Unless you live in Antarctica, the only continent they aren’t known to inhabit, there is a species of catfish nearby.
With nearly 3,000 known species, catfish (order Siluriformes) are one of the most diverse groups of vertebrates in the world. The exciting thing for anglers is that many catfish species possess the essential characteristics of a true game fish – they grow big and they fight hard.
These characteristics, coupled with their prolific distribution, make catfish one of the most popular recreational game fish in the world.
Using the International Game Fish Association’s (IGFA) world record database and its extensive network of members around the world, we produced a list of some of the most popular catfish species in the world.
Not only will we examine where to find these fish and how to identify them – but more importantly, we’ll tell you how to catch some of the world’s biggest catfish.
Here is a look at the world records to beat and tips for how to do it:
All-Tackle Record: 64.86 kilograms (143 pounds, 0 ounces), Kerr Lake, Va., USA
As the largest catfish species found in North America, the blue cat has long been a favorite target of freshwater anglers looking for a bullish fight to test their skill and tackle. Blue catfish are native to the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio River basin systems – extending north into South Dakota and south into Mexico and northern Guatemala. The species has also been introduced into the eastern United States, where it has clearly flourished and grown to record size. Blue catfish frequent deep areas of large rivers and lakes, but are also found in areas with swift current, where they forage for passing food items – both alive and dead. Preferred baits when targeting the blue catfish include live and dead herring, bluegill, bream, crawfish, blood worms, chicken livers and stink bait. Although most blue catfish are caught with bait, they can also be tricked with bucktail jigs, plastic worms and flies. Anglers targeting blue catfish will usually present their bait on the bottom, as this is where the fish spend most of their time hunting for their next meal. Their large size, strong fights and quality meat all make the blue catfish a top freshwater game fish.
All-Tackle Record: 26.3 kilograms (58 pounds), Santee-Cooper Reservoir, S.C., USA
Highly valued for both its food and sporting value, the channel catfish is one of the most popular catfish species in North America. The widely distributed channel cat is found in throughout most freshwater lakes, rivers, streams and ponds of the United States, southern Canada and northern Mexico. The channel catfish can be distinguished from other catfish species in North America by its spotted body and deep forked tail—making it unique from the blue and white catfish that are not spotted. Small fishes, crustaceans (crayfish), and insects—alive or dead—are some of the channel cat’s favorite prey items, so consequently these are also some of the preferred baits of anglers targeting channel cats. A variety of artificial and “stink” baits, fished in the lower water column or on the bottom, are also effective when targeting these fish. When hooked, the channel cat makes strong, determined runs.
All-Tackle Record: 55.79 kilograms (123 pounds), Elk City Reservoir, Independence, Kan., USA
As the second largest catfish species in North America, the flathead is an extremely popular freshwater game fish and is naturally distributed throughout the United States and northern Mexico, with introductions occurring throughout the world.Flathead catfish prefer to inhabit debris laden pools, within small to large rivers, where it can ambush, or scavenge for, their next meal. While its general coloration of mottled yellows and browns does not differ greatly from other catfish, the flathead is very distinctive in appearance and is not easily confused with any other species. Its flat head is accentuated by oval shaped eyes and a protruding lower jaw, making it easily recognizable. The flathead’s diet consists mainly of smaller fishes and insects, with the preference seemingly on fish. Its large size and great tasting flesh make the flathead very popular with anglers. When targeting flatheads, anglers will look for slow-moving pools within a river, where logs and other debris have gathered. Dropping a small fish to the bottom of these pools is one of the most effective methods for targeting flathead. Once hooked, these powerful fish test not only the angler’s skill, but also their tackle, as they oftentimes use submerged debris to break the angler’s line. While using natural bait is the most popular method of fishing for this species, anglers targeting crappie and bass with artificial baits are often surprised by a large flathead taking their plug, jig or soft plastic lure.
