Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 155   May 15, 1948
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

The first fish caught by a small boy is likely to be a bullhead, a member of the catfish family: one of the easiest groups of American fishes to recognize "for sure" Catfishes come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors, but all of them have perfectly scaleless skins and 8 barbels or "whiskers" around the mouth. Catfishes do not feed by sight but by touch and taste, usually at night, and these barbels, being both feelers and tasters, enable them to find their food.

The catfish are a large fish family found in the fresh waters of every continent, and a few kinds live in the ocean. Excepting a few gigantic sturgeons and alligator gars, the largest freshwater fish in the United States are two kinds of catfish found in large rivers like the Mississippi the blue cat or Fulton cat; and the flathead cat also called the goujon, the yellow cat, or mud cat. Almost every year fishermen take one or more fish of these two kinds, weighing 100 lbs. or better, from waters in or near Illinois. On the other hand, several kinds of little stone cats and tadpole cats grow no larger than your little finger.

Most catfishes will eat anything, dead or alive, but they prefer meat -- serving as scavengers in our lakes, ponds and streams. They bite well on worms, minnows dead or alive, chicken guts, liver, raw beef, and even soap. Channel cat will bite on cheese bait. Few fish are rash enough to try to swallow a catfish because three of its fins are armed with long sharp saw-edged spines that can do damage even after the catfish is dead Be careful about taking hold of and handling them. Those spines can make a deep painful wound that may become infected.

Like the males of the sunfish family, the male catfish builds the nest and guards the eggs and the young. Bullheads scoop out a shallow depression in the bottom mud; stone cats plaster their eggs on the underside of rocks; the channel cat, the blue cat and the flathead cat seek an underwater hole in the bank or a sunken log.

Catfish have very tender firm savory flesh and no small bones Some people prefer bullheads but genuine fish lovers go into ecstasies over fried channel catfish -- the stream-lined aristocrat of the family.

Cat feeesh! Just writing about 'em makes our mouth water!

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