Lake Ouachita Catfish Identification Guide

Channel Catfish

Channel catfish

Channel catfish, Spotted cat

The channel cat has a slender body with a deeply forked tail. The upper jaw is longer than the lower jaw and there are whiskers around the mouth. The dorsal and pectoral spines are sharp and deeply serrated, and the anal fin is curved and has between 24 and 30 rays. The body is bluish silver on the sides and generally has dark spots. Some anglers mistakenly call channel catfish with few or no spots blue catfish.

Channel catfish begin spawning from late May through July when water temperatures reach the mid-70s. They use natural cavities, undercut banks and muskrat burrows as nests. The female lays a gelatinous mass containing between 8,000 to 15,000 eggs. The parents remain over the nest to fan the eggs and guard the young after hatching.

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Channel catfish will bite almost any type of natural bait. The best tactic is to fish nightcrawlers, shrimp, crayfish, chicken liver, stinkbait or cut bait near the bottom.

Blue Catfish

Blue catfish

Blues, Fork-tailed catfish, humpback, chucklehead.

Heavy-bodied with a wide head and high spot forward of center near the head called the dorsal hump. Upper jaw projects well beyond the lower. Bluish-gray body above, fading to white on sides and belly. No spots and a deeply forked tail. Blue cats are often confused with channel catfish. The best way to distinguish between the channel and blue is by the 30-35 rays on the blue cat’s anal fin with its straight outer margin verses the channel cat’s 25 to 29 rays and rounder anal fin.

They spawn in late spring and early summer, when water temperatures reach 70 to 75 degrees F. Eggs are laid in masses into nests formed under logs, in brush or debris, or along undercut river banks.

March through May are the best months, but they are caught year round. Use  cut bait, shad, shrimp or cut shad.

Flathead Catfish

Flathead catfish

The flathead catfish is the only catfish in the USA with its head flattened between the eyes and whose lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw. This is also the only large catfish with a square tail. Their body color is usually yellow-olive or a dark brown with dark brown blotches. Their belly is yellow or yellowish white.

Found in large, rivers, inhabiting deep, slow stretches near strong currents. Prefers structure like submerged logs, brush, rip rap, and underwater piles of debris.

Flathead catfish spawn when water temperatures reach 72 to 84 degrees F. They build nests in dark secluded shelters such as natural cavities, undercut banks, or near large submerged objects. The eggs are laid in a compact golden-yellow mass which is fanned continuously. The egg mass may contain as many as 100,000 eggs. After hatching, the young remain near the nest for several days in a large compact school. Flathead catfish feed almost exclusively on live fish.

5 – 15 pounders are common, and in prime waters, trophy status is granted to those exceeding 50 or 60 pounds. Flatheads over 80 pounds have been caught.

Flathead catfish are caught on live bait, such as large suckers, chubs and bluegills. Anglers should use heavy tackle and cast near large submerged objects or drift piles. Fishing at night is often a successful technique for flathead catfish. Fishing with no light or lanterns is common for success.

Bullhead or Mudcat

Mud cat bullhead fish

Bullhead, Black bullhead, Brown bullhead, Yellow bullhead, Mud Cat

The three bullhead species are difficult to tell apart. Both the black and brown bullhead have black chin barbels while the yellow bullhead has white barbels. In addition, black bullhead have 17 to 21 rays in the slightly rounded anal fin and no serrations on their pectoral spines. Browns have 22 or 23 rays in the anal fin and deep serrations on the pectoral spines. The yellow bullhead has a longer, less rounded anal fin than the other two species. Furthermore, it has 25 or 26 rays on the anal fin and less deeply serrated pectoral spines than the brown bullhead. All three of these catfishes have similar body color, varying from yellow-olive-brown to brownish black.

Bullheads do not reach large sizes. The average bullhead caught by anglers weighs less than one pound and around 12 inches.

Bullheads start spawning around mid-May and continue through June. They build nests in natural cavities or make saucer shaped depressions near submerged cover, such as tree roots or sunken logs. Females usually deposit between 300 to 10,000 eggs in the nest. At least one of the parents remains to continually fan and guard the nest. After hatching, the young swim around in a dense ball and are guarded by the male for several weeks. Adult bullheads feed primarily by taste and smell and are most active at night. They eat a wide variety of food that includes: insect larvae, small crayfish, snails, and dead animals.

Bullheads do not reach large sizes. The average bullhead caught by anglers weighs less than one pound and around 12 inches.

Bullheads bite readily on a variety of baits. Bullhead fishing requires only simple, inexpensive equipment. Worms, chicken liver, or catalpa worms should be fished near the bottom.

Lake Ouachita is located in Garland and Montgomery Counties, Arkansas,
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