catfish in the pond

Probably the biggest misconception I see among pond owners is that introducing a catfish to the backyard pond or water garden will help keep your pond cleaner. With respect I’d like to burst the bubble on that school of thought. Catfish, although scavengers, will not do anything to actually help keep your koi pond water garden clean; and may actually have a greater impact on lowering the overall water quality of your pond than your traditional koi and goldfish will!

As a pond pro part of my job is to give advice that even I may not want to live by and that includes the advice I give about keeping catfish in your backyard koi pond or water garden installation. However; before I give my angle on catfish, we need to narrow down which type of catfish I am referring to. Most fishkeepers will be introduced to catfish via the aquarium hobby, and if that is the door you came in through then you know that there are many genus and species of “catfish”. Some of these catfish grow no bigger than an inch in length, while others can become behemoths capable of swallowing small animals!

When it comes to catfish in your backyard pond we are not really stocking either of those extremes, but typically the catfish that go into our ponds and water gardens can get very large, very quickly; sometimes up to 10lbs! In the wild the channel cat can get up to 40+ lbs. By far the most popular catfish that is sold by water garden and pond centers is the channel cat; so for this argument’s sake let’s pick on them.

The channel cat, Ictalurus punctatus, is most often sold to pond owners who have the belief that these fish will somehow keep our ponds cleaner and clearer by eating all the garbage, algae, and fish waste that occurs in the pond. Any experienced, honest pond fish reseller should tell you this will not be the case.

The channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, is a fish of “MOSTS”. Ictalurus punctatus is the MOST populous catfish species in North America, it is the MOST popular catfish in aquaculture practices, it is the MOST adaptable catfish living in habitats from clear to muddy waters and lakes to streams, and the MOST popular state fish being the official fish for Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Tennessee! It is the MOST popular catfish with U.S. anglers, and the MOST tasty delicious catfish. It is also the MOST popular catfish for ponds, and possibly the MOST misunderstood choice of pond fish on the market.

So let’s dish up the channel cat. The channel cat is an omnivore actually, which by default makes it a scavenger, but the channel cat is not a fish to depend on for housekeeping in your pond. In its natural settings the channel cat will eat “smelly” foods like decomposing fish, but also chow down on worms, crayfish, shrimp, other fish, lots of frogs, insects, larvae, seeds, and algae too. However; the channel cat will actually adapt very well to the feedings that you provide for your expensive koi and pond fish. They will very quickly become the primary consumer of your expensive fish food, easily muscling your koi out of the way at every feeding; and the channel cat can eat a lot! Channel cat in the pond equals skinny koi and high food bills. If the catfish is not satisfied with the feedings you provide it would not be surprising if smaller fish in your pond start to disappear. Blame the heron, but the catfish may not be so innocent either!golden channel catfish nj

Channel cats are also nocturnal, and become active at about the same time that most other pond and water garden fish are trying to settle down for the night. This may create a certain level of stress to the more desirable pond fish like koi and ornamental goldfish. The channel catfish is rarely bought for the purpose of adding beauty to the pond because they don’t have great coloring, typically grey or “gold”. They also hide most of the time only coming out for feedings.  And they will not create better water quality or reduce waste in your pond.

For those that are enthusiasts of the keeping the channel cat in the backyard pond or water garden there are many good points to this fish. The channel cat is very easy to keep, being able to handle a wide spectrum of water quality. They will take just about any prepared fish food, so don’t be shy about buying that 50 lb. bag of trout chow to keep up with their appetite. They are not expensive and widely available. Channel cats can be bought small and grow out quickly. They handle low water temperatures no problem, and they live a long time with 12 to 20 years a typical life span. When they are big enough they can actually be ridden around your pond like a dolphin. Well, maybe they can’t be ridden, but the other positive aspects of the channel cat still hold water.

Given the information you now have, you can decide whether keeping the channel catfish in your backyard pond is for you. General pond fish keeping hobbyists will love the channel cat for the many positive aspects they have. Those trying to keep a more controlled koi pond environment may want to think twice before buying these fish for their “housekeeping” reputation. Whichever the case, I am sure that the channel cat will be available to pond and water garden keepers for many years to come.

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Written by Mike Gannon

Mike Gannon

The LOVEYOURPOND Blog is written by Mike Gannon of Full Service Aquatics located in Summit, NJ. Mike is an award winning pond, water garden, and water feature builder. Always “In The Pursuit Of All Things Aquatic” Mike has been a lifelong hobbyist and providing professional services since 1995. Mike is the creator of The Pond Hunter video series seen on Youtube and has made several television appearances on Networks such as HGTV and the DIY Network. He also hosts the Pond Hunter Radio Broadcast, a show on everything aquatic, every other Wednesday at 8pm EST. You can see what else Mike is up to at the following sites:


    Comments Feed
  1. Albert Says:

    on November 27, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks for the reading and I hope people pay attention to what you wrote because it is so true. If they really want something to ride in their pond might I recommend a blue catfish :).

