Channel catfish are an ideal fish to stock in Oklahoma ponds for food and fun. Ponds stocked only with catfish and with food provided, will produce a higher yield of food for the table than bass-bluegill ponds. Catfish can withstand fairly heavy fishing pressure and often provide quality angling both in terms of size and number. Catfish need to be restocked periodically since they do not reproduce consistently in ponds.
Muddy ponds, those with a depth visibility less than eight inches, and small ponds, less than one-half acre, produce the most harvestable fish when stocked with channel catfish only or in combination with hybrid bluegill or fathead minnows. The number of catfish to stock depends on the amount of food available either in the form of natural foods, such as insect larvae and minnows, or commercial catfish feed (see Table 1 below).
Turbid (muddy) ponds generally have lower natural food production and should be stocked at lower rates. Catfish do not have to be stocked at the higher rates when feeding is planned if you will not harvest that number of fish. Catfish can be fed with a automatic feeder, if you are unable to feed them regularly. See Additional Information for suppliers of fish feeders.
Feeding is the easiest way to increase catfish growth and production. A six- to eight-inch catfish fingerling can be grown to one pound in six months of regular feeding during the warm weather, whereas it will take two to three years to reach the same size in a non-fed situation. Feeding also is economical when one looks at the table value of catfish versus the cost of feed. It will cost $0.25 to $0.30 per pound of fish grain to feed catfish, but those fish are worth about $1.50 per pound live weight at current supermarket prices.
If you decide to feed your catfish, you will grow more fish for your dollar by feeding a quality catfish feed rather than a cheap fish feed, hog pellets, corn or wheat. Catfish will eat hog pellets and whole uncooked grain, but they will convert very little of it into fish flesh, and the cost per pound of grain will be higher than for quality catfish feed. In addition, your catfish will grow much faster on a quality feed than on a cheap one.
It is best to use floating feed which allows you to observe fish feeding. Feed only as much as they consume in about 10 minutes. During cool weather fish feed slower, taking slightly longer to consume their feed and eat a reduced amount. Feed that sinks rather than floats is cheaper, but not if you are overfeeding (which is easy to do since the feed sinks and you can’t tell whether fish are eating it). A feeding ring or square made from four-inch plastic pipe or one-inch by six-inch lumber is convenient to keep the feed from washing up on shore and allows you to monitor feeding. Another technique is to feed from the upwind side of the pond so the fish have plenty of time to eat before feed drifts across the pond and up on shore.
Another benefit to feeding fish is the ease with which you can provide fish for dinner. Just fish near the feeding area while they eat. If you feed catfish you need to harvest some to reduce the total poundage in the pond. Not harvesting a fed, heavily stocked catfish pond can lead to low oxygen levels and fish kills. Large catfish do not convert feed efficiently, so it is not cost effective to feed large numbers of big catfish.
Never feed more than 15 pounds per surface acre per day because it may cause a massive fish kill due to low oxygen levels. Feeding daily is not necessary and a recent commercial catfish feeding study showed an improved feed conversion ratio when fish were fed every other day. Also, your fish will survive not being fed if you are gone for a short time or are otherwise not able to feed. Reduce feeding to about once a week when the water temperature drops in the late fall and winter. Also, reduce feeding if the pond develops a heavy phytoplankton bloom (indicated by a dark green water color and inability to see a white object at a depth of one foot) or if you observe fish piping (gulping for air) at the water surface. Do not hesitate to call a biologist at one of the ODWC regional fisheries offices listed under Additional Information if you think you have a problem with your pond or fish.
Catfish will typically have to be restocked periodically as the original stock is harvested. Catfish are cavity spawners and will only spawn in a hole in a bank or in containers such as milk cans or concrete tile placed in the pond at a depth of two to four feet. If the pond contains bass or sunfish, they probably will eat virtually all the young catfish resulting from a successful spawning. Conversely, if there are no predator fish to prey on young catfish, then one successful spawn can overstock the pond with catfish and lead to small, stunted fish unless some can be removed. Most experts recommend that you plan on supplemental stocking of catfish.
What is the best size catfish to stock for the money considering that the smaller they are, the cheaper the cost of the fish? If the pond does not contain bass, four- to six-inch fingerlings are the cheapest fish to buy. If the pond does contain bass, larger catfish will be better able to avoid predation. An eight-inch catfish fingerling would be best, but realistically they are often difficult to find and hard to transport in plastic bags. A six- to eight-inch fingerling will have a moderate survival if escape cover is available and if stocked in the early summer when other small sunfish are readily available for bass to eat. A smaller catfish fingerling stocked in a clear pond with adult bass becomes very expensive food for the bass. Obviously, if your prime fish pond objective is catfish production, you do not want to stock bass. A channel catfish-hybrid bluegill sunfish combination has some advantages in that both will eat and grow well on catfish food, both are fun and relatively easy to catch, and neither will overpopulate the pond when stocked together. If food for your table is a high priority, then channel catfish should be high on your stocking list.