Raising Catfish in your own backyard has become an increasingly popular option for those looking for sustainable farming methods. Homesteading and farming your own fish is an attractive proposition if you’re looking to add to your homestead’s sustainability during any food crisis.
In a world where we see increasing food costs, decreasing natural food sources, and a decrease in food availability and variety, it’s encouraging to be able to provide your own high-quality protein on a predictable and reliable schedule despite food price increases and supply chain problems.
With the right practices and techniques, you can successfully produce delicious, healthy fish with minimal effort and cost.
Raising and growing catfish for food is a traditional and sustainable method of producing protein for a wide variety of cultures that have been practiced for centuries. Catfish are a type of freshwater fish that are relatively easy to care for and can be grown in a variety of environments, including ponds, tanks, and even swimming pools!
In this article, I’ll outline the basic steps required for farming catfish at home in your own aquaculture environment that can help you enjoy fresh seafood while helping sustain your household and even local economies.
Table of Contents
What Exactly is a Catfish?
Catfish are a diverse group of ray-finned fish found in freshwater environments around the world. There are more than 3,000 known species of catfish, which are known for their distinctive whisker-like barbels around their mouths, which they use to locate food.
Catfish are found in a wide range of habitats, including rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds. They are native to every continent except Antarctica and are particularly diverse in tropical regions.
Some catfish species are small and live in shallow, slow-moving waters, while others can grow to be quite large and inhabit deeper, faster-moving bodies of water. In general, catfish are bottom-dwelling fish and are often found in areas with soft, muddy bottoms.
They are opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of foods, including plants, insects, and other small animals.
Can You Raise Your Own Catfish?
Catfish can be raised in a backyard with a relatively low start-up cost and few barriers to entry. Raising catfish can be done in a tank, pond or pool either in your backyard or even in your home.
Catfish are one of the most adaptable species of fish in North America, and, while some care needs to be taken with regard to water quality and conditions, it won’t be nearly as precise and challenging as raising salmon or trout.
Catfish are hearty and can live comfortably under the ice for the Winter season as long as the pond has enough space under the ice to sustain oxygen levels and a basic ecosystem.
The more space catfish have under the ice (4 feet or more is good) the better the chance of survival and long-term health.
However, it’s important to note that catfish won’t grow and thrive well in water temperatures below 80ºF.
What Kind of Water Conditions Do Catfish Like?
Catfish are freshwater fish that have adapted to living in a variety of aquatic environments. They prefer slow-moving or still bodies of water (though Channel Catfish do like an obvious current), such as ponds, lakes, and reservoirs, and can tolerate a wide range of water conditions. In general, catfish prefer water that is warm (around 80°F or warmer), with a pH level of 6.5-8.5.
They also require a good supply of oxygen, which can be provided through aeration or the presence of aquatic plants. Catfish won’t survive in water that has a pH level of 11.0 or higher.
Ideally, catfish like slow-moving water with a sandy/muddy bottom though channel catfish inhabit large rivers with silt, sand, and mud as well as bottom cover.
Catfish are tolerant of high levels of nutrients and organic matter in the water, but regular monitoring and maintenance of water quality are still important to ensure the health and well-being of the fish.
This may include testing pH, temperature, and ammonia levels, as well as removing excess nutrients through the use of filters or other methods.
In addition to the water quality, it is also important to provide catfish with a suitable habitat that includes places to hide and shelter, such as logs or rocks, as well as aquatic plants for cover and food.
Very often, catfish are found in farm ponds with murky, brown water where they thrive quite well as long as other factors are present like an oxygenation source, acceptable pH level, and proper temperature.
Can You Raise Catfish in a Pond?
Catfish can be raised in a pond quite successfully as long as water quality, quantity, depth and conditions are provided and maintained to the recommended specifications for catfish. In fact, raising catfish in a pond (rather than a swimming pool or aquarium) is the preferred and most successful method of growing catfish.
While sizes and depths can vary according to specific conditions, here is a good starting point for how to make your own catfish pond:
While depth is not as crucial for catfish as it is with salmon or trout, the deeper you make your pond, the less likely you are to lose carp in a dry season as the water level declines.
If you live in a Northern climate that freezes in the Winter, the depth of your pond should be at least 8 feet if not a few feet deeper. Even in warmer climates, the deeper the pond, the easier it is for the larger catfish to hide. Remember, while catfish in the wild can grow to massive sizes of well over 100 lbs, most pond catfish won’t be much over 10 lbs if that.
The smaller and shallower the pond, the smaller and slower a catfish will typically grow.
As far as the area or dimensions of the pond are concerned, the larger the pond, the better. It’s not good to have such a small pond that fish can hardly move. A good suggested size would be that of a medium-sized swimming pool of around 450 feet as a surface area (approx. 15′ x 30′) and an average depth of 5-6 feet.
If you’re looking to raise catfish just to sustain your homestead, you’ll be able to get away with a pond that’s about a quarter of an acre and still grow a decent-sized fish. Ponds in the range of 1-5 acres are best, but not practical to create for homesteading if you don’t already have one on your property.
