White Catfish
Typical Size
12-14" (8 oz.-1 lb.)
Decent Size
15-20" (2-4 lbs.)
Nice Size
20-25" (5-10 lbs.)
29.3" (18 lbs. 14 oz.)
Awards Program
Qualifying Size

4 lbs.
Genus/Species Ameiurus catus
Common Names forked tail cat, white cat, horn pout
Hot Spots Mashpee-Wakeby Pond, Charles River
Best Time July - September
Best Baits live shiner, nightcrawler, chicken liver, dead shiner
Best Method Bottom fishing at night with bait

White catfish look like bullheads with forked tails. Often confused with channel catfish because of the forked tail, the finís lobes are not as sharply pointed as are those of the channel catfish, nor does this fish grow nearly as large. While white catfish vary in color, the sides are generally blue-gray to blue-black with a pale silver-white underside. These colors can be much darker, particularly the head, lips, and barbels, in murky water and especially in males when breeding. White catfish have a stout body and small eyes like bullheads but have smaller mouths. The entire body is smooth and possesses a lustrous sheen.

White Catfish
White catfish are the largest of the catfish on the south shore.
White catfish live in a variety of habitats but generally prefer less muddied water than bullheads and are found in both slow-moving rivers and larger ponds and lakes. They have a preference for very warm water in the 75-85 degree range and can tolerate a very low oxygen level. Although more active at night, they are also quite active during the day, much more so than bullheads. White cats are also as much predators as they are scavengers, eating small live fish, crayfish, insects, and snails. They also have a bad reputation of eating the eggs of other fish species.

White catfish are native to Atlantic Coast watersheds from the lower Hudson River in New York, south to Florida and on to Mississippi. They have been widely transplanted throughout the United States including some bodies of water in Massachusetts. Although there are not any areas specifically on the south shore that I know to contain white catfish, they can be found in waters very close by.

Spawning takes place in the summer once waters have heated up to at least 70 degrees. White catfish spawn at just two years of age. Both male and female white catfish find an area of structure and then fan out a rather large nest area near the structure with their tail fin in a gravel or sand bottom. Once hatched, the male stays with the young for some time. Young white catfish fry look very much like bullhead fry traveling about in concentrated schools, not venturing far from the nest until they are about an inch long.

Live bait fishing is the preferred method for catching white catfish. Shiners and nightcrawlers are most effective, however herring chunks, chicken livers, and various pre-packaged stink baits can also work. A simple bottom rig with a 3/8-1/2 ounce sinker is usually sufficient for bottom fishing with live or cut bait.

White catfish will also take artificial lures, especially deep-diving crankbaits. The best fishing for white cats occurs from dusk throughout the night where they move along the shoreline to feed. However, they also hit well during the day, more so than any other catfish.

Fishing for White Catfish is not an important recreational fishery here on the south shore, with most reported catches being incidental while fishing for other species. A commercial fishery exists in the south, mostly farm-raised. Considered very good eating, white catfish have a firm, white flesh with a gentle sweet taste. Fillets are often fried or broiled.