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
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!
To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Update: June 2012