Catfish are popular for their flaky white meat and for the sport of fishing, especially in the southern United States. They are also easy to raise in a stock pond. Breeding catfish can be another story, however. Catfish lay thousands of eggs at a time, but a great deal of care and attention is required for a productive number to survive. Commercial catfish hatcheries are complex operations involving multiple ponds, special tanks, cages, troughs and daily disinfecting practices. On the other hand, armed with the right knowledge and techniques, the average farm pond can also be a good site for breeding a substantial crop of new catfish each year for personal fishing pleasure and to supplement the dinner table.
Provide an appropriate catfish habitat. Catfish require a high-quality water source, proper oxygen, neutral pH levels, and nesting grounds for breeding. Without some human intervention catfish aren’t likely to breed productively in the average pond. But with a little help, the pond atmosphere can be turned into fertile breeding grounds. Create a pond if you don’t already have one. A natural spring or well makes the best water source for a new pond. Site selection should also take into consideration that catfish like to lay their eggs around tree stumps and roots, in hollow logs, or on rock ledges.
Remove all other predatory fish and parasitic insects from the pond. One way to do this is to treat the water with rotenone, a naturally occurring substance that causes suffocation in fish. Do this in the fall when water temperatures are between 65 to 75 degrees F. Water will return to nontoxic condition after 5 to 7 days.
Check the pond for proper algae and plant growth, pH levels and oxygen content. Plants are an important part of a pond’s ecosystem and contribute to good oxygen levels as well as being a food source for catfish. Fertilizer may be needed if sufficient plant growth is not present. A pH test should also be conducted and followed by a treatment of lime if the water is found to be acidic. Your local County Extension agent can perform this test as well advise you on all aspects of breeding catfish.
Set up an oxygen meter. Implement a paddle wheel or pump aerator for constant use in your pond or, at the very least, have an emergency aeration system for when oxygen levels fall below 3 parts per million (ppm). Oxygen depletion is most likely to occur after storms or during periods of rapidly changing temperature.
Provide a breeding-friendly habitat of tree stumps and rock ledges. Move hollow logs and large rocks into the water if necessary.
Select stock for your pond. Fish hatcheries offer fingerlings, which are very young catfish, but it’s advisable to obtain more mature brood stock since catfish don’t reach productive spawning stages until they are 3 to 6 years old. The catfish stock will need to be transported and introduced to your pond carefully–by a method called tempering. Small amounts of pond water are added slowly to the transport water until the transport container reaches the same temperature as the pond. The fish can then be gently lowered into the pond and released. A small battery-operated aerator may be useful during transportation.
Feed your catfish. Floating pellets are most commonly advised for catfish since this type of feeding allows you to check the fish daily when they swim to the surface to eat. There are recommended ratios of feed to body weight available, but a good rule of thumb is to feed the amount that the fish will consume in 15 minutes. Create a feeding circle out of a 12-foot length of flexible plastic piping--to keep the feed from floating to the banks and out of reach of the fish. Feed at the same time each day. Catfish will not eat as much during the winter when they prefer to stay in deeper waters. Feeding can be done every third day or on the warmer days during the winter. Catfish will also eat less during the spawning (egg laying) season, which occurs in the spring and early summer.
Check the oxygen and pH levels of the pond periodically.
Items you will need
- Inorganic fertilizer
- Acidity testing kit and lime
- Oxygen meter and aerator
- Floating feed for catfish
- Feeding circle
- You may also want to introduce minnows into your catfish pond as a high protein supplement food.
- If you are interested in breeding and harvesting fish to sell, the report listed in the Resources section provides a thorough overview of breeding strategies and techniques as well as a section on marketing catfish. A commercial operation will require an additional nursery pond and possibly a hatchery structure for incubating the eggs.