  2. Bob Showen Says:

    on June 23, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    This article matches my experience. Our 3 year old catfish began at 5″ length and now at 2 ft matches our 10 year old koi. It was very interesting a year ago, but now competes voraciously with our koi and goldfish. Who can I give this monster to?

  3. Mike Gannon Says:

    on July 1, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Hey Bob! yep another catfish story! They are great fish and I even think a pond full of just catfish would be awesome, but keeping them with koi is not a great mix, in my opinion. I would contact a local aquarium store or aquarium services provider to see if they would be interested in them. They will usually have a much better chance of finding a home than an individual will. However, it is not likely they will buy the catfish so I’d just see if they will take it! Thanks again, Mike

  4. Linda Says:

    on July 16, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Not sure I agree with this article 100% – we had 2 20++pound albino catfish in our pond for over 20 years (unfortunately, this was a loooong cold winter in NJ and we lost all of our fish – which included about 2 dozen koi and our surviving catfish). We also had 2 smaller albino cats for almost 2 years and they would come up with the koi at feeding time (they actually looked like whale sharks the way they skimmed the food off the surface, but there was always plenty of food for the Koi). What we have noticed this year, now that we restocked our pond with 7 older Koi, 3 younger ones, and we’ve noticed 3 babies who were born in the pond this spring – that we have an overabundance of algae, which we NEVER had when we had catfish. We are looking for 1 or 2 albino cats to put in our pond to help alleviate this issue, but our locals guys are out-of-stock. Hopefully, we don’t have any issues like stated in your article – we never any problems before….

  5. Mike Gannon Says:

    on July 18, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    Hi Linda, I’m glad that catfish have worked out well for you in your pond. I don’t even agree with my article 100% because there are always exceptional situations, but I still would not purchase a catfish for the reason of cleaning a pond or controlling algae. I do know that they can live with fish that typically they would eat also, this is a behavior alot of captive predators exhibit. But the potential for that day to arrive when their tank or pond mate becomes lunch is always there, although maybe it never happens. There is nothing 100% about fish behavior, but I do try to present some very likely scenarios that people should be aware of when keeping catfish. And don’t get me wrong I LOVE catfish, and think a catfish pond can be alot of fun too. -Mike

  6. Tom Gray Says:

    on August 3, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    I bought two channel catfish three years ago from a pet store. They were a couple of inches long when I got them and put them in my backyard pond along with existing six Koi and five gold fish of assorted sizes. At first the cats were very shy and would not surface to eat. Now they have adapted and swim around like the other fish and have grown to over a foot in length. Yes, they do compete with the other fish for Koi food but it has not caused any problem. I spread the food out over the surface of the pond and all the fish get to eat. I agree the cats do not help keep the pond clean, however, they do not eat the other smaller fish, and other than producing waste (no more than the other fish of equal size), they do not cause any problems and seem to easily survive various water temperatures. They no not have the bright colors as the Koi, but nonetheless they are my pets and I enjoy them just as much as the other fish. Actually I enjoy watching them more to see how they continue to adapt to their environment. If by chance they get too large for the pond, then I will have to deal with that.

  7. Front Row Tickets Says:

    on September 15, 2014 at 4:49 am

    A friend of mine has a pond that has been established for many years. We fish that pond regularly. While largemouth bass seem to dominate, we occasionally get a really nice channel cat on the line. They put up a great fight! Largest we have caught in there was 13 pounds. But to add something to this forum that may be of use to the other people here, the catfish definitely are not improving the water quality of this pond. The big cats tend to churn up the bottom while foraging and the water is always murky. So don’t add cats to your decorative backyard pond looking for water quality improvement. That won’t happen.

  8. Mike Gannon Says:

    on September 23, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Thanks Nick for the great feedback on catfish! So are you a ticket broker? My wife is a ticket broker in NYC at Broadway Promotions, small world.. -Mike

  9. jamie ramos Says:

    on November 8, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    We bought 100 channel catfish as soon as we put them in the water ( after an adjustment time) all but maybe 30 of them died….I also put in bluegill…..the same thing the all died…..we rescued the remaining catfish and put them in our aquarium inside they did good for a few days then a few died….it is getting cold and a few more are dying i have a heater in my tank But they r still dying….. any advice…. I want to stock my pond for fishing and eating Purposes….but this is not seeming to work :-(

  10. Mike Gannon Says:

    on November 11, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Hey Jamie, I’m real sorry to hear that. I am inclined to think they needed more acclimation to the new pond conditions. When mass death occurs with fish it is typically die to environmental factors, like water conditions. I’d need alot more info to give you any feedback you could use, but again, I think it was an acclimation issue. -Mike

