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How Big Do Channel Catfish Get? (Average and Record Sizes)

How Big Do Channel Catfish Get? (Average and Record Sizes)

Channel catfish can be caught all over the US and is one of America’s most popular fish species.

While it’s the smallest of the three main catfish types found in North America, it can nonetheless reach quite a respectable size. But just how big do channel catfish actually get?

The average size of channel catfish caught in America is between 20 and 30 inches and 2 and 10 pounds. It can reach a maximum size of about 50 inches and 60 pounds. A trophy-sized channel cat is a fish of 20 pounds or more.

If you want to find out what the current world record channel catfish weighs, how old they can get, and what size is best for eating, all you have to do is keep reading!    

What Is the Maximum Size of Channel Catfish?

The channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is the most widely distributed and smallest catfish species of America’s “Big Three” (blue, flathead, and channel). 

This hugely popular gamefish, which most catfish anglers call channel cat, has a maximum length of 48 to 50 inches and a maximum weight of 50 to 60 lb.

However, most fish caught by catfish anglers will only weigh up to 20 lb and around 35 inches. 

Channel cats of around 30 lb are relatively rare, and fish of 40 or so pounds are even less common. 

On the other hand, channel catfish of 50 and more pounds are almost impossible to catch and enjoy an almost legendary status among sport anglers in the US! 

What Is the Average Size of Channel Catfish?

a female angler holding a very nice channel catfish of 10 pounds
Courtesy of Ted Ellenbecker

While plenty of anglers catch channel cats around the 20 lb mark, this size isn’t exactly common and would be considered a very big channel catfish by most people.

The average channel catfish caught in America has an approximate length of between 20 and 30 inches and a weight of about 2 to 10 lb.

Ask any serious channel cat fisherman, and they’ll tell you that a channel cat of around 10 lb is a very decent fish. If you manage to catch a channel catfish of such size, that’s a job well done!

Especially in waters where this species is high in numbers, catching the bigger specimens is a challenge, and a 10-pounder caught in such a water body can be considered a real trophy fish.

Of course, average sizes can vary from water to water, and in some lakes or rivers, catching a fish of 10 or more pounds isn’t all that uncommon.

On the contrary, many water bodies with smaller fish are also out there, and here, the average size of channel catfish might be well under 10 lb.

What Is Considered a Big Channel Catfish?

a happy angler holding a trophy-sized channel catfish
Courtesy of Tony Hammond

So how big is a trophy-size channel cat, then? Generally speaking, I’d say that a trophy fish starts at 20 pounds.

But again, some states have waters that just don’t produce fish of such a size.

In fact, quite a few states list channel cats of 10 or 12 lb in their trophy fish size charts because, in those states, that’s what’s considered a trophy fish!

That shows that the trophy fish debate is highly subjective because sizes vary quite a bit, depending on geographical factors!

Additionally, I think that every angler can have their personal trophy ribbon!

If you’ve never caught a channel catfish, and your first fish is a 5-pounder, then maybe you consider that fish a trophy catch.

Or perhaps you’ve tried to catch that elusive 10-pound channel cat for years because it’s almost impossible to catch one in your local lake.

Then one day, you finally get it! It’d be but natural to call that catch a trophy fish, wouldn’t it? Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise!

What Is the Biggest Channel Catfish Ever Caught?

The IGFA All-Tackle world record for channel catfish is a very old record and shows just how difficult it is to catch a channel cat of more than 50 pounds!

The current world record is a fish that angler W. Whaley caught in 1964. It weighed a whopping 58 lb and was caught in the Santee-Cooper Reservoir, South Carolina. 

The question is if and when this record will be broken because 50+ pounders are extremely rare! 

In fact, I’ve only seen and read about 40+ pounders, but I’ve yet to see a catch report of a channel catfish weighing in at over 50 pounds! 

How Old Do Channel Catfish Get?

The maximum age of channel catfish is believed to be around 15 years, but more research is needed to confirm this age. 

However, the average lifespan of this catfish species is shorter than that. Most fish will live between 6 and 10 years, both in natural habitats and ponds. 

How Fast Do Channel Catfish Grow?

a small channel catfish being weighed by a researcher

Given their relatively short lifespan, channel catfish are a fairly fast-growing species. 

Their average growth rate shows an approximate length of 6 inches at the end of their first year, 9 inches at age 2, and around 12 inches at age 3. 

It is, however, important to remember that the fish’s growth rate can vary quite a lot and depends on many different factors.

Such factors can include the following:

  • habitat size
  • standing vs. flowing water
  • water temperature
  • dissolved oxygen levels
  • food abundance
  • predation
  • population size
  • competition (from both channel catfish and other fish species)
  • genetics

What Size Channel Catfish Is Best to Eat?

Most anglers will agree that smaller channel cats of 1 to 5 pounds are the best for eating. 

The general rule is that the younger and smaller the catfish, the healthier and the better it tastes. 

That’s because channel catfish are bottom-dwellers and feeders. And as most toxins and contaminants found in lakes and rivers end up in the bottom sediment, naturally, the bigger the catfish, the more toxins and pollutants will be found in it.

Furthermore, the meat of the bigger channel cats can taste somewhat muddy, so it’s best to stick to the smaller fish.

DID YOU KNOW: Eating smaller channel catfish is also very healthy, as they are loaded with protein, minerals, omega-3 fats, and Vitamin B12. 

Anything up to 8 or 10 pounds is usually fine to eat. Throw back everything bigger than that if you value your taste buds and health!

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