A smaller pond will give you the ability to control oxygen and temperature a bit more, but those factors will also fluctuate more in a smaller pond.
Aerators can be pumps, propellers or paddlewheels. Using one is likely necessary unless you have a fast-moving stream or waterfall in your pond. Water temperatures are best kept in the 81 – 87 degrees range, while ponds for spawning should be closer to 80ºF or a few degrees cooler.
To make your own pond, it’s best to have some knowledge about using a backhoe, digging procedures, and construction protocol.
You’ll have to contact the local authorities to find out if there are any restrictions to making a pond as well as any potential problems with pre-existing buried cables.
After you’ve dug the pond and finessed the shape and base, walls, etc. it’s best to line the dirt floor and walls with fine concrete. Mason’s concrete is a good example, but nearly any concrete will do.
As the next step, some suggest lining the concrete (especially if it’s roughly finished with stones and other rough protrusions) with landscape fabric. The fabric will be a barrier between the rough concrete surface and the next (and final) layer.
The final layer of your catfish pond will be a pond or tank liner to hold all the water efficiently.
Once you’ve completed the pond itself, you’ll need a way to add oxygen to the water since any fish species will require some level of dissolved oxygen in their water.
PRO TIP – When filling the pond with a hose, but sure to allow the water to gently enter the pond rather than blasting a concentrated flow in one place. The concentrated stream can damage the thin concrete layer under the liner.
You can let it gently seep in from a hose on the edge of the pond until there is enough water to shoot it directly onto the surface.
Can You Raise Catfish in a Swimming Pool?
Catfish can be raised in a non-chlorinated, swimming pool (dedicated only to fish) though it’s best only to use an above-ground pool for seasonal farming, or in a warmer climate (like Southern U.S.) rather than a permanent, four-season environment. In-ground pools that have a deep end of at least 8 feet are best.
In-ground pools are less affected by freezing conditions (than above-ground pools) and the water temperature will fluctuate less.
In-ground pools are often converted into aquaculture environments for catfish farming since the switch from family swimming pool to fish pool is a small one compared to making an in-ground fish pool from scratch.
A swimming pool will need a high-volume filter to accommodate catfish long-term, but it can and has been done successfully by many.
Ultimately, any swimming pool (or fish-raising pool) will work well if you offer 250 gallons (average) per adult catfish, provide some aeration and filtration, and provide some cover for the fish to hide.
Adding selected plants can be very beneficial as they can thrive on the waste of catfish while enhancing water quality through filtration.
Catfish can survive in a frozen pool, but only if there is 3-4 feet of open water underneath and they have a steady supply of food (which means you’ll need to break the ice and feed through the hole).
Can You Raise Catfish in a Fish Tank?
Catfish can be raised in an indoor aquarium, although it is important to consider their size and the space requirements of the specific species you are planning to keep. In a large 220/250-gallon tank, you may only be able to keep one or two large catfish until they are large enough for the table.
In general, it is important to provide catfish with a suitable habitat that includes places to hide and shelter, such as logs or rocks, as well as aquatic plants for cover and food.
It is also important to monitor and maintain the water quality to ensure the health and well-being of the fish. This may include testing pH, temperature, and ammonia levels, as well as removing excess nutrients through the use of filters or other methods.
Channel catfish are the best species to keep in your aquarium if you’re raising them for food. Small fingerlings can grow to nearly 2 feet in length in about 18 months and that may be a good time to process them for the table.
Here’s a well-featured 220-gallon fish tank you can have right next to your kitchen for the ultimate convenience in catfish-raising. It will hold one or two large catfish (suitable for several meals) along with a number of smaller fish.
What is the Best Species of Catfish to Raise
There are only a couple of different species of catfish that are commonly raised for human consumption worldwide. Channel catfish are the most common with Blue catfish also being popular. There is also a hybrid between the two species that is being raised in some areas.
Channel catfish are a hardy and adaptable species that are well-suited to life in a pond. They are native to every continent but Antarctica and can grow to be quite large, reaching up to 100 pounds in weight and over 4 feet in length.
The differences between Blue and Channel Catfish are not massive when considering which species to raise in your aquaculture environment. Both require the same environment, food, etc.
Technically, a channel catfish has less than 30 rays on its anal fin while the blue catfish has 30 – 35 rays.
Another difference would be overall coloring. A channel catfish is olive/brown in color while the blue catfish is greyish/blue.
Channel catfish are found throughout North America while blue catfish are more localized in the Southeastern U.S. and they prefer a slower current than channel catfish.
One of the biggest differences between the two is that blue catfish can grow significantly larger. The average size for a channel cat is 15-40 lbs while a blue catfish averages from 40-100 lbs.
Blue catfish are not caught nearly as often as channel catfish and anglers consider them more of a prize than the common channel catfish.
Can You Farm Catfish Anywhere?
Because catfish require very little maintenance compared to most other species, it’s possible to raise catfish in farm ponds throughout their natural range including much of Eastern North America.
The more important consideration is water quality and temperature. Warmer water brings a longer (and therefore, more efficient) growing season, though it is quite common for ice fishermen to catch catfish under the ice in Central and even Northern Canada.
