Freshwater Fish Identification
Other names: Yellow cat, opelousas, mud cat, shovelhead cat
Texas game fish
Pylodictis is Greek meaning "mud fish," and olivaris is
Latin for "olive-colored." Flathead catfish are typically pale yellow (hence the
name "yellow cat") to light brown on the back and sides, and highly mottled with
black and/or brown. The belly is usually pale yellow or cream colored. The head
is broadly flattened, with a projecting lower jaw. The tail fin is only slightly
notched, not deeply forked as is the case with blue and channel catfish. Young
fish may be very dark, almost black in appearance.
The flathead catfish is the second largest freshwater sportfish in Texas,
being outmuscled only by the blue catfish. Where mature populations exist,
50-pounders are not unusual. Typically, the largest fish are caught by
trotliners, who have landed specimens in excess of 110 pounds. "Catfish" is the
second most preferred group of fish among licensed Texas anglers, and flatheads
rank second behind channel catfish. Rod and reel anglers may have the greatest
success with flathead catfish just below reservoir dams.
In Texas flathead catfish may spawn from late May through August. Males
construct nests by excavating a shallow depression in a natural cavity (a hollow
log, cave, or crevice) or near a large object. Females are encouraged by males
to lay their eggs in the nest. Over 100,000 eggs may be found in a golden-yellow
egg mass which is guarded viciously by the male. Young generally hatch in four
to six days. They may school together for several days near the nest, but soon
disperse and seek shelter under rocks or brush. Fingerlings feed on insect
larvae, juveniles feed on small fish and crayfish, while adults feed almost
exclusively on fish. Adults are usually solitary, each staking out a favorite
spot, typically in deeper water or under cover, during the day. At night they
may move into riffles and shallow areas to feed.
The native range includes a broad area west of the Appalachian Mountains
encompassing large rivers of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio basins. The
range extends as far north as North Dakota, as far west as New Mexico, and south
to the Gulf including eastern Mexico. Flathead catfish occur statewide in Texas.
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