Catfish among the oddest fish

I have never heard of any large number of catfish caught in Northern Ontario.
Actually, I have not heard of any catfish being caught here at all.
Many years ago, when I lived in Cobourg, some of us would go out to Rice Lake (one of the Kawartha chain). It is a very long, narrow lake, with lots of weeds and sandy places along the shore.
And it was a great place to catch catfish.
You don’t need much fishing gear—any old pole will do. You drop your bait (which may be just about anything) in the shallow water and move it around on the bottom for a while.
And before long, you have caught a fish.
These fish have some peculiarities about them. For one thing, they have whiskers.
Really, they are barbels. And they are not whiskers at all but sensing devices. Someone must have thought, a long time ago, that they looked like cat’s whiskers, and so they have been “catfish” for centuries.
Another funny thing is that they have no scales at all, so they feel sort of slimy when you hold them.
They also have very sharp spines on their back and side fins. In fact, some of these spines have venom glands at their bases. A cut form one of these can cause a very painful wound, or even a serious infection.
They also make a sort of growling noise when you pull them out of the water. Not much like your normal Northwestern Ontario fish at all.
There are really only four species which you might want to fish for. They are the Channel Catfish and the four Bullheads.
There are some others in the catfish family, but they are quite small (a few inches long) and are of no interest to anglers at all (by the way, they are called Stonecats and Madtoms).
In Canada, there is only a very small commercial fishery regarding catfish. But this is not so in the United States.
Down there, especially in the south, catfish form a huge industry. Many millions of pounds are sold every year.
In Canada, the Channel Catfish, which is the largest one, can reach about 50 pounds or so. But in the southern Mississippi, fish of 150 pounds or more are not uncommon.
In the south, almost all the restaurants carry catfish as one of their popular meal items. “Superior table qualities” as it is described.
Catfish spawn in shallow water, usually in a lake or slow-moving stream. The eggs are in a gelatinous mass.
The parent fish guard their eggs (some other fish to that, too) and they also take care of the newly-hatched little fish until they are big enough to look after themselves.
Young fish live on vegetable matter until they are big enough to graduate to clams, small fish, crayfish, and so on. They are not very particular and will eat almost anything, alive or dead.
Catfish are the sanitation experts of the freshwater world—they seem to have appetites which are never satisfied. If you should go fishing for them, almost anything will do for bait—worms, minnows, and gobs of meat of any kind.
One old man said that he always used a bit of blood pudding, and he always had good luck.
By the way, when feeding on shellfish, catfish always crack the shell and only swallow the soft parts.
They will gobble up anything that seems to be edible—even to gobs of gum or cigarette butts.
The Channel Catfish comes in several different colours, but it is always dark on the top and lighter on the underbelly. The Bullheads are either brown, yellow, or black.
So, those are the catfish. They have whiskers like a cat, and they will growl at you when they come out of the water.
They have no scales at all, but they have serious spines on some of their fins—enough to give you a sore hand for a month or so.
And they will eat anything, dead or alive.
But you can forget about all that if you have a dinner of catfish—they are really good eating.
The catfish family (Ictaluridae) are some of the oddest fishes which you may—or may not—find in Northern Ontario.

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