72in arms. These large nets also have deep (4ft) meshes so makes landing fish easy.

If you are stuck with a 42in or 50in arm net you can try to land the fish as follows: the trick is not to try and net the catfish straight on and definitely DO NOT lift the landing net if the tail is still over the spreader, as you will find your catfish will often slip out backwards! If you are landing one with a small landing net, then try and curve the net round the fish and just slacken slighty to allow the fish to curl and drop into the net mesh. Do not rush.

Catfish-Pro have designed and made available the “Glide Mat” which is a 10ft x 4ft heavy nylon mat which can be laid on the bank into the water to glide the fish out and then back into the water, reducing stress on your net, the fish and minimising the change of the net or fish getting snagged on marginal plants or wood at the front of swims.

Handling catfish on the bank

Catfish when landed are usually quiet and so you do not need to be afraid of them. They do not “bounce” like carp but usually will just “snake” or slap their tail round. First of all try and get a proper catfish unhooking mat that is large enough to accommodate the size of fish you are after; it does not need much padding but does need ground cover. Do not worry about the big mouth on catfish, their teeth are like a sharp Velcro and unlikely to cut you,(certainly they are a lot easier to unhook than pike). The catfish’s teeth are slightly folded inwards; you can unhook them eaily as most of the time the hook will be in the soft tissue on each side of the mouth. If you are catfishing take some stout unhooking forceps or pliers as you would use for pike fishing.

As most catfish fisheries also have a lot of carp anglers as well then always check the catfishes mouth as often you will find carp hooks in there where cats have snapped up carp gear or picked up snapped off rigs that still have bait on.

Make sure your unhooking mat is adequately sized to cope with the catfish you may catch

Photgraphing Catfish

As with all fish never stand up with a fish. The best way with catfish is to reach under the catfishes head and grip the pectoral fin on the other side of you to bear the weight as this is the heaviest part of the fish and then position your other hand down the fishes body and a point so that it balances then hold up from a kneeling position. If you are struggling get another person to hold one end of the fish and you focus on the heavy end. If you just cannot manage then photograph the fish on the ground. Do not pull up the fish by the mouth.

Catfish stress

Catfish can suffer from stress, particularly it hot and sunny weather. Keep the catfish out of the sun if you can and cover them. Have some water handy to wet them if you are weighing or taking photos. Catfish show stress by changing colour, they can become paler, usually starting around the head and moving down the body. If there is any sign of this return the catfish immediately and support it in the water to ensure it is breathing ok before you release it.

Catfish retention

Subject to fishery rules can catfish be retained in catfish tubes or using a stringer. Catfish should NEVER be put in carp sacks as the loose soft mesh can catch in their teeth and suffocate them. Always try to position retained fish in as deep water as possible to ensure maximum oxygen. Catfish Tubes/tunnels should be pegged out to ensure they can lie safely. Always always retain fish only for the minimum period required. Beware catfish can be lively if they have been retained and may wriggle a lot.

Good luck and good catfishing

Simon Clarke; Catfish Pro