Arizona is the place to be for catfish. The warm desert lakes and streams are the favorite home to two species, the channel catfish and the flathead catfish. Whether you are fishing the lakes and rivers far removed from the city, or in one of the man-made lakes right in the heart of Tucson or Phoenix, there are abundant catfish ready to nibble on your bait. In celebration of National Catfish Month, plan a fishing trip with your family to take in some beautiful Arizona outdoor space while catching a few catfish to take home for dinner.
Catfish of one species or another are found in almost every state and live on all but one continent. The massive Mekong catfish native to Southeast Asia is the biggest on the planet, one fish caught in Thailand has held the record of 650 pounds since 2005. Primarily bottom feeders, catfish are generally negative buoyancy fish meaning that they sink to the bottom rather than float in the water. They are known for the distinctive barbels, long whisker-like appendages on their face that help them detect food, that gave them their name.
As the fifth most popular fish in the U.S., catfish play an important role in the American fishing industry. They thrive in the wild, living in many rivers and lakes across the country where they prefer deep areas. Farm-raised catfish are also plentiful and are often used to seed lakes and rivers to supplement the wild population. The Arizona Fish & Game department stocks the major lakes in Phoenix and Tucson every other week from March to November to keep the population thriving and ripe for fishermen.
If you want to try your hand at fishing, catfish are a great place to start, especially for beginners. Their voracious appetite means they will bite almost anything, making them an easy catch. The channel catfish, the smaller of the two Arizona species, will eat almost anything. If you are fishing the warmer lakes and rivers, try hotdogs, anchovies, or worms to tempt them onto your hook. These catfish are usually between 10 and 39 inches long and weigh up to about 15 pounds.
The flathead catfish are found in the desert rivers and can grow much larger than their smaller Arizona brothers. Weighing as much at 65 pounds, flatheads can be 1 to 5 feet long and prefer live bait like other fish and insects. You are most likely to find them in the Salt, Verde, Gila, and Colorado rivers and those rivers tributaries. To find the smaller channel catfish, stick to the Canyon, Apache, and Roosevelt reservoirs, Bartlett Lake, and Lake Pleasant.
To fish in Arizona, you need a fishing license if you are over 14 years of age. Resident licenses can be obtained online at the Fish & Game website (http://www.takemefishing.org/fishing/license/location/state/AZ?gclid=CIH22d660aoCFWMTNAodPWgPzw) or from a license dealer. Non-resident licenses are also required and can be purchased in limited time allotments from the same locations. There is a maximum number of catfish that can be taken per day, so be sure to read through the fishing regulations before you cast your first line. (http://www.takemefishing.org/fishing/license/location/state/AZ?gclid=CIH22d660aoCFWMTNAodPWgPzw) If you plan to fish in any of the lakes that are part of the Urban Lakes Program, you will need a special license over and above the regular fishing license in order to do so. This program includes 21 lakes in 11 cities across the state. For more information, check the Urban Lakes Program Guidebook. (http://www.azgfd.gov/pdfs/h_f/regulations/2011UFPGuidebookFinal_WEB.pdf)
Fishing can be a great outdoor activity for the whole family and there is no better way to stretch your food dollar than to catch some of your dinner yourself.