How to Hold a Catfish – A Simplified Guide

I think it’s true to say that many people, even some anglers, are afraid of touching the catfish although they love catching them. The reason is simple – catfish are known for their ability to sting anyone who tries to touch them.

Thus, catching a catfish can be a blessing or a curse, depending on whether or not you know how to handle it. Thus, it is the task of this post to make your fishing activity a blessing by teaching you how to hold a catfish.

So read on...


Trophy Catfish​

Before we dive into the most important information in this post, let us first describe what you will be dealing with. If you’re going out fishing, then you must be aiming for the trophy catfish. There are three very popular ones:

  • Catfish Aristotles
  • Catfish Channel
  • Catfish Wels

Let’s briefly discuss each one of them:

Catfish, Aristotle

Related to the wels catfish, and almost identical to it, the Aristotle's catfish can be distinguished by the two barbells sprouting from beneath its chin, whereas the wels has four. The Aristotle's catfish has extremely limited distribution, being found only in Greece within the Achelous river system.

Catfish, Channel

The channel catfish has a thick-set, smooth, scaleless, pale gray body with a wide, flattish head and a cavernous mouth containing bristle-like gripping pads inside both the upper and lower jaws. The snout overhangs the lower jaw and sports a long, thick barbell at each corner.

Two erect barbells sprout from the middle of its skull, and there are four slightly longer ones immediately below the chin, making eight in all. Its fins are dark gray, large and powerful, and the tail is deeply forked.

There is a strong spine to the leading edge of both dorsal and pectoral fins, and tiny, rubbery adipose fin. It feeds on other fish, crustaceans, and mollusks, and spawns in late spring or early summer.

Habitat and Distribution

The channel catfish prefers colored lakes and river systems and is present only in isolated waters in southern England, having been introduced originally by the ornamental and pond fish trade.


Usually caught by accident on meat and fresh fish bait, it is liable to suck up any food presented on the bottom. It fights extremely hard.

Catfish, Wels

Catfish Wels

By far the longest and potentially the largest of all British freshwater species, the wels catfish reaches weights more than 300-400 lb in Eastern Europe. It has a smooth scaleless body, mottled in olive, brown and sometimes shades of mauve, and tapering rapidly, tadpole-fashion, from its large flattened head to its tail.

Its wide, cavernous mouth contains bristle-pads of fine teeth just inside both the top and lower jaws. There are four short sensory barbels under the chin and one extremely long feeler situated in front of each eye, close to each jaw hinge, making six in all.

The dorsal fin is quite tiny and stands erect. The pectoral fins are large and fanlike, and the pelvis is small. The anal fin is long and almost joins the small, squared off the tail.

The wels spawns during the summer. Eggs are deposited by the female into a nest on the bottom prepared by the male, who stands guard until they hatch.

The wels feeds on fish, amphibians, and even small swimming rodents. Adult wels occasionally sucks down waterfowl from the surface, although generally speaking they scavenge from the bottom, and are largely nocturnal feeders.

Habitat and Distribution

The wels loves snaggy, weedy, undercut bank caverns and hide-outs in still waters that are prolific in shoal species such as roach, rudd, and bream. It fares well in heavily colored ponds, lakes and pits throughout the Midlands, East Anglia and southern England. It is still comparatively rare, however, and is absent from Scotland and Ireland.

How to Hold Catfish

​As you may have already known, catfish have spikes – they have three spikes. They have spikes on each pectoral fin and another one on their dorsal fin. The really small catfish you find in creeks have poisonous spines.

There’s no need to worry though because most of the trophy catfish have spines that are not poisonous. However, they can carry a lot of nasty bacteria, and the stab hurts. It’s like being stabbed with a ballpoint pen and a pencil. It leaves a very nasty cut.

You can find more information about the catfish sting in this post – Catfish Sting Facts.​

The smaller the catfish; the more dangerous the spines – it’s like razor blades on your skin. Little Catfish have very sharp spines. Trophy catfish have spines that are a little bit dull. As they are grown older, their spines just get duller and duller. So be most careful with the smaller fish.​

​Thus, you need to hold the catfish in a proper way. There is a bone, a shoulder blade, behind each pectoral fits. The cat fish’s body is slippery and soft, except for those behind each pectoral fin. You can get a good grip of the fish on that area of the body.

You can also hold it over the top with the dorsal fin side. You can control the fish with hold while preventing both pectoral and dorsal spines from getting you. Either way, you do it - on the dorsal side or over the belly – you’ll get a good grip on those shoulder blades behind the pectoral fin.​

You can also control the fish’s tail while you’re at it.

Another way to hold them is through the lip. You can hold and grip the inner part of the lip. This can work well, except that sometimes the fish can bite you and that may hurt a bit.

Holding a catfish is like controlling a dog on a leash. The dog can sense whether you know what you’re doing or not and if you’re timid or afraid, the dog will drag you around. If you show the dog who’s boss and are firm with it, the dog will yield to you.

Catfish are like that too. If you are hesitant in holding it, the fish will flop around, and when they’re flopping around, that’s when you’re likely to get stung. If you grip them tight though, they will sit still. The tricky part is that the fish’s dorsal fin is retractable. It can hide it and pretend it’s not dangerous.

When the fish is scared – usually when you first touch it – that spine will go straight up. It works as part of their instinct. When something bigger tries to swallow them for example, the fish will stick its up, sting the mouth hoping that the predator will spit it out in the process.

Check out this video of a guy showing the proper way to hold catfish:​

There are also some essential things you can bring to make your fishing activity worth your while, and one of them is fishing glasses. If you’re on the boat under the scorching heat of the sun, then the day’s heat may affect your vision and your fishing.

Fishing glasses will not only protect your eyes from the sun but also improves your vision. You want to focus your sites on that fish, and these glasses will make everything around you look more vivid. You can spot that fish even if it’s barely visible because it’s swimming along a log.

I highly recommend them, and you can choose fishing sunglasses that would best suit your needs. It’s a very good thing to have for sightseeing, fishing, and anything that requires your vision under the sun. If you’re an amateur fisherman then you definitely need to have this.


That’s the trick. Grip them by the shoulder blades before the pectoral fins, either from the top or the bottom. Grip them firmly and show them whose boss, or grip them by the lip, and just be careful.

Also, for the fish’s safety, you might want to consider kneeling on the ground while holding the fish. If you drop the fish from 6 feet up, that could hurt them – especially if they land or rocks or hard surfaces.

If you’re not going to kill the fish and eat it, don’t hurt it. Just hold it the way we taught you to, take a picture and put it back in the water.​

How to Hold a Catfish – A Simplified Guide
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