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Q & A
Stonecat as Bait
Question
I heard that you are not allowed to use "stonecat" (stonehead catfish) for bait in the Susquehanna River basin. What's the story?
Answer
This is one of those simple questions that has a complicated answer because of the names we use for various fish. Although some fish locally referred to as "stonecats" can be used as bait in the Susquehanna River basin, the real "stonecat" cannot legally be used as bait here. To answer your question, we have to look at the common and scientific names of two related species of fish.

Stonecat Noturus flavusStonecat (Noturus flavus) occur in the Ohio River basin, and this species is not legal for use as bait fish in the Susquehanna River basin. The stonecat is found throughout the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds. It is not found in Atlantic Coast streams south of the Hudson River. In Pennsylvania, the stonecat is the most common madtom of the western part of the state, living in the Ohio River and Lake Erie watersheds, and can be locally plentiful.

Licensed bait dealers should be familiar with and use the proper scientific names to avoid confusion associated with common names. For example, it's illegal to sell "stonecats" (noturus flavus) as bait in the Susquehanna River basin.

Margined Madtom Noturus insignisThe margined madtom of eastern Pennsylvania is widely distributed and abundant. Margined madtom (Noturus insignis) occur in the Susquehanna River basin and they are legal for use (and sale) as bait fish. Confusion exists because some anglers refer to margined madtoms as "stonecats." Both fish species look superficially similar. 

Obviously, confusion can arise from the use (or misuse) of the common names of these two species of fish. Anglers need not worry about the species of Noturus that they catch in the wild from the Susquehanna River basin. These fish are margined madtom, and anglers can use them as bait. Bait dealers may lawfully sell margined madtom catfish as bait fish in the Susquehanna River basin.

In Pennsylvania there are six madtom species. Some are rare, like the mountain, brindled, tadpole and northern madtoms. Madtoms have poison glands at the base of their pectoral spines. If handled improperly, they can give a sting as painful as a bee sting. Click here to learn more about madtoms.

To see the list of fish species authorized for introduction/propagation in various watersheds, click here.

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