How Long Does it Take for Catfish To Mature?

By Matt Taylor  |  Species & Breeds

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Catfish, You've probably seen these fishes before. Their whisker-looking barbels make them look like a cat, hence their name. Catfish are also known for being very farm-friendly, but they take a relatively long time to mature compared to other freshwater fishes like tilapia, for example.

The maturation period varies greatly amid catfish variants. Some types of catfish may experience maturation processes that can last up to 7 years, while others take barely 2 years. Depending on the catfish species, the maturity rate may differ by gender as well.

To probe further on this topic, we'll be outlining some general aspects of catfish maturation, growth, and reproductive habits.

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What Factors May Influence Maturity Time for Catfish?

Temperature cycling and feeding conditions will definitely alter the catfish's growth and sexual maturation rate. There are also variations according to fish farming methods and the catfish variants in question.

With that said, catfish are generally more comfortable in warm waters. Still, they won't be able to withstand temperatures higher than 28-30°C. During the summer, they tend to migrate to higher regions to escape the heat and then move to lower regions during the winter.

It’s often been suggested that size has little to do with the hormonal activity of fish and their reproductive capability. However, it’s still definitely one indicator to know if gonadal maturation was reached and that they’re ready to “start a family,” so to speak.

In a recent study performed by the Catfish Genetics Research Unit in Mississippi (U.S.), it was determined that channel catfish would spawn in small numbers when raised in indoor tanks at constant temperatures, even with aggressive feeding. This means that the temperature cycles would still have to be maintained to boost puberty. However, these cycles could be compressed artificially to speed up the spawning process.

In the context of the study, the fish were bred for four months in a fairly large tank at a constant temperature of 26°C and then placed in three different habitats: Some remained in the same tank, others were placed in a pond, while the rest were shifted in a tank with a more generous food supply and a controlled environment. The tank’s environment was controlled with a temperature regulator that reduced the natural annual temperature cycle in half.

The catfish raised in the pond were least spawned and grew half the size of their tank-raised peers. Meanwhile, those that remained in the original tank were roughly the same size as those in the controlled environment tank but with very little spawning in comparison. The study ultimately showed that the early puberty of a catfish could be reached through artificial cycling and generous feeding.

Are All Catfish Mature at the Same Age?

The Blue catfish are one of the biggest catfish types in the United States and can take a whopping four to seven years to reach maturity in some places, with a size as big as 65” and a weight of 45 kg. They usually spawn in April through June in the southern part of the US.

The Flathead catfish come at a close second place in size. Their maturation period is usually longer in females, almost requiring a full seven years for them to produce their first spawn (males and females in Texas ordinarily become sexually mature at 5 years of age at most.) Their spawning season begins in late spring when the water temperature is optimal, to wit: Between 21 and 24°C.

Variation in maturity by gender is very common in catfish. Male African catfish, for example, have a maturation period of 18 to 24 months. Females reach maturity at a much shorter period of 8 to 9 months. However, their egg hatching capabilities are quite low initially.  

The Channel catfish take a relatively shorter time to reach puberty than flathead and blue catfish. In normal conditions, the process would take from three to six years, as they get to a length of twelve inches approximately.

They are likely to spawn at temperature ranges of 23-30°C within February and August, which could shorten depending on the location. The peak spawning season usually begins in late spring or early summer.

How Many Eggs do Catfish Lay?

On average, in controlled environments, mature catfish will have an average egg yield of around 3,000 to 4,000 per pound of bodyweight yearly. This is the reason many fish farmers let their fish grow exponentially. The typical catfish farm would generate growth through satiation feeding.

Flathead catfish is one of the least producing catfish in terms of eggs per pound of body weight, barely reaching 1,200 eggs per pound up to 100,000 eggs in total.

Egg production is increased artificially through hormones inducers in many farms. It is necessary for production in some cases, notably in an industrial aquaculture setting.

Most modern catfish farms are equipped with a hatchery that is supposed to emulate a catfish’s natural nesting environment. Understandably, these environments will vary depending on the spawning habits of a particular catfish species.

Catfish Spawning (Uncovered)

Amazingly, each type of catfish species has different characteristics. Many of the traits that some catfish are known for may not be present in the same way in all catfish species. For example, some are avid bottom feeders, while others can occasionally aim for the water surface in search of food.

In terms of spawning methods, it’s no different. For example, blue catfish will look for rocks or objects that are not easily dragged by the current to nest their eggs. Channel catfish will commonly find dark and remote areas, such as burrows and spots beneath piles of wood and rocks. Flatheads would turn to hollow logs and excavated caves in the clay banks.

Regardless, what all catfish have in common is that they nest and hatch their eggs in cavities and that the male is the one that prepares the nest site, guards it, and aerates it with its fins. A catfish’s egg hatches typically in 10 days or earlier, depending on the water temperature.

When Should Catfish Be Harvested?

Catfish should be ready to enter the seafood market in about 18 to 24 months when they are considered big enough to be harvested. The catfish harvesting process involves: choosing the right seine mesh size, dipping the seine into the deep water, grading according to the fish size, and loading and transportation to the processing plant.


One of the takeaways from this article is that each catfish species differs in reproductive behavior. Catfish breeders should pay special attention to these characteristics since any miscalculation could lead to losses in production and missed opportunities. Additionally, it is worth knowing that catfish farming is not challenging, but as anticipated in any farming activity, you should be patient to make the most out of your stock.

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