Tagged: catfish

How to Fillet a Catfish


Even though catfish don’t have scales, they are still often considered to be a tough fish to fillet, mostly because of their tough skin. There are a number of different techniques out there for dealing with catfish. But with a good, sharp knife, or electric knife, filleting a catfish may be easier than other fish.

Some people try to remove the skin first, but this usually requires the use of pliers and a good grip to pull the skin off after making a thin incision around the fins and fillet. A sturdy glove may come in handy with this method. A more preferred method is to cut off the fillet, with skin, followed by cutting the fillet from the skin. This is an easier method that can also leave less skin and connective tissue on the fillet.

There is some disagreement on whether a knife or an electric knife is better for the job. This may depend on how many fish or how often you fillet a fish. Both require some training to get it right, but usually those with less fish to fillet tend to use an electric knife. If the number of fish gets large, a good knife may be less costly than a number of electric knives and blades. One knife that looks very sturdy is the Bubba Blade knife. A number of people swear by the Mister Twister electric fillet knife, or at least their blades. The 110 V plug-in version is needed for the power. The American Angler electric fillet knife also gets high praise.

Another big difference in approaches is whether to cut through the rib cage or around it. For small catfish, it is fairly easy to cut through the ribs, but on larger sizes (5-6 lbs and up) you will need a sharp, sturdy knife to cut the ribs.

On a small fish – make a cut on the side, behind the head from the top of the fish (dorsal side) near the front of the dorsal fin down behind the pectoral fins to in front of the pelvic fin. Cut through the rib cage to the spinal cord, then turn knife to go parallel to spine and cut to the tail. Stop the cut before cutting through the skin at the tail, and then flip the fillet towards the tail so that the fillet is showing. While holding onto the fish, beginning from where the fillet is attached at the tail, cut the fillet from the skin by pushing the knife between the fillet and skin while pulling the fish to keep the skin tight. It helps to begin the cut with the point of the knife or flex the electric knife blade to get a good cut. If you didn’t stop the initial cut of the fillet at the tail, you will need to grab the skin at the tail with pliers and cut the fillet from the skin, from tail to head. Finally, cut out the ribs from fillet.

On a larger fish (> 5-6 lbs) – make a partial cut on side, behind the head, up to the spine, then cut along the spine until you get past the ribs, then plunge the knife through the fish (from dorsal to ventral side) and cut along the spine to the tail. Then come back and trim around the ribs back to the initial cut on the side. The fillet still needs to be skinned and if you didn’t cut the fillet off at the tail, flip the fillet over at the tail and cut the fillet from skin from where it attached at the tail. If you cut the fillet off at the tail, grab the skin at the tail with pliers and cut from tail to head. There is some dark red meat on the lateral line of the fillet that you may prefer to remove. This can be cut with a V-cut to remove, but it will split you fillet in half. The top and bottom edge may need trimming as well. A slightly different version for larger fish is to start the cut behind the rib cage at an angle. Cut to spine and then back to tail. This loses some of the shoulder portion of the fillet. For this size fish, the belly flap can also be trimmed off. This is under the section of skin on the belly near the head. Just finish cutting from the initial side cuts from both sides, towards the jaw. Cut or pull any small tendrils attached, and cut in front of the pelvic fin to separate the belly flap. There is skin on one side and membrane on the other that needs to be removed. This is sliced off just like removing the skin from the fillet by grabbing the skin/membrane, with meat on top, and cut while pulling the skin.

Watch these three videos. They are very good at describing these methods of filleting catfish.

What is that yellow streak down the back of my catfish?

yellow catfish fillet

Well, it’s probably not because catfish are cowards. But many catfishers have certainly noticed the yellow, to dark yellow, to sometimes brown streak on the fillets of catfish. The yellow is usually seen on top edge of the fillet (near where the dorsal fin had been) and sometimes on the lower edge (near where the pelvic fin had been). It’s not, as some have guessed, iodine, or some other terrible toxin. But it’s found as a streak on the edge of the fillet because that is the fatty part of the fillet. The fat itself is not yellow, but yellow-pigmented compounds that are fat soluble will accumulate in the fat and cause it to become yellow. These yellow compounds are actually antioxidant chemicals that are good for you. They’re called xanthophylls, but are better known as carotenoids. And as you may have known, they are in many vegetables and of course carotene in carrots is one of the best known of these. While carotene is orange, the xanthophylls, such as lutein and zeaxathin found in catfish are yellow. And then there are other xanthophylls that are red, such as astaxanthin, found in shrimp, lobster, and salmon.