Do I Need to Oxygenate a Catfish Pond, Pool, or Tank?
A catfish pool or pond will need to be oxygenated since all fish species require oxygen in the water for proper respiration. There are no natural sources of oxygen production in a tank or pool though there likely are in a natural pond.
There are many ways to oxygenate the water, but one of the nicest and easiest ways is to install an artificial waterfall that is fed by a water pump from the pool. One of the better pond pumps from Alpine is pictured below.
Other options for adding dissolved oxygen into pond water for your catfish would include air pumps, paddle wheels and floating fountains.
How Many Catfish Can I Raise in my Pool, Pond, or Tank?
As a general rule, it is recommended to allow 8 gallons of water for every 1 pound of fish for immature catfish. This will provide enough space for the fish to move freely and help prevent overcrowding and stress. However, for large, full-grown catfish, 15-20 gallons per pound would be a more appropriate volume of water.
The density of catfish in a pond, pool, or aquarium depends on the size of the body of water and the needs of the specific species of fish. It is important to provide enough space for the fish to move freely and to ensure that the water has a sufficient supply of oxygen to support their needs.
If you are keeping a smaller number of fish, or if you are keeping them in an indoor aquarium, you may need to adjust the space requirements accordingly.
What Do You Feed Catfish in a Pond?
Catfish are omnivorous, which means they will eat both plant and animal matter. In a farmed setting, catfish are often fed a commercial feed that is formulated to provide them with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive, though naturally available insects, worms, and algae are on the menu as well.
These feeds can contain a variety of ingredients, such as corn, wheat, soy, fishmeal, and fish oil. Some farmed catfish may also be fed supplemental feed in the form of fruits, vegetables, and other plant matter, depending on the specific farming operation and the preferences of the farmer.
Natural food for catfish includes insects, aquatic worms, mollusks, crustaceans, and aquatic seeds and vegetation.
I know from experience that some of the best catfish fishing baits include very aromatic baits like rotting seafood, herring, chicken organs, and smelly cheese. I also know that more normal foods like hot dogs work well, as do regular worms.
How Long Does it Take to Grow Catfish for Food?
From fingerling size, a catfish can reach sexual maturity in 2-3 years and reach a weight of well over 2 lbs. They will spawn every year of their life and the average life span for a channel catfish is 7 – 9 years in a pond. They will almost certainly grow significantly larger and they can live as long as 40 years and grow to over 100 lbs in very large lakes and rivers. Catfish can grow to around 20 inches in size in about 18 months.
A good average size to process for eating would be at least 4 lbs.
Will Catfish in a Pond Reproduce?
Catfish living in a pool or pond will eventually reproduce once they reach the age of about 2-3 years. Like most species, catfish will need shelter and cover on the pond floor to encourage spawning. For example, many catfish farmers will add milk crates, hollowed logs, pails, old tires, and even specialized spawning boxes as spawning locations.
Water temperatures between 74ºF and 79ºF are the most conducive to spawning activity.
NOTE: While many other fish species are known to eat their young, it’s known that catfish typically do not eat their own babies. That said, they are known to eat the young of other fish including other species of catfish.
Where Can I Buy Small Catfish to Raise?
There are numerous hatcheries throughout North America that will sell you catfish fingerlings. Generally, you can expect to pay $0.50 for every 3-5 inch catfish and $2 for a 7-9 inch long channel catfish.
It’s highly advisable to stock small fingerling catfish instead of trying to raise them from eggs in a controlled environment. This is often more complicated than it’s worth for a hobbyist.
It’s best to stock catfish fingerlings in ponds with no bass or other predatory fish. You can purchase larger ones to stock in ponds with relatively small bass so the bass will not eat the entire population of stocked catfish.
Key Takeaways – Raising Your Own Catfish at Home
While raising catfish in a pond or pool is not for everyone, it can be an exciting and rewarding way to produce fresh seafood at home. Here’s a quick summary of the steps needed to successfully create a great environment for raising catfish at home:
- Choose a suitable location for your catfish pond. The pond should be large enough to accommodate the number of fish you plan to raise and should have good water quality.
- Construct or prepare the pond. This may involve digging the pond, installing a liner, and setting up a filtration and aeration system.
- Stock the pond with fingerling catfish. These can be purchased from a hatchery or fish farm.
- Feed the catfish a commercial feed formulated for their nutritional needs. You can also supplement their diet with fruits, vegetables, and other plant matter.
- Monitor the water quality and temperature regularly, and take steps to maintain optimal conditions for the fish.
- Harvest the catfish when they reach a suitable size, usually when they are at least 3 pounds in weight.
Raising farmed catfish at home can be a rewarding and sustainable way to produce your own protein, but it does require some knowledge and effort to be successful.
Finally, it’s worth noting that a catfish can provide your family with lots of protein and it can do so for the lowest price of any farmed gamefish. Catfish fingerlings cost only a fraction of bass and trout fingerlings and give you a far better return on investment given that each fish is not only significantly lower in price to purchase, but also provides a bigger portion of meat than any other gamefish.