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!
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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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 :).
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?
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
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….
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
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.
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.
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
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 🙁
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
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! 🙂
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
I’ve have two 2′ catfish my koi pond. Can I release them into a nearby lake?
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
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.
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
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!
They are a great fish to have and experience!! Thanks for the feedback! Mike
My catfish are dying at the the age of 3 months I don’t know the reason need your help
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
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.
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
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.
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
We recently have completely emptied and redid our ponds. Over the last month we added more Koi to each ponds. Everything seems to be going well until we added some snails, tad poles and an Albino Cat Fish (1 in large pond only). We had purchased it on a Tuesday and by Friday noon he was find by evening we found him and 2 tad poles dead. We took back to pond place and replace them yesterday afternoon. He was very active and looking good this morning the catfish and a tad pole is dead. Everyone else is thriving well. My husband suspects it is because I used the Pondcare Microbial Algae Clean (which is to be safe for fish and plants.) I am not so sure. Any advise.
Hi Cristy. I hope the ponds are looking good! Sorry to hear about the catfish. I don’t think that your water treatment would have killed the catfish. But it is also hard for me to say why the catfish, both of them, would have died; generally they are really hardy! I am not surprised that tadpoles died. I look at tadpoles as very fragile creatures and kind of think for every 10 that are purchased about 4 or 5 will die…. 🙁 I don’t have a great answer regarding the catfish, but would check back with my supplier to see how their catfish are doing overall, it may not just be you who is losing the catfish. -Mike
Love this. I found it looking for turtle/koi/goldfish/cat compatibility. I have a large pond with koi, goldfish and 2 albino channel cats (or maybe more there should be 5). Currently the koi and big goldfish are as big as the cats at 10+ inches. This is my 5th pond and I have always had a huge problem with the goldfish breeding like mice and ending up with way too many fish. Not this year! Of course all my minnows have disappeared as well. I call them my crowd control cops! Like everything else in life, you get the good with the bad. Even the “cute” little plecostomus will get huge in a large pond but will also get lazy and start showing up at feeding time.
Hey Sarah. I find it funny, and a little annoying, that plecos will get as lazy as they do! Most of those type of fish are much more interested in algae when they are young and will often become more interested in taking the prepared foods we offer. -Mike
Hi Mike. Very well written & informative article. And, yep, you answered my question. I guess I won’t be wasting my money on koi! We live on the Arkansas River about 12 miles east of Canon City, Colorado, and have a 1/2 acre pond fed by a small creek that, during the summer, carries runoff from the community irrigation system, as well as some “unauthorized” manure tea from a dairy upstream from us. Several years ago I was thrilled to discover catfish cruising around in our pond. There seems to be 5 of them, about 18 inches long, and they’re most fun in the evening when they jump up for bugs (although they’re not much to look at, being about the same muddy brown as the bottom of the pond). I agree that they don’t do a thing to mitigate the algae problem, which we have to an excessive degree due to the dairy and the ag runoff. We work all summer removing the glop by raking and using an algaecide non-toxic to aquatic animal life (we have plenty of frogs, tads, crayfish, herons, kingfishers, a muskrat, nasty snapping turtles which we remove because they kill our ducks — and the 5 fat, happy catfish). I do have two questions: 1) Would grass-eating carp help with the algae and coexist w/the cats? And 2) Once in a while in the spring, we have a few small fish that I cannot identify from Web photos. They’re a nondescript light grayish tan with a pale peach fin (can’t remember which fin it is, but the peach color is key), about 4 to 5 inches long, and swim near the stones along the pond banks. They don’t look like pictures of cat fingerlings and I suspect the cats eat them because they disappear as spring progresses and the cat population stays the same. Any ideas?