Fish don’t naturally have these pigments, but must get them from the environment, from what they eat. Now as you probably know, catfish are omnivores, which means they are opportunistic eaters and will eat just about anything. This means aquatic plants, other fish, vegetation, algae, fish eggs, crayfish, snails, aquatic bugs, minnows, decaying vegetation, dead fish, dead bugs, leeches, worms, but their main diet is insects, small fish, and vegetation. In the farm-raised catfish that you buy at the grocery store (if you had some bad luck catching your own), the yellow color would come from natural sources like algae, snails, vegetation, and shad (stocked with the catfish), plus from the corn in their feed. The catfish in stocked ponds and lakes should be similar, but river catfish probably would have a little more variability.

And if you just want the yellow color gone, I’ve heard you can soak the fillet in salted ice water overnight and the fillet will become pristine white. I’ll be trying this, and other methods, soon. I’ll give you a heads up on the results. So, even though the yellow streak in catfish can be considered a good thing – “sun kissed”, that same fat that the yellow dissolves in is also a great reservoir for the off-flavor, dirt-smelling compounds that are often associated with catfish. Even though there’s not really a link between the yellow color and the off-flavor (probably because the two maximize at different times of the year) some people remove the fat and say it helps the taste of the fillet.

Cat Tales

Diver with giant catfish

You don’t have to hang around a bunch of anglers very long before one thing becomes perfectly clear: there’s about as much bull as there is beef whenever fishermen start swapping stories. That’s fine, of course, unless you decide to swallow some. Then you better be sure which is which.

If your fishing buddies start telling tales about big catfish, be especially careful what you swallow. Catfish have inspired more than their share of campfire stories, most of which are long on exaggeration and short on documentation. Separating catfish facts from homespun fiction isn’t all that simple, and a gullible novice, hearing the proliferation of tales about giant cats, might be led to believe that all catfish are big as Hereford steers.

You’ve probably heard this one, for instance. A scuba diver is exploring the depths of Lake Hookahawg. Seems this fellow went down in the water, and when he surfaced, he had to be helped to the bank. His face was white as a catfish belly, and he was nearly paralyzed from fright.

His companions pressed him for information about the source of his distress, and when he finally calmed down enough to recount his experience, he told of seeing catfish the size of porpoises lurking in the inky blackness below, waiting to devour some unsuspecting human. I’ve never met this diver myself, but I’ve spoken to scores of people related to him, and each and every one will vouch for his honesty.

Whoppers like this (the stories, not the fish) didn’t start with our generation. In the 1600s, American Indians warned explorers Marquette and Joliet of a fierce beast that lived in the depths of the Mississippi River, waiting to devour unsuspecting river travelers. Imagine the surprise these Frenchmen must have felt when hefty catfish collided with their boats. In his journal, Marquette wrote, “We met from time to time these monstrous fish, which struck so violently against our canoes that we took them to be large trees, which threatened to upset us.”

Old photo of 102-pounderMarquette didn’t hypothesize on those canoe-whacking cats’ size, but as no less a river authority himself, Samuel Clemens, alias Mark Twain, reported two centuries later, “I have seen a Mississippi catfish that was more than six feet long and weighed 250 pounds, and if Marquette’s fish was a fellow to that one, he had a fair right to think the river’s roaring demon had come.”

Twain no doubt had the same two-yard-long catfish in mind when he wrote his classic Huckleberry Finn, for in that book, Huck and his companion Jim caught a cat that would have rivaled the one that unsettled Marquette and Joliet’s canoe. As Huck told it, he and his buddy Jim baited a big hook “with a skinned rabbit and set it and (caught) a catfish that was as big as a man, being six foot, two inches long, and weighed over 200 pounds. We couldn’t handle him, of course… we just sat there and watched him rip and tear around till he drowned…”

Seems that even in Mark Twain’s day, folks appreciated a good cat tale.

Nineteenth century author Francis James Robinson spun one of the greatest catfish tales of all times when he wrote the story “Rance Bore-’em”. Bore’em was a braggart extraordinaire who would talk for hours, “awake, asleep, and maybe in a trance.” He was the hero of each and every tale he told, including this little ditty which ole Rance claimed was “fact, every word of it.”

“Were you speaking of fishing, sir? Well, gentlemen, I had some experience in the ‘art of hooking’ when I was in Texas, which I must tell you. Expecting to find large fish in the waters of the great state of Texas, as I passed through New Orleans, I had made to order some extra large hooks and a supply of lines, such as vessels use for anchoring! The place at which I stopped was near a large river, and the sport promised to be excellent; but it far exceeded my expectations, for we often had to send home for several yoke of oxen to pull out some of the fish we hung, and it was sometimes hard work at that!

