How To Grab & Handle Catfish Properly

Catfish spines are a part of their makeup. They store venom glands to release on predators, and they use them to feel around in the dark. The barbels provide them with a sense of taste and smell, allowing them to find food.

Though they seem painful and dangerous, catfish spines are not harmful to humans. We can hold them without fear of some kind of venomous response.

man holding catfish properly

The Right Hand Placement Method

Locating The Fin Spines

It’s critical to understand exactly what you’re trying to avoid before you start grabbing blindly.

All catfish species have tiny, sharp spines emerging from the front edge of their dorsal fins (the one on the back) and pectoral fins (the ones just behind and to either side of the head). For this reason, you should avoid touching the front of the fins at all times.

These spines contain a small amount of non-lethal hemolytic toxin, which can stop blood from clotting correctly if the sharp tips break the skin and pierce it.

Contrary to popular belief, a catfish’s whiskers cannot “sting” you. They’re soft, flexible organs that help the cat fish find food and offer no danger to anglers.

Wrap Your Hand at the Catfish Backside

Wrap your hand around the back of the catfish’s head. Place the webbing between your thumb and forefinger on the rear edge of the dorsal fin.

Spines on a catfish extend when it is removed from the water. The dorsal fin spine may be used as a “backstop” by wedging your hand against it.

It’s generally safer to position your hand behind the spines rather than in front of them, since you’re less likely to slip and accidentally touch them. Take great care with your grip to avoid being stung, particularly if the fish is still alive.

Place Fingers on Either Pectoral Fins

Angle your hand so that your thumb and four other fingers are pointing toward the fish’s mouth. To avoid getting punctured by the spines on the front edge, ensure that your fingers are positioned just behind the fins.

If you can, grab the fish by its belly and put your fingers together for a more secure grasp.

Grab the Catfish from Underneath

Instead, grab the catfish from underneath. If you can’t reach behind your fish to grab it, try slightly changing your hand position.

Cover the fish’s belly with your palm this time and bring your thumb around so that it is a safe distance from the dorsal spine. After that, position your fingers behind the pectoral spines where they will not jab you.

Using your thumb and middle finger, pinch the pectoral fin on the other side of your hand between them for greater control.

Each pectoral fin has strong bones that make a good grip area for a medium-sized catfish that cannot be easily handled with one hand.


Why Do Catfish Have Whiskers?

catfish swimming near rocks

Barbels are the whiskers on a catfish’s face. They were given this name because they resembled real cat whiskers.

The barbels on a catfish are home to a variety of sense receptors. These specialized cells help cats detect smells and taste. They work similarly to taste buds.

The catfish use these barbels to taste food, allowing them to eat. Many catfish live in dark, murky environments. They thrive in excavated pits and filthy water. The barbels assist the catfish in discovering nourishment when they can’t see what they’re hunting for.

The barbels are rubbery skin appendages that can’t hurt you in any way. There’s no need to be concerned about them.


Catfish Venomous Spine – Are They Dangerous or Poisonous?

catfish on wooden plank

Many species of catfish are poisonous, and it may come as a surprise.

The whiskers around a catfish’s mouth are simply sensory organs. They’re delicate and entirely safe to touch. They’re also equipped with long, sharp spines for getting down to business.

Catfish have venom glands located on the edges of their dorsal and pectoral fins, between which are sharp, bony spines. When a spine assaults a potential predator, the membrane surrounding the venom gland cells is punctured, releasing poison into the wound.

You’ve probably noticed that fish-eating predators, like sharks and turtles, swallow fish head first. That’s because, as a defensive strategy, fish will straighten their spiny fins to avoid being eaten from the tail.

When you catch a catfish, it thinks you’re going to eat it, and it extends its fins and locks them, shakes vigorously from side to side, and attempts to jab you with one of its pectoral spines.

If it scores a hit, the impact will inject toxic venom into the wound, causing searing agony and local inflammation.

However, disease may be lurking. According to Jeremy Wright, a wildlife biologist, the true risk is infection. This was verified by a survey of the medical literature, as well as other rare allergic responses to the venom; the deadly effects are all due to secondary infection.


What To Do If You’ve Been Stung

The slime that covers catfish has a bacterial population, and when this enters the wound, infection is a serious possibility. That isn’t to say that their venom isn’t harsh; if you have an allergy to it, anaphylaxis is a rare but dangerous condition.

Catfishermen used to rub their spine wounds on the fish’s belly, coating them in slime before antiseptics and painkillers were invented. It sounds quite insane, but it relieves pain almost instantly while also setting you up for a serious infection later on.

Instead, follow sound medical advice:

  • Review the injured person for respiratory problems and, if necessary, give CPR (if you’re licensed).
  • Do not apply catfish slime to the injury!
  • Remove any remaining spines with tweezers.
  • Wipe off the wound with a clean towel and water, then repeat.
  • Immerse the afflicted region in as hot a water as you can stand for around 30 minutes. The discomfort will go away instantly. The wound may be properly disinfected using epsom salts.
  • Do not cover the wound or tape it closed.
  • Tylenol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) can help with any persistent discomfort.
  • Seek your medical professional or doctor as soon as you can!

Final Thoughts on How to Properly Hold a Catfish

In conclusion, how to hold a catfish depends on how you want to treat the fish. If you plan on releasing it back into the water, go ahead and touch its whiskers. They’re absolutely harmless sensory organs! On the other hand, if you plan on cooking your catch, be sure not to handle the spines around its fins! Interested in increasing your odds with the right equipment? I recommend you check out our complete catfish rods guide.

large catfish swimming below