Robert Hayman of West Lafayette, IN, holds a walking catfish he caught from Lake Rosalie in Florida.
At first, he didn’t know what he had caught. But from all indications, it was a walking catfish.
Paul Keeler, a fisherman friend from MIchigan rode up on his bike and said I should go down to the dock and look at a fish another friend, Robert Hayman had just caught.
“It looks like some kind of catfish. Maybe you can figure out what it is,” said Paul. “Robert is down there with it right now.”
I quickly retrieved my camera and headed for the boat ramp where Hayman, a retired postal worker from West Lafayette, IN, had been fishing.
When I arrived at the dock of the Harbor Resort and Marina on Lake Rosalie there was no Robert to be found, but I quickly located him. We walked to the dock where he pulled up a basket of fish.
In the basket, there were several catfish, plus a half dozen crappie, and a dark unusual looking fish. It seemed to have a catfish head, but the body was different, The body seemed more like that of an eel. The dorsal fins were different than the usual Indiana catfish. It certainly wasn’t a channel, flathead or a blue.
Several other Harbor winter residents and anglers had already viewed the less than handsome fish, and offered their opinions as to what it might be. One thought bowfin, then there was a guess of snakehead, another said it looked a bit like a mudfish, but wasn’t, and yet another suggested walking catfish.
Robert caught two other smaller versions of the fish, and all had been hooked on nightcrawlers.
I took a quick picture of Robert with his mystery fish. He had plans to head out for a round of golf.
I headed back to my little winter abode and downloaded the picture to the computer. Then I placed the picture on my blog as well as Facebook. I guessed it might well be a walking catfish, although I had never seen one. I figured some of my fishing or outdoor writer friends could help identify the fish. I also used Google to find photos of Florida catfish.
Quickly, it became apparent that I had just photographed my first walking catfish.
Walking catfish are native to Southeast Asia and apparently were illegally brought to south Florida in the early 1960’s for the purpose of aquaculture. It didn’t take long for the rascals to make their way to other ponds and eventually to lakes and streams in at least 20 southern counties of the sunshine state.
A major problem with the walking catfish is that it competes with more desirable fish such as redear (shellcrackers), bluegill and bass, and it loves to feed on the eggs of the game fish.
Walking catfish are found in lakes and rivers, but seem to thrive in muddy ponds and ditches where other fish can not, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
The catfish are gray or gray-brown in color and have small eyes, which can appear to be red. The head looks much like other catfish, but the tail section is different. It appears to be a bit more flexible and the dorsal fins are different.
Walking catfish can breathe out of the water as long as they remain wet, and they can take short jaunts using their pectoral fins to keep them upright as they wiggle their way to another location.
They have been known to reach 24 inches in length, but few exceed 14 inches in south Florida, according to the Natural History Museum.
One bit of good news is they don’t thrive well in cold water, so apparently we don’t have to worry about them in Indiana.
In Southeast Asia, the fish are often sold by street food vendors. Robert was adventurous and gave his fish a taste test, but said a taste was enough. “It was very strong,” was his evaluation.