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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Channel Catfish - Ictalurus punctatus

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Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

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General Description
The largest and most important catfish to sport fishermen in Montana is the native channel catfish of the Yellowstone and Missouri River drainages. These fish prefer warm, muddy rivers and lakes where they forage on just about any animal and some plants, living or dead. They are excellent eaters and millions of pounds of channel catfish are raised commercially in southern states for that purpose. Like all catfish, channel cats spawn in the spring or early summer. The female lays her jelly-like mass of eggs in a nesting site in a dark, protected cavity such as a muskrat burrow, under a stump, etc. and the male guards the nest until the eggs hatch. Biologists have captured channel catfish over 30 pounds in Montana but 2 to 4 pound fish are more common and better eating. The deeply-forked tail separates the channel catfish from the bullheads.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Other Montana catfishes do not have a deeply forked tail.

Species Range
Montana Range

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Western Hemisphere Range


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 9276

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Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

May migrate considerable distances to spawn in tributary streams.

Prefers large rivers and lowland lakes. Thrives at water temperatures above 70 degrees. Tolerates turbid water.

Food Habits
Omnivorous feeder. Uses almost any living or dead organisms available.

Small tributary streams may be vital for reproduction in the lower Yellowstone system.

Reproductive Characteristics
Sexually mature in 3 years. Spawns May-July after water temperature exceeds 75 degees F. Incubation: 6-10 days. Spawned late May-mid.Aug. in middle Missouri River study with peak in July. Spawns 66 degrees F. Marias River.

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Citation for data on this website:
Channel Catfish — Ictalurus punctatus.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on October 4, 2015, from
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