Types of Catfish: How to Identify Blue, Flathead, Channel, Bullhead, White Catfish, and Other Species

In North America, there are three main species of catfish that people will generally like to fish for. They are flathead catfish, blue catfish, and channel catfish. Now, those are not the only species of catfish that we have in North America, there are also several species of bullhead catfish, white catfish, and the gaff Topsail catfish. In this article, I will also show you some of the European, Asian, Africa and South America types of catfish as well.

If you fish in North America and catch a large catfish, it’s generally pretty easy to tell which species of catfish you have as the fish get older, their differences become more distinct. However, when you catch a small fish, it’s much hard to tell what kind of species you have.

Things that many people make mistakes when identifying the type of catfish

A lot of people depend on the coloration of the catfish to give them a clue which kind of the fish they have caught. This isn’t very reliable as there’s a lot of variety flathead catfish can color from dark brown to yellowish in color.

Not saying that some flatheads have speckled spots on their body whereas some don’t. Blue catfish can range from almost pure white to gray channel catfish, range from yellowish in color to bluish in color, even to brown. There’s just a variety and colors of each of the three species. Thus, saying if it’s blue so therefore as a blue catfish isn’t a safe bet.

Similarly, not all brown fish are channels or yellow fish flatheads, it varies a lot. The flathead is one of the three big species of catfish here in North America, however, it’s the only of the big three that doesn’t have a forked tail.

Flathead catfish

If you look at a flathead catfish’s tail, there’s no fork in it. The same type of tail as a bullhead who doesn’t have forked tail. Thus, if you look at a catfish who doesn’t have forked tail, chances are they either a flathead or bullhead.

A flathead catfish can get up to 100 pounds while bullheads are rarely getting over 3 or 4 pounds. From that point, if you have anything bigger than three or four pounds and doesn’t have a forked tail, it’s definitely a flathead.

If it’s smaller than 4 pounds, the for sure way to know is you look at the jaw, bullhead catfish doesn’t have an underbite. Their top jaw and lower jaw are even with one another. Flathead catfish have an underbite. Their lower jaw sticks out further than their upper jaw.

Things that many people make mistakes when identifying the type of catfish

Image source: how to catch catfish

Blue catfish

Blue catfish and the flathead are hard to get confused as I mentioned before, flatheads don’t have forked tail whereas the blue catfishes do. The coloration is usually very different so, not too many people get those two species confused. However, blue and channel catfish or blue and white catfish can be often confusing.

Now, the easiest way to identify a blue catfish is the size. If you have anything over 40 pounds, chances are you dealing with a blue catfish. White catfishes don’t get over 20 pounds. The for sure way to tell about smaller fish is the anal fin.

Blue catfish have a rectangular anal fin. It’s got a flat leading edge and square corner. None of the other catfish like bullheads, channels, and whites have the square anal fin.

Another thing is the blue catfish is native to more the Gulf Coast and Mississippi Delta though they have been stocked along the eastern seaboard in a lot of lakes around. Thus, you can’t always tell by geographic region either because they have been stocked so much. Meanwhile, they have spread outside their native range a lot.

White catfish are much scarcer! There are only a few places in the country you can actually find white catfish, they tend to be in tidal rivers in the East Coast. If you are in one of these areas that have white catfish and you’re not sure whether you have a white or blue catfish, look at the anal fin and the size of the fish to know for sure which species you have got.

Channel catfish

They are the most populous and most common of the three types of catfish. They are also the smaller of the three. Young channel tends to be yellowish in color and has little random dark dots on their sides.

Channel catfish also have forked tails so, a lot of people confuse flatheads and channels when they are small. The best way to tell the difference is the tail. Look at it! If it has got a forked tail at the channel catfish, if it’s kind of a white creamy fish and you are wondering whether it’s a blue or channel, look at the anal fin.

Bullhead catfish

If it is rounded on the edge, 100% it’s a channel. If it’s flat and squarish then, it’s a blue. In North America, there are several of bullheads but the three most common are the black, the brown and the yellow bullhead.

The big difference is coloration in their bellies and whiskers.

The only bullhead with the white chin whiskers is the yellow bullhead. Meanwhile, the brown and black bullheads both have black chin whiskers. BUT, the black has a yellow belly and the brown bullhead has a white belly.

Gaff-topsail Catfish

Gaff-topsail Catfish

Image source: Animal Unique

This is the easiest to tell of all these catfishes we have mentioned.

First off, they are a saltwater fish found in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.

Take a look at them and you’ll never forget their dorsal fin. It’s very long and flowing in addition to pretty unique.

Their whiskers are also extremely long and flowing.

European Catfish

Our catfish here in North America is generally enormous but, they are by no mean to the largest in the world.

In Europe, the Wels Catfish gets up to 200 pounds. The world-record of Wels catfish is 297 pounds out of the Pole river in Italy. The Ebro River in Spain is also producing massive Wels Catfish that gets up more than 200 pounds.

Any year now, people are expecting there to be a 300-pound catfish caught in either Italy or Spain.

The Wels catfish has a very distinct body type. It’s a long L like catfish, might be 7 to 8 feet long easily. Particularly, their anal fin is long running almost the entire length of their body. Actually, they are an extremely popular game fish in the UK and in Europe.

Mekong catfish

The largest catfish in the world is the Mekong which is believed to grow into the 600 to 700-pound range.

Here are some pictures of just a few of the many catfish that sportsmen chase all over the world.

Armored catfish (Africa)

Armored catfish

Image source: Skiff Life

Vundu Catfish (Africa)

Vundu Catfish

Image source: Animal Planet

Giraffe Catfish (Africa)

Giraffe Catfish

Image source: PBase.com

Walking Catfish (Africa and Asia)

Walking Catfish

Image source: Our Wild World – WordPress.com

Asian red tail catfish (Asia)

Asian red tail catfish

Image source: Petcha

Goonch Catfish (India)

Goonch Catfish

Image source: University of Nevada, Reno

Piraiba Catfish (South America)

Piraiba Catfish

Image source: University of Nevada, Reno

Sawtooth Catfish (South America)

Sawtooth Catfish

Image source: CatFishLeague

Tiger/Shovel Nose Catfish (South America)

Shovel Nose Catfish

Image source: ThinkFish

And that’s the end of this article! Hopefully, it has dropped you some basic and helpful information about some popular types of catfish from all over the world. If you are also interested in how to catch catfish as well as essential tools for big trophy, don’t hesitate to consult these articles. I already have mentioned clearly and detailed about everything needed for you to get ready for a catfish fishing trip.