An Intro to Catfish and Bullheads and Their Record Weights

A reservoir-caught blue catfish. Photo © Ken Schultz

The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) recognizes eleven species of catfish for records and an additional three kinds of bullhead. Here's some brief information about the most common species found in North American waters. While records are kept for these species based on line class, I've only listed the all-tackle records, which are the largest fish certified as caught in a sporting manner using a rod and reel.

According to IGFA literature, the black bullhead is found naturally from southern Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico between the Appalachian mountains to Montana, and has been introduced in Arizona, California, and other western states as well as to a few states east of the Appalachians. Although the three species of bullheads are named by color, they all can vary a good deal. You need a scientific definition to tell them apart sometimes, but they are all excellent when fried! The all-tackle world record black bullhead weighed 8 pounds 2 ounces and was caught in New York State on August 8, 2015.

Brown bullheads are native to the eastern U. S. on both sides of the Appalachians and to southern Canada, but have been introduced in many other places. The species is often stocked in farm ponds since it is so good to eat. It is smaller than the black bullhead, although the all-tackle world record being is a 7-pound 6-ounce fish that was taken on August 1, 2009 in New York State.

Even smaller is the yellow bullhead. It is found on both sides of the Appalachians and has been introduced into other regions. It seems to like more shallow, weedy waters than its cousins. The all-tackle world record weighed 6 pounds 6 ounces and was caught in Missouri on May 27, 2006.

The blue catfish is native to the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River drainages and ranges south into Mexico and northern Guatemala. It has also been widely introduced elsewhere, including rivers that feed into coastal waters, where it has become the dominant predator and a species of concern to fisheries managers. The all-tackle world record was a monster 143-pounder taken in Virginia on June 18, 2001.

Channel catfish are the most common catfish and the species that is commercially raised and sold in restaurants. It is now widespread in the wild all over the U. S., southern Canada, and northern Mexico. Prized as a sport fish for its fight and a food fish for its taste, it is very popular. The all-tackle world record is a 58 pounder caught in South Carolina on July 7, 1964.

Flathead catfish have got to be the ugliest of the cats. They are native to the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River drainages and found as far north as Lake Erie and as far south as Florida. A long, wide head gives it the name. Flatheads have become problems in some rivers in Georgia, eating native bream species almost to the point of eliminating the population. The all-tackle world record weighed 123 pounds and was caught in Kansas on May 19, 1998.

The white catfish is native to the east coast from Florida to New York. It is somewhat less nocturnal than other cats and is a popular gamefish. The all-tackle world record white cat weighed 19 pounds 5 ounces and was caught in California on May 7, 2005.

There are many other catfish species, including some monsters that are native to Asian and South American rivers. However, the largest of them all is the wels, found in central and eastern Europe and southern Russia. It may grow to 440 pounds, but there are no records listed by the IGFA for this species.

This article was edited and revised by our Freshwater Fishing expert, Ken Schultz.