Also known as mudcat, the flathead catfish is a large fish with a scaleless body and barbels that look a little like a cat's whiskers. It is most commonly found in big rivers away from the main current.
General description: The flathead catfish has a flat, broad head, no scales, and four pairs of barbels. Its lower jaw sticks out farther than its top jaw, distinguishing it from other catfish. Its fins have sharp spines with which anglers sometimes accidentally stab themselves.
Size: This fish can grow quite large. The Minnesota record is 70 pounds, caught in the St. Croix River in 1970.
Weight: Typically 10 to 20 pounds.
Color: Flathead catfish are blotchy yellow and brown. They turn to gray or olive as they get older.
Male and female pair in June or July. Then they go in search of a nest in a sheltered spot. They wrap around each other, releasing eggs and milt. Later the male guards and tends the fertilized eggs, stirring them occasionally to oxygenate the water around them. He protects the young after they hatch, too.
Young catfish eat insects and other invertebrates. As they get older, they add fish to their diet. A flathead catfish will lie on the bottom of the river with its barbels dangling up above its head. When the barbels sense a meal swimming past, the fish sucks it in. Sometimes, a catfish might open its mouth to look like a cave, then eat animals that go inside looking for protection.
Black bullheads and channel catfish eat young flathead catfish.
Habitat and range
Flathead catfish love to hang out near sunken logs in the backwaters and pools of big, muddy, slow rivers. They are commonly found in the lower St. Croix, Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.
Population and management
Minnesota has a healthy population of flathead catfish in large rivers.
The flathead catfish has some strange relatives. Among the 2,000 species of catfish found around the world are catfish that swim upside down, catfish that give electric shocks, and catfish that can walk from one body of water to another.