reproductive strategy, if you want to call it that, is that if only a few of the many survive, they’ve accomplished their mission.
Catfish lay relatively few eggs. A 20-pound catfish, for example, might generate fewer than 10 percent of the number of eggs produced by a 2-pound white bass. You might think that the percentages would work against the catfish, but these species increase the survival rate of their eggs and young by diligent parenting.
Catfish nest in underwater cavities, such as in depressions in stream banks, in hollow logs or beneath root wads or log jams. While these afford some natural protection from egg predators, catfish also aggressively guard their nests from egg-eating amphibians, reptiles and other fish.
Female catfish might stay at a nesting site for only a half a day or so, but males won’t leave the eggs until they hatch—in about a week. During this period, which for most catfish occurs in June or July, the male catfish keeps the eggs oxygenated and clean by repeatedly swishing their tail fin over them. After the eggs hatch, the males remain with the young for another week or so, until they disperse.
This reproductive strategy is so unusual among fishes that the Conservation Department studied catfish parenting. Department staff encouraged pairs of catfish to spawn in shelters placed in a hatchery raceway where there was flowing water. This simulated the cavity nesting of catfish in a Missouri stream.
After the eggs were laid, they removed the parent fish from some of the nests and left other nests undisturbed. The results were startling. Within hours after the nests’ guardian fish were removed, a fungus known as a water mold colonized the egg masses and began spreading. Within 12 hours, all the eggs in the nests with no parents were dead. Each of the eggs in the unguarded nests had myriad wavy filaments growing out from them so that they looked like tiny moldy muffins.
Of the nests left undisturbed, 60 percent produced viable eggs. It was clear that catfish eggs cannot tolerate removal of the attending parent.
Fortunately, catfish that are guarding nests aren’t very vulnerable to anglers. The catfish won’t leave their eggs even to feed, and it would be extremely difficult to put a bait in front of them.
There is a kind of catfishing, however, that doesn’t require bait. It’s sometimes called noodling, grabbing, hogging or hand fishing. Maybe you’ve seen it