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Channel catfish are bluish silver, and are easily recognizable by the 4 pairs of barbels (whiskers) around the mouth. Juveniles and adults have small black spots scattered along their sides, but these often disappear on the larger, older fish. Channel catfish can be distinguished from other members of the catfish family by their large size and deeply forked tail.
Unlike bullheads, channel catfish prefer clear waters in large lakes and streams, and are known to thrive in the areas below power dams. They like areas with gravel or rock bottoms, and are tolerant of adverse conditions such as low oxygen levels and warm water. Due to their larger size, adult channel catfish eat more live fish than bullheads and have (though rare) been found with birds in their stomachs. They have an excellent sense of taste and smell, and have taste buds distributed over the entire surface of their body. In Oneida Lake, channel catfish eat small fish, crayfish, and other invertebrates. Channel catfish are most active just before sunrise and sunset.
Channel catfish begin spawning when water temperatures reach 21°C (70°F). Unlike bullheads, channel catfish make nests by digging a tunnel under logs or in other protected areas where the water is clear. They may also use preexisting tunnels like those from old muskrat burrows or undercut banks. The female channel catfish lays between 8,000 and 14,000 eggs in a thick mass, and the male guards the eggs and young.
The channel catfish is the largest catfish in New York and is a formidable sportfish. However, despite having good fighting qualities and being good to eat, there are few New York anglers who seek them out. Channel catfish are an important food fish in the United States, and the culture and sale of catfish fillets is becoming a major agriculture industry. The channel catfish’s unique ability to quickly turn food into flesh makes them perfect for this purpose, and catfish fillets are found in many New York State supermarkets.
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