Catfish are a large and diverse group of fish that are found on every continent on earth except Antarctica.
There are almost 3,000 species of catfish, so no matter where you live, there is likely to be a species living nearby. Not all grow to the gigantic proportions that many types of catfish are known for, and some are tiny specimens that are popular in freshwater aquariums as they help keep the aquarium clean. Catfish are named after the barbels that grow from their heads and resemble the whiskers of a cat.
These fish are significant commercially, and many of the larger species are farmed or fished for food and sport. These fish are classified as game fish, and they are known for the fight that they give to sport fishers. As they are a good fish for the table, and they provide good sport to the fisherman, they are one of the most popular game fishes found in the world today.
Catfish are generally considered harmless to humans, but they can grow to enormous size, which can pose a threat as they are immensely strong. There are reports of humans being attacked by catfish in Europe, but there have been no confirmed fatalities. They also have barbs enclosed in their fins, which, while non-venomous, can break off in the skin and cause painful sores.
Where are the biggest catfish in the world?
United States of America – Blue Catfish
This is the most abundant species found in North America and has long been a favorite of sport fishermen in that country. They are native to the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi River basins and are found from as far north as North Dakota and south as far as Mexico.
These fish can be found in the deepest parts of the rivers and are often found where the water is running fast. There they forage for any passing food. Blue catfish are most caught using bait such as herring, blood worm, and chicken livers, but there have been some recorded catches on lures.
As these fish live on the bottom of the river, the angler needs to present the bait on the river bottom, as that is where this fish will be found. These fish grow noticeably big, so their size, their fighting ability, and the fact that they have quality meat take them to the top of the freshwater gamefish stakes.
The biggest catfish caught in the world for this species weighed 121.5 pounds and was captured at the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge on Lake Texoma.
Europe – Wels Catfish
This species of catfish is native to the central, eastern and southern areas of Europe. It has been introduced to other regions from the United Kingdom to China and is an extremely popular freshwater fish. It is very easily recognized by its flat head and full mouth.
The Wels catfish is found in warm lakes and deep slow-flowing rivers as it prefers to lie in wait in deep pools by sunken logs or rocks. These fish feed on insects, crustaceans, and fish, but they have been seen eating mice, frogs, and young water birds.
Like their cousins in North America, these catfish can grow to an enormous size. There have been reports of these fish attacking humans, and this theory was put to the test by television presenter Jeremy Wade while making a program for Animal Planet. On separate occasions, he caught two Wels catfish, one of 66 kilograms, and the other of 74 kilograms. Both fish attempted to attack him when he released them back into the water.
This fish, simply due to its size, will give any fisherman a real fight, and if a big specimen is hooked, the fisherman will need to watch out as the fish is brought to the bank.
The biggest catfish caught in the world for this species weighed 280 pounds and was landed in the Po delta in Italy.
Africa – Vundu
The Vundu is a sizeable freshwater catfish that is found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa as well as in the Nile. It is located in most freshwater habitats, and it eats fish and invertebrates but can also be found scavenging rubbish from riverside villages.
The Vundu can remain out of water for extended periods.
The biggest catfish caught in the world for this species weighed 100pounds and was caught in 2014 in the Ruhudji River in Tanzania.
Asia – Giant Mekong Catfish
The Gian Mekong catfish is one of the most endangered fish species as it has been over-exploited. It is, however, the largest of the catfish species, and the biggest catfish caught in the world is a Giant Mekong catfish.
This beast can be found in the rivers that make up the Mekong Basin, but they have been introduced elsewhere and can be found in China and Bangladesh.
This fish grows at an astronomical rate, and they can grow to 150 to 200 kilograms in six years, and as they are vegetarian, the bait to use for them is bread, rice, or corn. Again, as this is a bottom feeder, the bait must lie on the bottom of the river, but once hooked, this fish will give you the fight of your life, and you will need heavy tackle to manage to land it.
The world’s largest catfish ever caught is a Giant Mekong catfish, captured by a Thai fisherman in 2005. This immense fish weighed in at 293 kilograms or 646 pounds and measured 2.7 meters or 9 feet from nose to tail.
All the catches that we have spoken about so far have been on rod and line, but what if you would like to try catching one with just your bare hands? Catfish noodling, as hand fishing is known in Oklahoma, or tickling, hogging, graveling, grabbling, or stumping as it is known elsewhere in the US is an ancient method of catching fish using your bare hands.
It requires a fair degree of patience and stealth as you need to search out the catfish underwater by pushing your hands into holes in the bank and under trees and other debris to search all the places catfish like to hide.
The biggest catfish caught in the world by using just your bare hands weighed in at an impressive 85 pounds two ounces and was found in Lake Tawakoni in Texas.