“This is a fact, gentlemen, I could get twenty men to testify to–but this is nothing to one haul we made, which, if I hadn’t seen, no man on earth could have made me believe in a moment. We made up a party and prepared a large quantity of bait and provision for several days fishing. When we reached the banks of the river, we put in our hooks–those same big ones I had made in New Orleans–and I think there were ten of us fishing close together! All at once we had a bite, every hook was swallowed, and away we pulled, but couldn’t move whatever it was; so we carried our lines out and made them fast to a few small trees–I suppose none of them more than twenty feet in diameter–until we could get help. So we sent after and procured twenty yoke of oxen–hitched two yoke to each line, and with a long pull and a strong pull of men and oxen, up and out came one of the largest kind of Catfish–his mouth being at least ten feet across–out of him we made fifty barrels of oil, for which, in N. Orleans, we obtained thirty dollars each, thus making the pretty little sum of fifteen hundred dollars–a nice morning’s work, gentlemen. Ah! Texas is great–a glorious–a grand country to live in–everything grows in such plenty and profusion!”

Even the most trusting soul among us would feel justified in doubting the authenticity of these giant cat tales. But some of the true stories about catfish are equally amazing. Consider this one about brothers Bruce and Mackey Sayre of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Arkansas catfishIt was May 1982. For two nights straight, Bruce and Mackey had been snagging catfish in the waters below David D. Terry Dam on the Arkansas River just downstream from Little Rock. The river was high, ideal for catching cats, and the brothers had been successful, landing several over 50 pounds. But according to Mackey, those 50-pounders didn’t hold a candle to some of the cats that got away.

“We were fishing with big river rods,” he says. “And we snagged into some huge catfish we couldn’t handle, even both of us together. The 50-pounders didn’t pull anything like these fish did.”

So on the third night of fishing, the Sayre brothers set a snagline–in essence, a long, unbaited trotline rigged with 10/0 treble hooks instead of bait hooks. “The line is tight enough so if a fish swims into it and a hook penetrates the skin, if the fish pulls, it’ll get stuck,” says Mackey.

And on that dark night, that’s exactly what happened. When Bruce and Mackey returned from dinner, a pair of 2-1/2-gallon jugs used to float the line was submerged. A fish was hooked.

Upon reaching the line, they knew immediately they had a monster. It was too large to land in their 14-foot flatbottom, so they cut the line, came ashore and pulled the fish to the bank, hand-over-hand.

“When I first saw the fish, I knew it went over 100 pounds,” says Mackey. “My knees started shaking, and then my legs went clear out from under me. Bruce was even more excited.”

When weighed the next day, the 5-foot, 9-inch flathead pulled the scales to 139 pounds, 14 ounces. An all-tackle world-record, caught in Lake Lewisville, Texas the same year, weighed 91 pounds, 4 ounces. The current record weighed 123 pounds. Unfortunately, the Sayres’ flathead didn’t qualify as a record, because it wasn’t caught on a hand-held pole and line. It was one of the largest freshwater fish ever caught in North America, but it received little attention.

“We didn’t think a whole lot about it,” says Mackey, whose father was a commercial fisherman. “It was just a big fish to us. I’ve seen 200-pound alligator gars when I was little, and they didn’t mean anything.”

When I ask Mackey if he and Bruce realize they caught the largest flathead catfish recorded in modern times, he says, rather matter-of-factly, they did not. “Our flathead wasn’t as big as one my daddy and grandfather caught on a trotline,” he tells me. “They weren’t exactly sure how big it was, but they figured it weighed 160 or 175 pounds. I heard stories of that fish long before mine was caught. And I know another commercial fisherman who caught two bigger than ours. One was over six feet, but it was in poor shape, so he turned it loose.”

The Mark Twain stories don’t sound quite so “stretched” now, do they?

Mackey thinks someday someone will catch a flathead bigger than his and Bruce’s 139-pounder.

“And how do you think it will be done?” I ask.

“With scuba gear and a harpoon gun,” he replies.

Which reminds me: Did I tell you the one about the scuba diver in Lake Hookahawg?

…by Keith “Catfish” Sutton

What You Should Know About Catfishing Poles

Catfish poles

You’ve invited ten friends over to your house for couple of beers. And the one thing you can be sure of is this – no matter the topic; football, cars, beer or fishing, you’re going to have ten different opinions about it.

And because you’re planning a catfishing trip – it’ll be all about fishing this time – the best place to find the biggest catfish, what bait to use – and most important of all, what fishing gear to take. Everyone has his own story (or stories) about the monster cat he caught up at the lake and how he landed it using the only kind of rod an expert angler would consider using – his.

Let’s take a look at the different types of rods recommended for catching big catfish. As a long-time catfish angler, you already know that it’s how you use the rod you have, rather than the rod itself. For the smaller catfish, you don’t need anything fancier than the gear you already have. But for the bigger beasts, you need a good, sturdy pole.

