So you’ve landed a catfish and your friend who so confidently man handles these fish is nowhere around to rescue you. It’s time to grab the bull by the horns, or in this case, the cat by the torso and deal with it. You’ve probably heard that catfish can sting you so looking over this beast what looks most apt to do the stinging? Those long, sinister whiskers look to be the likely culprit. Touch one of those and you get stung proper, right? Wrong.
A catfish’s whiskers are not defensive structures and they’re absolutely incapable of delivering a sting of any sort. Whiskers, or more accurately Barbels, are actually an organ that is packed with what amounts to taste buds that help the fish locate food in low visibility waters. Barbels are often referred to as Barbs which may have led to the villainous characterization. A catfish’s barbels are quite soft and are more likely to tickle you than sting you.
So can a catfish sting you? Oh yes, it can. I got poked once under my thumb nail and it was excruciatingly painful. There are two types of fins you have to respect, the Dorsal and the Pectorals. Each is edged with a sturdy spine that ends in a sharp point. This is more prominent in young catfish whose spines are more like needles. Older, larger catfish have dulled down their spines and present less of a concern.
So how do they sting? Well, similar to any creature that stings, the spines are covered with skin that contain glandular cells that produce a protein, or venom, that is released when the spine penetrates your skin. It’s this venom that stings the ever loving crap’ola out of you. The good news is the spines are easy to avoid and stings are rare if you handle the catfish respectfully.
Old Angler’s Tip: If you get stung, rub the stung area on the catfish’s belly. The belly slime is said to neutralize the venom. Not very sanitary, but the same could be said about peeing on a bull-nettle sting. Personally, I’d recommend a doctor if the catfish stabbed you deep or the sting is severe.
So how do you hold a catfish to avoid getting hurt? Three ways.
1. From the Belly (for smaller cats)
Slide your hand up from tail to head on the belly side. Find a grip beneath the pectorals where the rib cage will provide a hand hold. Grabbing from the belly will keep the dorsal pointed away from you.
2. From the Back (for smaller cats)
Grab the catfish behind the head, finding your grip under the pectorals and above the dorsal. You can push down the dorsal to keep it down and out of the way. If the cat gets frisky, keep a sure grip. If the dorsal rises it could stick you.
3. Fish Grips (For big cats)
If you get into to some big cats gripping them with a hand will become problematic as their girth will be to wide to grip depending on how big your hands are. This is where fish grips come into play. There are two widely used grips pictured below. Either do the job.
Respect your Catch:
It’s also worth noting that the bigger the fish is, the more damage you can do when handling them. Fish aren’t designed to be out of water and their vital organs aren’t well protected. Holding a big fish vertically can shift it’s internal organs into a damaging, even death-dealing fashion. They may swim away, but die hours later. When holding fish over 10lbs, its recommended to support their bodies vertically so as to not damage their organs. This applies to weighing as well. Invest in a weigh sling that will provide you a safe way to weigh your catch.