How To Catch, Clean, And Cook Catfish
You’ve just gotten home from a productive day on the water… now what?
Are you going to toss all those catfish off to your wife or girlfriend and let her have all the fun?
Or are you going to get down to business, get your catfish cleaned and filleted, thrown into some seasonings and onto a heat source?
That’s a trick question, we know who you are. You’re just like us. It’s time to get down to cleaning and serving up those tasty specimens you pulled from the depths and let your family and friends in on what they’ve been missing for so long — your famous catfish filets.
There’s 1,000 and 1 theories on the proper ways to catch, clean, and cook catfish, so we’re not about to bore you with all of them. What we will do, though, is let you in on what we’ve found to be the best.
Whether you’re planning your next trip and need to learn how to actually catch the cats, or you’re trying to save face and do something with the fish you’ve brought home, you’ll be tasting sweet bliss before you realize it.
Take some notes as you’re going through, print the page to take it with you, or pull it up next to your kitchen sink while you prep the filets, because we’ve got a handful of ways to serve those precious hunks of “river chicken” and leave your mouth watering for more.
First, you’ve gotta actually catch them. If you already have a mess of fish laying around, skip this part and head straight into “How to clean a catfish”.
How To Catch Catfish
Without getting too deep into how to actually catch the catfish (we’ve gone into great detail in our post on the “Best Catfishing Baits In 2019”) there are a few tricks that you’re going to want to keep in your toolbox if you’re hunting for “eatin’ fish”.
Think about it like this…
Large trophy fish, while fun to fight and put in a cast net, aren’t all that tasty to eat. They’ve been around the block and sunk in the mud for more than a few years — and catfish are notorious for taking on the flavors in the world around them.
In other words, big fish either taste like urine, mud, or whatever algae and basement-dwelling subspecies are living in the waters around them.
That means, for anglers like you wanting to serve up some lunch or dinner, you’re going to want to focus in on the smaller fish.
Those cats in the 12” to 18” range are perfect size for filleting, haven’t been around long enough to take on the flavor of the water, and are a lot more eager to take your bait than the bigger trophy fish that have gotten caught a few times before.
Now that you know trophy fish aren’t what you need to chase, here’s a few tips on loading up your cooler with smaller, more edible-sized catfish. The perfect sized filets.
#1 – Match the fish’s hatch.
Even though most people hear “match the hatch” and attribute it to fly fishing, based on which bugs are hatching during specific times of the year, catfishing anglers see things a bit different.
“Match the hatch” for a catfish means getting your bait downsized to the size of their lips and mouth. Big baits catch big fish, and, it goes without saying, smaller baits are better for catching the smaller fish that are easier to cook — and taste better.
To get more of these pan-sized catfish, you’re going to want to downsize your lines, hooks, baits, and scents.
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#2 – Avoid using live and cut baits.
If there’s one thing big fish love it’s a live bait, or a chunk cut off of what-used-to-be a live bait.
The natural scents and oils are going to attract bigger fish, so if you’re trying to load a cooler with the size you can actually put into a pan or on the grill (without taking the flavor of the water with you), we highly recommend staying away from live baits.
If you must use cut baits because it’s all the fish will eat, downsize the size and shape of the chunk you’re using to discourage bigger fish from taking it. They tend to think twice about risking their safety and security just to grab a small morsel off the bottom.
Little fish, though… those young fish, they have zero clue about what they’re doing and what they’re about to stick between their lips when they find your smaller offerings. To them it’s a full meal. To a trophy? It’s risking their life.
#3 – Dip more than one bait at a time.
Smaller-sized fish tend to stick together in schools. When a few move, they all move. That means, for you, getting them into a feeding frenzy is a lot easier than chasing down one large fish for the day.
If you want to stock your cooler and freezer you’re going to need to have multiple lines in the water at any given time. Running multiple lines drastically increases your chances of filling up and getting out, so you can actually enjoy tasting your catch.
When you’re chasing trophy catfish you typically want to babysit one line, fanning out and casting over a wider area so you can actually locate where the lunkers are hiding.
Smaller fish spend a lot more of their time moving around — either to avoid getting eaten by the bigger fish or to go find food the bigger fish won’t let them eat.
#4 – Attach your line alarms… and wait.
Running multiple lines can be the ultimate test of your patience. Keeping your eyes on each rod tip isn’t exactly easy, especially if the sun’s in the right spot on the horizon or you’re fishing at night. It’s times like these you need line alarms.
If you aren’t familiar, line alarms let you know when line’s being pulled from the reel (if you’ve set your line release properly) so you can spend more time managing the lines you have out instead of babysitting a single rod.
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#5 – Keep your catch fresh until it’s time to clean ‘em.
Sometimes the planets are going to align and you’re going to fill your cooler up before the sun rises for the day. Other times you’re going to be stuck on the bank or boat until the sun sets and the fish start using the cover of darkness to fill their bellies.
