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Channel Catfish Management and Fishing in Pennsylvania

Prepared by R. Lorantas, D. Kristine and C. Hobbs
PFBC Warmwater Unit

2005 (stocking numbers updated after 2005)


Goal: Maintain or create robust sport fisheries through preservation and enhancement of essential habitats, judicious stocking, and through harvest management of wild populations and populations maintained by stocking.


Channel catfish occur throughout Pennsylvania. Channel catfish were originally indigenous to the Ohio and Lake Erie drainages in Pennsylvania. The Ohio drainage includes the Ohio River, Allegheny River, and Monongahela River drainages. Naturally sustained lake (lentic) and riverine (lotic) populations occur within these locations. It is believed that channel catfish did not originally occur in Atlantic slope drainages (Susquehanna, Potomac, and Delaware river drainages in Pennsylvania), however channel catfish have been widely stocked into the Susquehanna and Delaware river drainages for many years. Naturalized (self-sustaining) channel catfish populations now occur in the Susquehanna River and Delaware River drainages. Where channel catfish populations occur at low or modest densities or where spawning habitats are insufficient to sustain modest channel catfish densities, annual maintenance stocking takes place. Since 1974 Pennsylvania has cultured and stocked fingerling channel catfish (Table 1). Channel catfish are typically cultured by Fish and Wildlife agencies outside of Pennsylvania for stocking within Pennsylvania. Fry or fingerling derived from culture operations are provided to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in exchange for fish routinely cultured in Pennsylvania. If channel catfish are received as fry they are reared to fingerling size at Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission hatcheries. If received as fingerling they are directly stocked into waters as prescribed in management plans.

Year Adult Fingerling Year Adult Fingerling
1974 112 777,300 1991 0 0
1975 505 314,050 1992 0 337,879
1976 0 420,400 1993 0 61,100
1977 0 245,500 1994 50 0
1978 0 6,500 1995 0 275,102
1979 81 158,406 1996 80 266,700
1980 183 226,180 1997 0 98,900
1981 0 302,440 1998 0 348,625
1982 0 311,450 1999 0 347,450
1983 0 489,340 2000 0 164,123
1984 0 302,550 2001 0 205,828
1985 0 135,500 2002 0 353,728
1986 0 327,750 2003 0 265,652
1987 0 301,471 2004 0 253,601
1988 0 201,800 2005 0 209,327
1989 0 271,250 2006 0 156,146
1990 0 189,225  

Latest Stocking Information

Sport harvest limits and stocking represent the most widely applied techniques used by fishery managers in Pennsylvania to sustain and enhance channel catfish sport fisheries. With respect to harvest management, inland regulations accommodate harvest of 50 panfish, combined species, which includes channel catfish. No minimum size limit or seasonal restrictions apply. Channel catfish are a prolific species in some habitats in Pennsylvania but are unable to sustain themselves in others. The reasons for this are not known. It is suspected that necessary spawning elements are not available where natural reproduction does not sustain a fishery. Channel catfish spawning requirements are rather specific. Successful reproduction requires water temperature to reach 80F and overhead cover such as an overhanging bank, overhanging rock, or hollow log in which to construct a nest, spawn and incubate eggs. Hatching occurs in about one week with the male remaining with the nest through hatching. Channel catfish will not spawn in clear water without overhead structural elements (Scott and Crossman 1973).

With respect to Pennsylvania’s inland waters, many are stocked with channel catfish to sustain good fishing. Why are some waters stocked and others not stocked? All stocking plans originate from sampling and assessment of individual waters by fishery biologists. Biologists examine habitat suitability, forage fish density and presence of other gamefish predators. Assessments guide stocking decisions and they guide the size of fingerling channel catfish to be stocked. Assessments may show a lack of spawning or nursery habitat, in these instances artificial or natural materials may be added to create such habitat. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has an active corps of volunteers that assist in construction and placement of catfish nest boxes in accordance with an approved plan. We encourage organizations interested in volunteering time to contact our Habitat Unit. In association with assessments, growth of channel catfish is examined by measuring length and weight (channel catfish are scaleless and age determination by examination of scales is not possible). In Pennsylvania, a 16 inch channel catfish weighs 1.6 pounds and a 24 inch channel catfish weighs 6.3 pounds. We have tabulated average weights for a variety of lengths of channel catfish in Pennsylvania (Table 2). Anglers find these tables useful in approximating the weight of their catch.

Inches Pounds Inches Pounds Inches Pounds Inches Pounds Inches Pounds
4 0.1 11.5 0.5 19 2.9 26.5 8.8 34 20.3
4.5 0.1 12 0.6 19.5 3.2 27 9.4 34.5 21.3
5 0.1 12.5 0.7 20 3.4 27.5 10.0 35 22.3
5.5 0.1 13 0.8 20.5 3.7 28 10.6 35.5 23.4
6 0.1 13.5 0.9 21 4.1 28.5 11.2 36 24.5
6.5 0.1 14 1.0 21.5 4.4 29 11.9 36.5 25.7
7 0.1 14.5 1.2 22 4.7 29.5 12.6 37 26.9
7.5 0.1 15 1.3 22.5 5.1 30 13.3 37.5 28.1
8 0.2 15.5 1.5 23 5.5 30.5 14.1 38 29.4
8.5 0.2 16 1.6 23.5 5.9 31 14.9 38.5 30.7
9 0.2 16.5 1.8 24 6.3 31.5 15.7 39 32.0
9.5 0.3 17 2.0 24.5 6.8 32 16.5 39.5 33.4
10 0.3 17.5 2.2 25 7.3 32.5 17.4 40 34.9
10.5 0.4 18 2.4 25.5 7.8 33 18.3 40.5 36.3
11 0.5 18.5 2.7 26 8.3 33.5 19.3  

Channel catfish can be caught from the shoreline of a river or reservoir or from the deck of a boat. Both casting and trolling are popular methods. A live minnow, night crawler, chicken liver, or cut bait all work well. Channel catfish feed by sight and taste. The environment is tasted by receptors on the skin and barbells (Scott and Crossman 1973). Scented live or artificial baits are popular and effective for channel catfish. In clearer water jigs and artificial baits can be used. Whatever your bait choice, locations depicted below will enhance your success. In addition surveys carried out by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission illustrate that the greatest catch per angler hour in medium reservoirs occurs in summer and fall (Fig. 1), the greatest catch rate in large reservoirs occurs in summer and winter (Fig. 2) and the greatest catch rate in rivers occurs in fall (Fig. 2). Although these surveys do not cover the entire year they provide information indicating when anglers can expect good success.

Figure 1. Average catch per angler hour of channel catfish from medium size Pennsylvania reservoirs.

Figure 1

Figure 2. Average catch per angler hour of channel catfish from large size Pennsylvania reservoirs.

Figure 2

Figure 3. Average catch per angler hour of channel catfish from Pennsylvania rivers.

Figure 3

References

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