Hi Barbara. I’m happy you enjoyed the article. Grass carp can certainly help reduce algae growth and will get long fine with catfish. It is hard for me to really say exactly what the other fish may be, sorry I can’t help much on that! -Mike
Hi Mike.I enjoyed reading your article,very informative.About 6 years ago I purchased a Chanel cat from a local pond store,it was about 6 inches.Like most uninformed hobbyists I thought it would keep my 2200 gallon pond clean.Well,he grew to 3ft and weighed almost 25 pounds!!Finally I found a local pond guy to come out and take him from my pond,as they had a big pond at their nursery!He looked big in the water,but when he was taken out,I was shocked at how HUGE he was!Im sure he’s happy in his new pond!Heres my question…How is it possible that one catfish..no other in my pond,can produce offspring?I have several,the one has grown to about 4 inches,and several smaller ones,and I’m sure others I can’t see’!Aside from the big guy I just got rid of,there are only koi in my pond.I noticed them one night 2 years ago,hiding in the rocks at the edge of the pond,they were so tiny,I’m assuming just hatched.Do catfish not need another to reproduce?This is crazy to me,I started out with one…and now who knows how many!Maybe this is common,what can you tell me?Thanks…Christine
Hey Christine, I’m glad you enjoyed the blog post! I have to say that I am not aware of catfish being able to reproduce a-sexually, but I do know that some fish (and other animals) can carry fertilized eggs for a very long period of time; which may (or may not) be the case for catfish. I honestly don’t know the answer to that but would be very interested to know if this is the case. Whatever the case, congrats on the babies!! Keep in touch. -Mike
Hello. Thank you for this information. I have two channel cats and they are amongst the most eager and dominant fish in my pond. I live in Kansas City, Mo. I am wondering if I should move the two inside for the winter. I have seen pictures of these being caught with snow on the ground… Missouri being one of it’s natural habitats, it makes sense to me to keep them out during the winter along with a floating water heater and aerator. Your comments and suggestions will be appreciated.
Hey Dustin, sounds like you are enjoying your catfish! They are tons of fun to keep. If your pond is more than 2 feet deep I think you should be able to winter your catfish outdoors without much worry. Good luck! -Mike
I put a blue catfish in my pond the fish about 10 inches long..I haven’t seen it since I put the fish in 2 days ago with the koi..I don’ t think it died but can’t find ut
Hello Diane. Fish, catfish can hide very well in ponds and often will spend many days of more hiding out before they become comfortable enough for open swimming, so give it time. Catfish also tend to be nocturnal and more active at night. -Mike
I have what I believe is a channel catfish in my pond. I put the cat in back in July and it is the only fish in the pond and is about 5″ long now. I have notice he/she is definitely slowing down as it gets colder out. The water temp as I type this is 51 degrees at the surface. The pond is about 18″deep and roughly 3′ x 4′ in size. I have a stock tank heater for the winter, but have not put it in yet. How cold of water can they tolerate?
Hi Bob, channel cats can handle low water temps pretty comfortably down to about 40F. They will not eat at lower temps though. Yes, I would add the tank heater for the winter to avoid issues in case of extreme weather. Good luck! Mike
We had a catfish in our 5000+ gallon pond. He did great for many years with the koi and goldfish, growing to at least 24 inches. He ate a lot of food, but no one else seemed to suffer. I do believe we had fewer baby fish, but that was actually a good thing. However, we lost him just as the spring weather was starting recently. No idea why, everyone else seems fine. The only odd thing is that about the same time last year, we also lost one of our established koi. Water quality was very, very low on salt last year, but I haven’t retested yet this year. Seems like we need to add salt every year. Can this be a problem?
Hello Theresa. I don’t see adding salt being a problem if done in the correct quantities! Good luck. Mike
Hi Mike! Great blog with useful information. We have about 150 catfish (not sure if its channel) solely for fishing in our pond. They’re doing fine but i’d like to have some acquayic plants too. Can i plant lotus? Are catfish and lotus compatible? Thanks in advance.
Hello Sangi. Yes you could do lotus without any issue! Enjoy. -Mike
Hi Mike! Great blog with useful information. We have about 150 black catfish (not sure if they’re channel) solely for hunting. I’d like to add some acquatic plants too. Can i plant lotus in my pond? Are catfish and lotus compatible? Thanks in advance.
