Make a Catfish Fishery the Destination of Choice This Summer

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This blue catfish was taken on the Choctawhatchee River in the Panhandle. Florida Fish Busters’
July 2008
By: Bob Wattendorf, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, with special thanks to Andy Strickland, FWC

The living is easy in Florida this summer, and the catfish are abundant in the state’s fresh waters.

Anglers from throughout the United States and from numerous countries around the world, flock to Florida, and many freshwater catfish species will attract anglers to Florida’s diverse fisheries as well this summer. With vacations in full swing (or cast, as the case may be), and gas prices restricting long-distance travel, more than ever, we will see anglers from neighboring states and Florida coming to wet a line in our prolific waters.

Channel cats (Florida’s record 44.5 pounds) with their deeply forked tails, whiskered faces and spotted sides are the most common of our catfish and found everywhere, except the Keys. Channel catfish typically school where the bottom drops off sharply to deeper water. They usually do not hide within vegetation but can be found outside on the deepwater side of weed beds. Stink baits fished on the bottom are popular for channels.

White catfish (Florida’s record 18.9 pounds) share some similarities. However, the tail isn’t as deeply forked and the lobes of the tail fin are more rounded. White catfish prefer live bait, such as a minnow or worm.

Tommy Fowler holds a 49.4 pound flathead - the current official state record - he caught on the Apalachicola River in 2004.Blue catfish (Florida’s record 61.5 pounds) are bigger than either channels or whites. Not only does their coloring distinguish them, but also the long flat anal fin on their belly and hump in front of the back fin give them a distinct look. These river fish inhabit fresh water in Northwest Florida. Use cut or live fish baits with heavy sinkers and bottom rigs.

Flathead catfish (Florida’s record 49.4 pounds), like blues, are not native to Florida. As a result, intense harvest of them is encouraged. Do not move or live-release flatheads into other waters. They are solitary fish that are more difficult to catch than the others but are taken with similar equipment to blues.

Bullheads, the smallest of the targeted catfish, are identified by squared-off tails and a heavier skull than other catfish. The yellow bullhead’s barbels (whiskers) are pale; on a brown bullhead, the barbels are dark. Bullheads are caught mostly at night on doughballs or on worms or crickets during daylight hours. They are very frequently taken for food, and there is no bag limit on them.

Catfish angling shines during the warmer months, but these fish can be caught year-round. While fishing can be good throughout the day, catfish are usually most active in the morning and evening. Fish on the bottom using a wide variety of baits, from chicken livers to commercial stink baits, to catch most catfish. Catfish also can be caught on live baits such as small shiners and minnows fished near the bottom. Catfish in lakes and ponds with automatic fish feeders concentrate near these feeders and can be caught on small pieces of dog food, bread or hot dogs.

Top spots for catching catfish occur all over the state.

The Apalachicola River offers excellent fishing for channel, flathead and blue catfish. Live bream fished on the bottom work well for big flatheads, while stink baits or night crawlers (also fished on the bottom) should do the trick for channels. Try fresh cut bait, such as mullet, if pursuing blue catfish.

The Choctawhatchee River provides outstanding fishing for channel and flathead catfish. Try live bream on the bottom for flatheads up to 30 pounds. Stink baits or night crawlers fished on the bottom will do the trick for channels.

The Escambia River generates quality opportunities for blue, channel and flathead catfish. Savvy anglers will fish live bream on the bottom for big flatheads and stink baits or night crawlers for channel cats.

The St. Johns River and Dunn’s Creek yield superior bullhead, channel catfish and white catfish.

The Ochlocknee River offers excellent fishing for bullhead, channel, flathead and white catfish. Try deep rivers bends with structure farther downstream for flatheads as well.

Clermont Chain of Lakes offers anglers superb opportunities for channel and white catfish. Cut baits or stink baits should work well for both species.

Haines Creek, near Leesburg, provides good angling for bullheads, channel catfish and white catfish.

Upper Kissimmee Chain of Lakes affords great bullhead, channel catfish and white catfish angling opportunities. Catfish are often found near drop-offs or around bottom structure in the canals.

Southwest Florida Lakes offer many excellent opportunities for channel catfish and bullhead angling.

Joe Budd Pond (Gadsden County), a 20-acre impoundment, provides excellent channel catfishing. Fishing worms or night crawlers on the bottom are all that is needed for great catches. Fish can be caught from shore or from a boat. Gasoline motors are not permitted. A harvest limit of six channel catfish per person, per day is strictly enforced.

Florida earned the title “Fishing Capital of the World” by coupling its great resources with responsible management of those resources by the FWC. Help keep Florida the Fishing Capital by following sound conservation practices.

Instant licenses are available at or by calling 1-888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report violators by calling *FWC or #FWC on your cell, or 1888-404-3922. Visit for more Fish Busters’ columns.