"Coles Notes" on Channel Cats
by Daniel Kiazyk
Short Notes on Manitoba's Channel Catfish – (Stewart and Watkinson)
Many folks don't have the time to read up on channel catfish so I thought I'd provide a "Coles" notes version on Manitoba's Channel catfish according to two pre-eminent biologists. I've personally written in detail about the channel cat (in this web site's species section) but thought it'd be a good pratice to go through these biologists' observations.
Identification : Deeply forked tail, grey on top fading to white or pink on the underside. The channel cat is spotted when young but spots are not too common on older/larger fish.
Distribution: Red and Assiniboine rivers, Lake Winnipeg and its eastern tributaries. Channels have been caught in Lake Manitoba but to a larger extent largely after the Portage diversion was put into operation. This does not preclude the possibility that cats may travel to Lake Manitoba via other tributaries but contact has been rare. Cats have also been caught in the Saskatchewan river (Cumberland House – 1797 Peter Fidler) but again the number of reports of cats in this river system have been rare.
Biological notes: Spawning takes place late June to early July when water gets to be around 21 C. Gravel to rubble substrates seem to be used by some cats in the Red's tributaries. It is also interesting that cats move either up or down stream to spawn. Usually connecting streams or marsh/sloughs are used to spawn.
Nesting behaviour has females going to nests developed by males and males staying with eggs until at least they hatch. At the beginning of the spawn males are black and relatively robust. At the end of the spawn males become much lighter in color and often have sores on their bodies. The sores do heal over throughout the rest of the summer. It is probable that cats do not spawn every year as evidenced by both males and females being caught throughout the season that show no sign of having spawned.
Size and age: The largest channel cat caught was 1992 and weighed 20kgs. Aging of fish has shown fish of at least 27 years in an adult specimen of 30" The life history of the channel cat is noted as being complex (due to where it might be found).
Feeding: Stomach samples show that different age groups eat different foods. Earlier aged cats exhibited more benthic life including frogs and beetles crayfish (bottom dwelling creepy crawling life) and older fish exhibited more piscivorous preferences (fish for the most part – some being carrion or baits lost by anglers).
Habitat: Essentially the channel cat becomes benthopelagic preferring larger rivers and lakes. The fish tend to stay away from smaller tributaries. They are also known to move great distances, for example one large cat was radio tracked over 350km in 13 days Ecological role: An apex predator that can feed throughout the water column.
Importance to people: Once considered a "coarse" fish now considered an angling favorite by many anglers.
These short notes are just that. If you'd like to read more I'd suggest you pick up a copy of the book, "Freshwater Fishes of Manitoba", Stewart and Watkinson, 2004, University of Manitoba Press.