Hello Mike, I have a 60,000 gallon pond which is aerated with bottom bubble units which can be for a 1 acre pond according to manufacturer lit. Also, have a top koi pond 850/hour 4inch outlet top splash aerator pump. The water depth is about 12/feet in middle with about 45 degree slope to a ledge at 4ft deep when pond is full, its a dug pond with seepage in summer and I am replemishing water with city low chlorinated water from a cascade lake water supply. I have an automatic fill valve on a hose and will keep pond filled after this winter. The water temp. this summer was 70 degrees the driest and hottest summer in many years the bottm in cold my guess is 50-55 degree, the water is turbid now from blue clay and will not clear, I think to much aeration, I do not mind the cloudy water, on edge of pond the water is much less turbid. In winter oct – april natural runoff water will keep pond full from unpolluted surface area from my 10 tree covered acres, plenty of buffer from a gravel private road, I will keep pond full with city water with addition in summer from city to make up for seepage. The trout I had 20 years ago survived the summer with water only up to the 4ft depth ledge, I had 50 trout 1-5 pounders I have 3 surface drains for this 60×40 dammed slope pond and I lost all trout in the dark of the stormy rainy Northwest Winter, because of a hole breach in the dam. I was discouraged and stopped use of pond for 10 or so years. So, I wanted a new start and I put in 5 fingerling 6 inch rainbow trout and 12 (4) inch in the pond in May and I just put in 20 4 inch blue cats ghey are doing well from seeing scattered slow feeding on surface I will only feed small amounts of the Purina game fish food now that surface water at 57 degrees today. I just found your article tonight on cats in koi pond which prompted me to contact you. Any suggestions on my situation will be much appreciated. Oh yes, I know I will be feeding these fish until I decide to fish them out. Thanks for your help. Sincerely HK
Hello Henry. It sounds like you are keeping things going pretty well! I’m interested to hear how the trout do. Keep us all updated. Good luck -Mike
I just spoke to Mike, by phone, who was very knowledgeable and helpful on a skin condition my large albino channel catfish has, suggesting her diet is too protein heavy and to try more water changes.
I have 3 foot koi and a 2.5 foot catfish. It is much more aggressive than the koi but well fed so I’ve had no problem. I would not put a baby koi in there though.
Hello Bob! Thanks for reaching out, it was nice talking with you. I hope to hear some good news concerning your catfish down the road a bit! Good luck. -Mike
I have had a catfish in my pond for many years who has grown very large. He has always come to the top when I’m feeding the other fish and scoops up food. This spring, he has stopped eating altogether it seems. I bought some frozen raw shrimp and he has been eating those. Is it okay to feed him that, and how much…..how many times a day? Also, is that harmful to the quality of the pond water? I appreciate your responding.
Hello Tommy. Thanks for reaching out. I’m not sure why your catfish would have stopped eating it’s normal food, sorry to say. The shrimp are ok to give to it, but like you had suggested, I would be wary of water quality issues resulting from feeding meats to the pond. Meats tend to produce very high nutrient levels and drag down water quality. I would feed your catfish 1 – 2X daily, not more. -Mike
I took 3 fish from a lake 2 albino and 1 blue cat.
Next day the blue and 1 jumped the pond spillway and the other blue eyed albino is missing.
My pond is small has a fountain but just stopped chlorine a week ago the chlorine tests close to 0 ph is 8.7
Did something attack or did fish jump out from irritation or think water was on otherside?
Hello Terry. It’s hard to say why they jumped out, but I can say that it is not typical behavior. Good luck. -Mike
Hello Mike. Thanks for this article; it was very informational. When I get my channel catfish could I train him to eat tilapia out of my hand but still stay in harmony with my koi?
Hello Parker. That is an excellent question to which I really don’t know the answer!! I’ll be interested in your results. Best of luck! -Mike
I’ve read your article about catfish in ponds and so far I haven’t seen anything that would answer the question I have. I live in Georgia and have a catfish that I’ve had for 6 years, raised from birth. Recently he has stopped eating the shrimp pellets he has always eaten for years and will not eat anything else I have tried everything but he does eat calf liver ever so often. He is about a foot long and in a pond with just one other 6″ cat. Any ideas why he is not eating? Could it be that it is so hot here? Checked his water and it is not hot so not sure but it is not a very large pond. Any help would be greatly appreciated, thank you.
Hi Sandy and thanks for reaching out. There are numerous reasons why a catfish, or any fish, may break from their normal eating patterns. Without knowing more about your pond, etc. I would only be taking a wild guess which would not serve you very well. Temperature could possibly be an issue but again, very hard for me to say. Wish I could give more detailed answer! Good luck. -Mike
Mike, I was pondering if my garden pond water has to be moving in the winter for my catfish. We usually remove the pumps and use a heater to keep the surface open for our koi. Will the Still water hurt the catfish? The koi do fine this way. We live in PA. Any help with my question would be grateful. Thank you.
I only have a 50 gallon pond in our small back yard brought 4 fish 2 gold 1 blk, 1 bottom feeder catfish, did everything suppose to had done, have oxygen, filter,
Eased the fish in the temperature water, fed, them went to family 4hrs away came back next day catfish was at top for air, it was night so we’ll see in morning if he pass.
hi I have about 3 koi and a Plecostomus but still having problems with the filter filling and clogging too fast. Was told to look into catfish to cut back on waste. What do you recommend.
Hi Brian,thanks for commenting. Did you read the blog post? It tells you what I think!! Enjoy. -Mike