What you thought was going to be a 2-hour “catch a mess of catfish” trip could quickly turn into a 14-hour or 18-hour day. For times like those you need a high-quality cooler that can keep your ice frozen and catch from getting warm.
The biggest cause of catfish taking on funky flavors, smells, and that oh-so-dreaded slime is allowing them to warm up as the day goes on. Even though the meat may not necessarily be spoiled, a lot of people are turned off by a heavy fish flavor.
When you want to taste your seasonings and spices, keep your cooler packed with ice, bleed out the fish as you catch them, and keep them cold until you’re ready to filet them and toss them onto your heat source.
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How To Clean Catfish
There’s a hundred and one different ways to clean a catfish so rather than dive into each of them, we grabbed a video showing you what we think is the best way to get those fresh filets off your daily catch.
Take your time to make sure you’re getting past the bones without hitting any internals — one wrong move and the innards will toxify the meat, making it completely inedible and sending you to the hospital if you try!
How To Cook Catfish
Catfish is one of the most popular fish to eat, so it goes without saying that there’s 100+ different ways to cook the filets you take home.
We could go on for days helping you come up with the perfect concoction of seasonings and spices, methods for cooking the filets, and ways to serve them up… but we’re here to save you time and help you get dinner on the table quicker.
The two recipes below will have you feeling like a world-class chef in less than 30 minutes!
1. Pan Fried Catfish Filets
Pan frying catfish fillets is one of the most popular methods around the United States, and other countries have caught on — adopting the preparation to their own local species. It’s also one of the fastest and easiest ways to get those fillets onto your plate.
- 1 pound catfish fillets.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or margarine.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (more if fillets are dry)
- 1 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal or cornbread mix.
- 1 cup
- of corn flour.
- 1 cup of all-purpose flour.
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt.
- ½ teaspoon of cayenne or other pepper.
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper.
- 1 cup low-fat or reduced fat buttermilk.
- A few pinches of Sriracha for Southern heat.
How to prepare and cook:
- Combine all your dry ingredients into a mixing bowl, mixing thoroughly. Set aside until you’re ready to dress the fillets.
- In another small dish, mix the hot sauce and buttermilk combination to coat your fillets in, in preparation for covering with your dry mix.
- Heat an a skillet (cast iron preferred) over medium, adding butter and oil until the pan is fully coated.
- Dip your fillets into your buttermilk mix then dip them into the dry mix. Continue covering fillets with your dry mix until they’re completely covered in a thick batter.
- Add your fillets to the heated pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until the fillet is golden brown. Flip and repeat until both sides are the same golden color. If the fillets are cooking too quickly or too slowly, adjust the heat until you achieve a nice yellow shade.
- Remove from the pan once heated, place onto a bed of paper towels to absorb the excess butter and oil, and then serve with your favorite dipping sauce.
If the fillets come out dry and flakey, lower the heat the next time you prepare them. Likewise, if they come out golden brown on the outside but too moist (or even slimy) on the inside, consider raising the heat slightly.
2. Blackened Catfish Filets
Blackened catfish is a relatively new method for cooking but one that is quickly catching on. Restaurants around the United States (and some other countries) have adopted the recipe into their menu, giving
- 4 thin catfish fillets.
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine or butter.
- ½ cup blackening or Cajun seasoning mix.
- 1 tablespoon smoked or sweet paprika.
- 1 tablespoon freshly crushed black pepper.
- 1 tablespoon fresh dried onion powder.
- 1 teaspoon fresh garlic or garlic salt.
- 1 teaspoon dried and ground oregano.
- Small pinch of cayenne or red pepper.
- ¼ cup fresh herb leaves to taste.
- Bowl of freshly cut lemon wedges.
- Mix together your dry ingredients in a small bowl until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle salt onto fillets and then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil until lightly covered.
- Pre-heat cast iron or large skillet over high heat. The pan needs to be hotter than normal to obtain the “blackened” layer and lock in the flavors. You’ll want to turn on the fan and possibly open windows to overcome the smoke. It’s normal!
- Prepare your fillets by sprinkling even mixture of blackened seasoning over each. Add butter or margarine to skillet, ensuring entire pan is covered completely. Drop your fillets into the hot skillet, 2 minutes per side, flip and repeat for 2 more minutes. The goal is to form a crust of varying shades over the fillet. When they begin falling and flaking apart under pressure it’s time to take them out.
- Remove the fillets from heat and place them onto a serving dish. Sprinkle your fresh herb mixture over the top with a slice of lemon on the side.
Have a favorite recipe or catfish cleaning trick?
Ready to get on the water and load up your cooler? With the tips for catching a mess of juvenile catfish, cleaning them to stay away from the bones and get the perfect sized fillets, and a couple time-tested and proven-delicious recipes, what are you waiting for? Get on the water!