Most experienced catfish anglers would agree that the Ugly Stik, introduced in the early 80′s is the most popular. It’s available in a wide variety of models and is one of the most durable on the market; in fact one angler decided to see just how tough it was. He took the Ugly Stik and six other kinds of fishing poles and went catfishing. The Ugly Stik was the only one to survive the beating he gave it, taking 55 pounds of stress.

Why is it called the Ugly Stik? Because it is.

It has a graphite core, wrapped in fiberglass, making it extremely strong without losing flexibility. More experienced cathunters might want some extra sensitivity, but this pole is great for the more casual angler. You can get your Ugly Stik for under $50 and they’re available in different lengths. Most of them are also multi-functional for “catch and release.”

Consider a spinning pole – these are generally five to eight feet long and come with spinning reels for light or heavy use. Very popular for heavier spinning use such as that big catfish you’re after and its long length is perfect for drift fishing. There’s an Ugly Stik spinning rod that’s nine feet long and has a quick-taper “clear tip” design, foam grips, a graphite twistlock reel seat with rubber cushion inserts. These poles can be used for casting, trolling, drift-fishing and tranquil fishing – but be aware of the various added features which can make it an expensive piece of kit.

A casting pole is a great alternative – it has a longer handle and is easier to manage when you’re fighting your monster catfish because the smaller grips on other rods are inclined to get away from you during a fish-fight. Your casting rod generally has two types of reels; baitcast and spincast. You use the baitcast when you place heavier baits and need to achieve super-precise casting across long distances. But the spincast is easier to use and is a better choice for those just starting out. There’s a reel seat in the rod’s handle which keep those reels conveniently on top.

But hey, fellow angler – if, like me, you’re going out to hunt those big, bewhiskered, trophy-sized blue beasts, then you need to take a long, close look at the Quantum Big Cat rods. The rod action is faster than before, meaning that the tips are softer for those tip-sensitive cats like flatheads. These Big Cat rods still have the same super strong backbone and you’re more likely to haul that monster cat into your boat because that’s just what they’re built for. It’s got those big graphite reel seats and nicely cushioned stainless steel hoods as well as the double-footed guides with aluminum oxide inserts. It’s perfect for cat-hunting in strong currents and comes in three strengths – heavy, medium heavy and medium – depends on where you’re planning to go for your catfish date. But as we agreed earlier, the length of the pole is the important feature when you’re casting across long distances.

Whatever your plans, remember this; fishing is like romance – the next best thing to doing it, is talking about it.

by Wade McBride

Catfishing in Ponds


If you go catfishing in ponds a good amount, you will come across three types of catfish. The first of these is the Channel catfish. When compared with others in terms of size, this type is the smallest and it is also more abundant than others so you are more likely to catch a Channel than other types. The other two types are the Flathead and Blue catfish, and these are larger by far and can also grow to an impressive size. When catfishing in ponds, there are some things that you have to consider first, and here the feeding habits of the catfish comes into focus. For the Channel catfish, the favorite menu is made up of dead fish or insects found on the water surface. Being scavengers, they are well suited for the artificial ponds. Catching them does not pose any problem and they adapt quickly after they have been caught. The Flathead also shares a similar feature with the Channel as they also eat voraciously and catching them is also easy as well. But for the Blue catfish, there are notable differences. They are not easy to locate and they are also more selective when it comes to feeding. Therefore, for catfishing in ponds, the Blue catfish is not the favorite of many. This is due to the amount of energy and exertion that goes into catching them.

There are two techniques that you can make use of for catching catfish in ponds. In a pond that contains a lot of Flathead and Blue catfish, you will be in need of a rod and a reel for bait casting. The spinning reel is also an excellent choice. Because using the hooks with a single end does not guaranty much success, you may have to make use of the treble hook. The treble hook facilitates your catching of the fish.

In catfishing in ponds, another thing that you must bear in mind is the size of the catfish. For the smaller catfish, using a tackle that is very light in weight is a very good idea, and you can use this with one or two rods. To improve your chances and tilt the probability in your favor, you need to use both at the same time. Always ensure that you loosen the drags on the reels whenever you soak the lines, as this allows the fish to hook. Immediately you see a kind of tugging on the drag, seize the opportunity and make sure the rod is tightened until it is taut and the catfish has been captured.

For the patient ones, you will later discover that with bait-soaking, catching the fish is made far easier. Putting pieces of bait in the water to serve as attractants is also another useful idea that you can put into use. If your intention is to catch the real big ones, then the evenings are the best part of the day to do your fishing. The fish tend to be more active at night. Boost your chances with them by making use of baits that smell strongly and chunky too.