All-Tackle Record: 75 kilograms (165 pounds, 5 ounces), Ramganga River, India
The goonch is a mysterious catfish species that inhabits the rocky, swift moving rivers of central Asia’s Ganges, Mekong and Chao Phraya river basins—with some of the largest specimens taken in India, where they commonly exceed 45 kilograms (100 pounds). Its large size, enormous mouth, and beady eyes give the goonch an intimidating appearance which has added to its allure among anglers. Its normal diet includes fish, shrimp, frogs and insects; but like most catfish species, the goonch is an opportunistic feeder with a very liberal palate. Constantly battling strong river currents of its natural habitat makes the goonch extremely powerful, and attractive to anglers in search of a rod-bending challenge. Live or dead bait, fished with enough weight to hold the bottom of swift moving rivers, is one of the more popular methods for targeting goonch. Medium to heavy tackle is recommended—if not required—given the size of the fish and the swift-moving, rock-lined, rivers where it’s found. This species is relatively new to the sport fishing world, so the methods of angling for these fish are still being perfected as we learn more about this catfish.
All-Tackle Record: 155 kilograms (341 pounds, 11 ounces), Rio Solimoes, Brazil
The lau-lau, or piraiba, is the largest catfish species on the IGFA record books, but there have been even larger specimens reported in the 200-kilogram (440-pound) range. The species has earned a reputation as a man-eater throughout its wide distribution in South America—extending north from the Amazon and Orinoco River basins to as far south as Argentina. Adult lau-lau prefer freshwater rivers and pools, while the juveniles are often found in brackish waters around river mouths.These aggressive predators feed primarily on fish, but the stomach contents of harvested lau-lau have been said to include parts of monkeys and other mammals. A live or dead fish, fished on the bottom of a river or pool, is the preferred method of angling for the lau-lau—although they have become increasingly difficult to find due to the increased commercial pressure they’ve received because of their high quality flesh. The mysteries surrounding these enormous fish make them highly sought after by anglers in search of a sport fishing adventure to one of the wildest places in the world.
Giant Mekong Catfish
All-Tackle Record: 117.93 kilograms (260 pounds), Gillhams Fishing Resorts, Krabi, Thailand
While the giant Mekong catfish is critically endangered due to over-exploitation, this massive catfish is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. Once prevalent throughout the rivers in Asia’s Mekong basin, the giant Mekong catfish has since been introduced in China, Bangladesh and other private locations throughout Asia. This species has a strictly vegetarian diet in the wild, feeding mainly on detritus and algae off the bottom, but in captivity it will take a variety of food. One of the most impressive characteristics of this giant catfish is its ability to grow at extraordinarily rapid rates—reaching an amazing 150-200 kilograms in only six years. Because they are vegetarians, bread or a paste made from rice husk or corn, are two of the more popular baits for giant Mekong cats and are usually fished along the bottom. Once hooked, the sheer size of this species makes it a tough fighter that will test even the heaviest of tackle.
Redtail Catfish (Pirarara)
All-Tackle Record: 56 kilograms (123 pounds, 7 ounces), Rio Amazonas, Amazonas, Brazil
The redtail catfish, or pirarara, is highly sought after for its game fish characteristics and is considered to be one of the best fighting catfishes. Its brownish back, yellow sides and blood orange dorsal and caudal fins make the redtail catfish easily recognizable among other catfish species. The native distribution of the redtail is in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, with introductions in Southeast Asia and the USA. The large rivers, streams and lakes throughout northern South America are home to the redtail, and during periods of high water the large catfish will move into the flooded forests in search of food. The redtail catfish is truly omnivorous in its feeding habits, with an eclectic diet including fish, fruits, and aquatic vertebrates and crustaceans. Their willingness to take a variety of natural and artificial baits, coupled with their strong fighting ability, make the redtail catfish a favorite among sport fishermen. In deeper water, cut baitfish along the bottom seems to be the most popular choice for anglers using natural bait. However, a well-presented fly or bucktail jig will certainly entice a bite from these voracious feeders when targeted in shallow or clear water—making it very appealing to a wide range of anglers.
