Florida’s west coast is currently being hit with near year long (2017-2018) Red Tide blume. However, luckily Florida also has a large amount of amazing freshwater lakes, rivers and streams to fish from. We thought we would talk about the various freshwater species of catfish found in Florida. Let’s take a break from the saltwater and head inshore for some awesome freshwater fishing this fall.
Where can I catch catfish?
The freshwater catfish tend to hang out around deep holes and various other shelter providing structures or cover. Catfish tend to be mostly nocturnal. The Flatheads tend to move around between holes during the night to feed. However they do tend to stick close to their brush covered homes. Most catfish are bottom feeders and the various species found in Florida are no different. Occasionally they may wander into more shallow waters, but your best bet is to look for deep-dark crevices and undercut banks.
To find some of the best spots for freshwater catfish you tend to have to drift towards Central, Northeast or Northwest Florida towards the panhandle. Don’t forget to search the dark, covered and deep areas while the sun is set (or at sunrise) for some of the best chances to bag your share of catches.
According to leading Florida biologists, the top 2018 hot spots for catfish are:
- Apalachicola River (Species: Channel, Flathead and Blue Catfish)
- Choctawhatchee River (Species: Channel, Flathead and Blue Catfish)
- Yellow River (Species: Flathead Catfish)
- Escambia River (Species: Channel, Flathead and Blue Catfish)
- St. Johns River and Dunn’s Creek (Species: Bullhead, Channel and White Catfish)
- Ochlockonee River and Lake Talquin (Species: Bullhead, Channel, Flathead and White Catfish)
- Haines Creek (Species: Bullhead, Channel and White Catfish)
- Upper Kissimmee Chain of Lakes (Species: Bullhead, Channel and White Catfish)
- Mosaic Fish Management Area (Species: Channel and Bullhead Catfish)
- Joe Budd Pond (Species: Channel Catfish)
- Medard Reservoir (Species: Channel Catfish)
What do Catfish look like?
The channel cat has long whisker-like sensory barbs, and a rounded tail fin. Along their backs and sides you will see scattered black spots. The males will become rather dark during spawning season and will get a thickened pad at the top of their head.
Yellow and Brown Bullheads
The yellow and brown bullheads are similar in many ways; they both have squared anal fins, chin barbels and whiskers with a creamy white chest and belly. The difference with the yellow bullhead is that it is simply just lighter in color. The brown bullhead has darker whiskers, with dark brown mottling over a lighter brown base.
As the name distinguishes, they have a flat head, along with tiny eyes and a square tail. In addition to the flat head they have a protruding lower jar, like an under-bite. They are a yellow brown color with mottled skin and a cream under belly, like the bullhead.
The white catfish has a slightly forked tail with rounded fins. The anal fin will be on the short side and their skin color is a blue-gray and can be as dark as a bluish-black.
Blues are slim, with a prominent hump before their dorsal fin. They have deeply forked tail fins that are pointed. Blues have a white belly with blue to slate gray backs and sides.
What should I use to catch them?
Catfish have external taste buds in the form of whiskers and barbels, meaning they can detect and sample potential prey from quite a distance away. Strong baits are welcomed; they use their whiskers and barbels to detect if your bait is worth the risk. With that said, catfish are not that picky of a species; live, dead or rotting bait of all kinds are generally of interest to these tasty freshwater creatures.
Some of the favorite baits used by other anglers range from the simple raw hotdog, chicken liver, night-crawlers, shad (and their guts), stink baits and to bring you back to childhood, even dough balls dipped in vanilla are common. The basic live worm or minnow will also likely win you a bite from a freshwater cat.
How should I cook up my Catfish?
In the south, most catfish is breaded and fried or at the very least, “oven” fried! Have you tried our recipe for Fried Fish Cakes? Whether you use a basic breading or decide to spice it up yourself (maybe with some fried onions or red pepper flakes) you can’t go wrong. I think most people would agree that using oil to fry your catfish tastes the best, but if you are trying to be a bit healthier, you can always try to lay it on a greased cookie sheet and place it in a high-heat oven to get your fix of crunchy fish!
If fried fish isn’t your thing; catfish is fun to be experimental with. Blackened and grilled is generally a fantastic taste on white fish. Want to get a little more crazy? Pan searing it with a delicious sauce of your choice is always tasty. Here’s a great recipe for Pan-Fried Florida Catfish. For those versed in the kitchen, try braising some catfish with your favorite flavors. Fish is normally naturally soft and flakey, but just wait until you try it braised, mhmmm so delicious!
Due to the Red Tide (2017-2018) roaming the saltwater coasts of Florida and the Blue-Green Algae outbreak in the south, we highly propose that you stick to the Central and Northern freshwater bodies of water. They house some great year round catfish fishing. Keep your eyes out for the elusive White Cats. They are less prominent around our areas. If you do hook one, we recommend that you keep it. The one thing nice about catfishing is that the fish are not picky about bait. The stinkier the better! Once you got them hooked, be sure to cook them up nice and yummy for you and the family. If you want some ideas check out some of our recipes.