How Long Can a Catfish Live Out of Water

How Long Can A Catfish Live Out Of Water?

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When it comes to fish, catfish are definitely some of the more unique ones out there, and it’s not just because of their appearance, but also because they have a very special ability, which is that they can breathe out of water, at least to a certain extent.

So, how long can catfish live out of water? Thanks to a special organ known as the known as suprabranchial organ, a catfish can live out of water for up to 15 or even 18 hours, but conditions do apply. Some catfish may not make it past an hour out of water, while others can last for nearly a day

channel catfish

Can Catfish Breathe Out Of Water?

The short answer to this question is that yes, technically speaking, catfish can breathe out of water. In fact, they are one of the very few fish species that have this ability.

The reason why a catfish can breathe out of the water is mainly due to a special organ known as a suprabranchial organ, but there is also more to it than that.

A Lung-Like Organ

This is a fairly large organ with a paired chamber and many branches located above the arches of the gills. This organ is more or less like a pair of lungs, like our lungs that we used to breathe oxygen from the air.

It’s not quite as effective as our lungs, but it does work well enough to allow a catfish to breathe out of the water for quite some time, which is very convenient because catfish are often faced with droughts that force them to move over land in search of more water, or even to stay in muddy conditions for a long period.

That said, even if the catfish remains wet, this organ can only do so much, and it won’t be able to take in enough oxygen to survive for more than 24 hours at the very most.

Oxygen Absorption via the Skin

In fact, catfish are some of the most special fish out there, and it’s because that special organ we just talked about is not the only way that catfish can breathe out of water.

 Catfish have permeable skin that can absorb oxygen, a great trait to have indeed. In times of drought, catfish can bury themselves in wet mud and absorb oxygen through the skin, allowing them to stay alive for up to a full year.

However, if that mud dries out, the catfish is done for.

The reason for this is because catfish, although they can absorb oxygen on dry land, their skin needs to stay wet.

If a catfish dries out, their skin won’t be able to absorb oxygen, and that special organ will stop functioning too.

Therefore, if you take a catfish out of water and just plop it onto dry land, it won’t last for more than an hour.

Where Do Catfish Go During A Drought?

As mentioned before, catfish live in areas where they are often faced with drought. Now, other fish would just go belly-up and call it a day, but not a catfish.

When there is a drought, a catfish will do everything it can to find a better area with more water and moisture.

Although the going is very slow and painful, catfish can make their way across dry land. Of course, it’s more of a flip-flopping motion, not walking, but forward movement is possible nonetheless.

As long as the catfish stays reasonably wet, it can continue moving over land for quite some time, until it finds a better and wetter area that it can actually survive in for a long period of time.

When there is a drought, the first thing a catfish will do is to go search for another body of water that it can live in. If this is not an option, catfish will find wet and deep mud in which they can immerse themselves.

As long as a catfish has wet mud surrounding it, it can survive for months on end. This will go on until the rains come back and that mud turns into muddy water, at which point catfish may leave in search of better waters to live in.

Best Practices For Catch And Releasing Catfish

If you plan on fishing for catfish catch and release style, there are some things that you can do to ensure that you are being safe and that you are being humane.

After all, being humane is definitely called for if you plan on releasing the fish back into the wild after having reeled it in. let’s go over some tips and rules you need to follow when catch and releasing catfish.

Use the Right Hook

First off, if you plan on releasing the fish after reeling it in, you should be using some sort of circle hook, as these are by far the easiest to remove from the mouth of a fish, while generally causing the least damage.

On that same note, it is preferable if you pinch the barb on the hook flat, because this will also allow for much easier hook removal.

Reel it in Quickly

Another rule for catch and release is that you need to reel the fish in as quickly as possible. The reason for this is because you don’t want to exhaust the fish before releasing it.

An exhausted fish may not be able to catch enough food to survive, and moreover, it may itself become food due to an inability to get away from predators.

On that same note, use medium or heavy fishing gear for this, not lightweight stuff. The lighter your rod and reel, the more time it’s going to take to reel the fish in.

Let The Fish Rest

To ensure that the fish has a bit of energy left, and to help it recover a little bit, keep the fish in the

Water right until you want to lift it up and take the hook off. Catfish should really not be out of water for any period of time, and therefore you need to leave the catfish in the water as long as possible.

Moreover, when you do go to handle the fish, make sure that you are wearing wet gloves. Don’t use bare hands and don’t use dry gloves. You need to ensure that the catfish stays wet.

If you plan on using a net, make sure that it is a soft net specially designed for catch and release, so as to not injure the fish.

A Hook Removal Tool

The other thing that you should do when engaging in catch and release is to get yourself a good hook removal tool.

There are many of them out there, all of which are designed for safe and easy hook removal, with the aim being to cause minimal stress and damage to the fish.

Best Practices For Catching For Cooking Catfish

On the other hand, if you want to take your catfish home and cook it for dinner, you can do that too. Here are some tips and rules to follow for catfish for cooking.

Catching, Transporting, & Killing

Ok, so to catch the catfish, use whatever lure, bait, hook, rod, and reel work best. Now, if you plan on taking the catfish home for eating, the first thing that you want to do is to use a good net to lift the fish up out of the water, that or wet gloves, but a net usually works better. Also, make sure to have that hook removal tool on hand.

Once the fish is caught and the hook has been removed, you have two choices. You can either put the catfish in a fish storage cooler with plenty of water, and then kill and clean it at home, or you can kill it right away, clean it onboard, and then put it on ice.

Personally, we recommend killing and cleaning it right away. The best way to kill a catfish without causing pain is to either use a blunt object to hit it right on the middle of the head, or you could chop its head clean off. We recommend hitting it with a blunt object.

Cleaning, Fileting & Cooking Catfish

Cleaning any fish is messy and smelly business, but it needs to be done. Follow the steps as outlined below to clean and filet your catfish.

  1. Catfish do not have scales and absolutely need to be skinned. Make a circular incision around the heat of the catfish, right behind the gills, that goes all the way around.
  2. Grab the tail of the catfish with one hand, making sure to have the spines between your fingers (those sharp spines can cause serious injury), grab the skin with the othher hand, right at the incision, and peel it off. It’s pretty much like peeling a banana.
  3. Make an incision along the stomach, from the tail to the head, and remove all of the entrails.
  4. Cut off the heat, tail, and fins, and then wash the fish thoroughly.
  5. You can now cut along the spine to make nice filets, making sure to separate the meat from the bones.
  6. Now you can cook your catfish any way you see fit, with deep frying being one of the best choices out there.



As you can see, catfish are some really cool and unique fish. There aren’t many others that can survive out of water for that long!

Just remember to be humane during all of your fishing trips, making sure to cause minimal pain and injury to any and every fish that you hook.