All-Tackle Record: 36 kilograms (79 pounds, 5 ounces), Orange River, Upington, South Africa
Probably the most widely distributed fish in Africa, the sharptooth catfish is found throughout the woodland-savanna zones of the Afro-tropical region from the Nile River, to as far south as the Umtamvuna River in South Africa. The sharptooth’s ability to tolerate extreme environmental conditions has allowed the species to thrive in areas where it has been introduced, such as Europe, Asia and the Middle East.While it prefers large, slow-moving rivers and flood plains, the sharptooth catfish is built to survive in almost any aquatic habitat. Equipped with an accessory breathing organ, the sharptooth can actually breathe air—allowing it to burrow in the mud during low water levels, and even “crawl” overland during damp conditions. Given the extreme nature of this species, it’s no surprise that the sharptooth is a voracious predator that will often hunt in packs – herding and trapping smaller fish. While usually a bottom feeder, the aggressive sharptooth will occasionally feed on the surface. As an omnivorous species, the sharptooth’s diet includes just about anything it can catch or find, including: fish, birds, frogs, small mammals, reptiles, snails, crabs, shrimps, and insects. It is known to also eat plant matter such as seeds and fruit, and is even capable of straining fine plankton if necessary. Live or dead bait, fished along the bottom, is the preferred method of angling for this rugged species; however it has been known to take artificial lures and even flies. Its strongly compressed body and long dorsal fin make the sharptooth a formidable adversary when hooked on rod and reel.
All-Tackle Record: 53.5 kg (117 pounds, 15 ounces), Rio Parana, Corrientes, Argentina
The spotted sorubim is a beautifully colored game fish, patterned with eloquently random black splotches and spots. Although oftentimes confused with the barred and tiger sorubim because of the variation in their spots, the large size of the spotted sorubium—which is reported to grow up to 100 kilograms—separates it from its smaller sorubim relatives. South America’s Amazon Basin, including the Sao Francisco and Paraná River systems, is home to the spotted sorubim which are often found in river channels, floodplains and larger rainforest streams in both running and still water. They tend to prefer lily pads and floating “islands” of water plants around river deltas, and are notorious for retreating under these vegetated areas after ambushing their prey— making medium to heavy tackle almost a requirement when targeting sorubim. Unlike other species of catfish that tend to prefer natural baits on the bottom, sorubim are known to aggressively strike a variety of trolled and cast artificial baits intended for peacock bass, although night fishing with live or dead fish can also be very productive. Their reputation as being exceptional table fare completes the “game fish resume” of this beautifully colored and strong fighting catfish.
All-Tackle Record: 134.97 kilograms (297 pounds, 9 ounces), River Po, Italy
Not only is the wels one of the largest catfish species in the world, it is also one of the largest freshwater fish in the world—with catches reported into the 600-pound range. Native to river systems draining into the North, Baltic, Black, Caspian, and Aral sea basins, the wels were originally distributed within the bordering countries of northern and eastern Europe, as far north as Finland and Sweden, and western, southern, and central Asia. Since their introduction into the Rhône River during the 19th century, they have become widely established throughout western and southern Europe as well—which is evident when looking at the IGFA record books. Typical of most catfish species, the wels can be found foraging along the bottom of large lowland lakes and rivers, and has even been reported in brackish waters. The elongated, scale-less wels has a thick upper body and a laterally flatted tail, making it extremely powerful. Its natural diet includes live and dead fish and aquatic vertebrates, but anglers have found that the wels is also quick to take artificial baits such as plugs, spinners, frog lures and even flies. Over the past decade, the wels has become extremely popular among native European anglers, as well as anglers traveling from around the world to target this prehistoric freshwater game fish.
See more photos, including world-record catfish, in the gallery below:
- <h2>Blue Catfish </h2>As the largest catfish species found in North America, the blue cat has long been a favorite target of freshwater anglers looking for a bullish fight to test their skill and tackle. <p></p> Blue catfish are native to the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio River basin systems - extending north into South Dakota and south into Mexico and northern Guatemala. The species has also been introduced into the eastern United States, where it has clearly flourished and grown to record size. Blue catfish frequent deep areas of large rivers and lakes, but are also found in areas with swift current, where they forage for passing food items – both alive and dead. <p></p> Preferred baits when targeting the blue catfish include live and dead herring, bluegill, bream, crawfish, blood worms, chicken livers and stink bait. Although most blue catfish are caught with bait, they can also be tricked with bucktail jigs, plastic worms and flies. <p></p> Anglers targeting blue catfish will usually present their bait on the bottom, as this is where the fish spend most of their time hunting for their next meal. Their large size, strong fights and quality meat all make the blue catfish a top freshwater game fish.