A fish fry favorite, catfish are abundant across Oklahoma and easy to catch come summertime! Aptly named catfish for the long whisker-looking barbels protruding from their face, there are three major species sought after in the state’s waters: channel catfish, blue catfish and flathead catfish.
Catfish are much more active in the lowlight and overnight hours, but can be caught at any time of day.
Channel catfish are found in nearly every body of water in the state, including ponds, creeks, rivers and reservoirs. The easiest of the three species to catch, channel catfish are stocked regularly across the state by ODWC’s Fisheries Division.
Native to the Red River watershed, blue catfish can now be found in most of the state’s major river and reservoir systems. Prized for their sumptuous fillets and fighting ability, blue catfish are targeted year-round with some of the biggest specimens caught during the dead of winter.
F lathead catfish are the top of the fish food chain in Oklahoma. An apex predator and skilled hunter, these fish are perfectly adapted to the warm, stained waters of the state’s prairie rivers and creeks. Known locally as mud-cats, Oklahoma’s flathead catfish and the sport of noodling gained national notoriety during the short-lived reality TV series “Mudcats” that aired on the History Channel. Now noodlers from around the world gather each summer in Pauls Valley for the annual Okie Noodling Festival.
Unlike many popular freshwater species that feed by sight and sound, catfish primarily rely on taste and touch.
Channel catfish are opportunistic omnivores with a tendency to eat just about anything with scent that will fit in their mouth. Channel catfish are best targeted along dam riprap and creek channels. A worm and bobber is an effective way to catch lots of small- to medium-sized channel catfish along dam riprap from late April into May while they are gorging during the prespawn period. Punch bait, stink bait, cut bait and other scented baits fished off the bottom are also effective ways to target channel catfish along dam riprap and channels. Channel catfish are much more likely to eat non-live or non-natural baits than flathead and blue catfish.
Blue catfish are a good intermediary to channels and flatheads. Blues can be caught on both live and dead natural bait as well as artificial lures like crankbaits. Shad are the preferred food choice of blue catfish. Cut shad on a circle hook fished either off the bottom or below a float around creek channel ledges and dam riprap is an effective way to catch blues.
Flathead catfish can be an elusive fish to catch on rod and reel. Like largemouth bass, flatheads love a live bluegill, but locating and casting to flatheads can be difficult. Most anglers catch flatheads on live bait left unattended overnight with methods such as trotlines, limblines, juglines and yo-yos. For those looking to catch flatheads on rod and reel, focus your efforts in heavily wooded areas, such as coves or backwater that have lots of hollowed logs and stumps. Hook a live bluegill through the lips or between the dorsal and tail fin with a sturdy 6/0 to 10/0 circle hook attached to a 30-pound to 80-pound leader line tied to a barrel swivel with a ½- to 1-ounce weight on the main line. Cast into the woody areas and let your line soak until you get a take.
Blue and flathead catfish are excellent table fare, especially the belly meat from flatheads.
Habitat to Target
• Creek & River Mouths – areas of inflowing water to the main lake and connecting tributaries upstream.
• Dam Riprap morning, evening and overnight hours in the spring, summer and fall will see catfish close to the bank.
• Open Water – areas adjacent to transition zones, such as river/creek channel ledges, creek/river mouths, wind blown sides of points and deep water flats.
• Shallow Bays – wind blown side of coves and inlets during the overnight hours.
• Medium to heavy action rod
• Spinning, spincasting or casting reel
• 10-pound test up to 80-pound test line (monofilament or braided line)