  11. Mark Hubbard Says:

    on December 8, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Loved reading your artcle. I am in the UK and have a Blagdon patio pond. I have a mix of goldfish with a 2 year old Channel Cat. It has grown from a weedy few inches to a foot now. I tend to feed it on Halibut (fishing) & other fish pellets and it has thrived on these.
    I know one day I will have to move it on but for now he is a real feature in my pond and successfully survived a recent house move. Nice fish! :)

  12. Mike Gannon Says:

    on December 9, 2014 at 12:25 am

    Hello Mark,
    I am glad to hear that your fish is doing well! I think they are amazing fish and seeing them grow is great fun. Enjoy your catfish and thanks for reading the blog! -Mike

  13. Jennifer Says:

    on December 14, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    I’ve have two 2′ catfish my koi pond. Can I release them into a nearby lake?

  14. Mike Gannon Says:

    on December 15, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    Hey Jennifer,
    those are some big catfish, nice! Definitely DO NOT release them into any local water ways, give them to a local aquarium shop, another pond owner, or pond center. Please do not release into the wild! Thanks, Mike

  15. Jonathan Says:

    on September 11, 2015 at 1:53 am

    I have 3 bullhead catfish and one hybrid bream/crappie in about a 350gallon outdoor pond, ive built a shelter to block sun but still have algae issues. What are some suggestions on stopping my algae problem for visibility reasons. I have filters and oxygen bar so not sure what to do.

  16. Mike Gannon Says:

    on January 29, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Hey. That’s alot of fish for 350 gallons! The only way to control algae if you want to keep those fish is to upgrade your filters, and/or the size of your pond. Mike

  17. Dee Says:

    on September 17, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    I also bought a cute 2in catfish 3 years ago. She is now 2ft long or more, super friendly and very personable. She comes right up to me and opens her mouth for a handful of food. If I ignore her she spits water at me. I’ve witnessed her and my dog biting each other, although the dog is very gentle. All other dogs are fascinated and terrified of her. She will come halfway out of the water to get them. Even though I have 3 large koi and other pond fish, she is the main attraction. She is a bully though! And they do not keep your pond clean!

  18. Mike Gannon Says:

    on January 29, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    They are a great fish to have and experience!! Thanks for the feedback! Mike

  19. Longnan Jacob Danboyi Says:

    on February 29, 2016 at 10:49 am

    My catfish are dying at the the age of 3 months I don’t know the reason need your help

  20. Mike Gannon Says:

    on February 29, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Hello Longan. So sorry to hear about your catfish dying. Can you tell me some more detail as to how they are dying so I can offer some feedback? There could be so many reasons that I’d only be taking guesses without more info. Thanks much. Mike Gannon

  21. Siluris Glanis Says:

    on March 17, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    Hi Mike, nice piece of information, your blog.
    A few years ago we bought a Silurus Glanis (albino)30cm big, in the store to get rid of an overpopulation of small fish. (The fish didn’t solve the problem but he grew a lot, and is now 65-70cm long. He wasn’t fed any fishfood, he had to hunt for his snacks.
    Recently we moved the fish to another (clear) pond because it’s a beautiful fish. This pond has some goldfish, koi and large sturgeon.
    My question being, will he learn to eat sinking sturgeon food or floating koifood, once he ran out of goldfish to eat?
    thanks for the reply.

  22. Mike Gannon Says:

    on March 21, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    Hello Siluris. I think your catfish will adapt very quickly to the prepared foods once his natural selection is used up. Catfish LOVE prepared foods and will happily eat lots of it! Good luck, and thank you for reaching out! -Mike

  23. Larry Says:

    on April 3, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    I do agree that channel cats will not help clean a pond. That said, I bought two channel cats, an albino and a blue and raised them from fingerlings to monsters with my existing large koi. Never had issues and lost them in a tragic accident when we lost the electricity to the pond aerators and pumps while I was out of town. Too many plants and results were death, I learned a very hard lesson that day. I now have one channel cat with the remaining large koi and a few that I bought as adults. Never any issues and he just cruises the top of the water scooping food and I would agree that it’s probably an expensive way to feed him but I do enjoy watching him. One thing to note is that I used to have issues with frogs and toads keeping me awake at night to the point that I would have to do two round-ups a summer to relocate some. I’m pretty sure it’s mostly snakes but I’m sure the cat gets his share of tadpoles and adults, either way the issue has gone away.

  24. Mike Gannon Says:

    on April 3, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    Thanks for the feedback Larry! I guess for those who want to keep frogs OUT of their ponds the channel cat may be a help!! -Mike

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