Channel Catfish vs Flathead Catfish: What’s The Difference?

As a Certified Health Coach many people ask me about seafood including catfish. Flathead and channel are two types very similar. This causes people to ask about their differences. Therefore, what is the difference between a flathead catfish and a channel catfish?

Flathead catfish and channel catfish are different species and genus although from the same family. Channel catfish is the I. punctatus species and the flathead catfish is the P. olivaris species. Flathead catfish weigh more and grow longer than the channel catfish.

This article will compare their tastes, textures, costs, mercury levels and whether one can substitute for the other in recipes. In addition, I’ll compare their nutrients, habitats and appearances.

In addition to coaching clients about them, I’ve purchased, researched and consumed both prior to, during and after writing this article.

Channel Catfish vs Flathead Catfish: Habitats, Size, Weight and Appearance

Many times different species of the same type of fish are difficult to tell apart. This can cause an issue when fishing, shopping or just out of curiosity. Many times this is true with catfish.

Let’s examine how to tell these two catfish apart from each other.

To tell the difference between a channel catfish and a flathead catfish check their tail fins and jaws. Channel catfish have a deeply forked tail fin while the flathead catfish’s tail fin is slightly notched and unforked. The channel cat upper jaw protrudes while the flathead’s lower jaw protrudes.

Addition ways to tell the difference:

  • Flatheads have a mottled brown to yellowish body color and creamy belly. Channel have a grayish body color with a white belly.
  • Channels have a longer anal fin with 24 to 29 soft rays. Flathead’s shorter anal fin has approximately 12 soft rays.
  • Younger channel cats have small dark spots which fade as an adult. Flathead don’t have any small dark spots, just large dark blotches.
  • The head of a flathead cat is broader and flatter than a channel.

Scientific Classifications, Families and Species

Channels are from:

  • Family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Ictalurus
  • Species: I. punctatus
  • Common nicknames: Channel cats, cats.

Flatheads are from:

  • Family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Pylodictis
  • Species: P. olivaris
  • Common nicknames: Mudcat, Shovelhead cat, yellow cat, Mississippi cat, pied cat.

Habitats and Fishing

Channel Catfish

  • Channels are native to lower Canada, eastern and northern United States and parts of northern Mexico.
  • When fishing you can find them in rivers, reservoirs, lakes and ponds.
Flathead Catfish
  • Flatheads are native to lower Canada, The United States and northeastern Mexico. They range from The Great Lakes, west of the Appalachian Mountains, south to the Gulf of Mexico and west to Texas.
  • When fishing you can find in lakes, ponds, rivers and in some brackish water inlets.

For your safety, always check with your State website or visitor center because many natural areas are protected and limited to conserve their natural resources.  Some of them opens only during certain seasons. Many of the regulations are similar to hunting.

Be sure to check out your State park’s education programs to learn about these regulations and more.

A few of these locations double as a history center. The American Catfish Association Advisory Council is a great website to visit. They are an advisory committee serving as an oversight for what is best for the sport of catfishing.

Fun Fact: In August of 2022, while fishing on the Mississippi River near Natchez, a 104 pound blue catfish was hauled up on a trotline. Earlier in the year a 131-pound blue was caught using a rod and reel. Both were near Natchez.



  • Channels have a darkened, olive brown to grayish upper body with a light, silvery, white belly.
  • Flatheads have a brown-yellowish body mottled with brown or black. The belly is pale white to creamy.

Spawning male channel catfish turns more bluish which may confuse some people thinking it’s a blue catfish. When this occurs, check their anal fins.

Dorsal Fins

  • Channels have one dorsal fin.
  • Flatheads have one dorsal fin.

Anal Fins

  • Channels have one anal fin with 24 to 29 soft rays. The edge of the anal fin is slightly rounded.
  • Flatheads have one anal fin with about 12 soft rays. The edge of the anal fin is rounded.

Tail Fin

  • Channels have a forked tail fin.
  • Flatheads have a slightly notched tail fin.


  • Channels have a wide mouth with the jaws meeting before the eye line. The upper jaw protrudes more than the lower jaw. Their mouth has four pairs of barbels or whiskers around the mouth.
  • Flatheads have a wide mouth with their jaws meeting before the eye line. The lower jaw protrudes more than the upper jaw. Their mouth has four pairs of barbels or whiskers around the mouth.


  • Channels have soft skin with no scales.
  • Flatheads have soft skin with no scales.
This video explains how to tell the difference between a Channel and Flathead catfish.

Size and Weight

  • Channel average 22 inches long and 30 pounds but can grow up to 50 pounds.
  • Typically, Flathead are larger fish and average 24 to 46 inches long but can grow up to 60 inches and weigh more than 100 pounds.


  • Channel average lifespan is 14 to 16 years.
  • Flathead average lifespan is 5 to 22 years.


Channel consumes the following:

  • Small fish
  • Frogs
  • Small crustaceans
  • Insects
  • Clams
  • Worms
  • Snails

Flathead consumes the following:

  • Blue crabs
  • Eels
  • Worms
  • Grayfish
  • Plants
  • Small crustaceans
  • Insects
  • Small fish

Species Resources ((Kansas Wildlife & Parks: Identification of Blue, Channel, and Flathead Catfish))1

Disclaimer: The Keto link and some others in this article are affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Catfish and other seafood are renowned for being a part of many diets like keto or heart healthy.

If you’re eating low-carb or want to give keto a try, many of my clients have followed this 28-Day Keto Challenge with great success. Visit their website and check it out.

Taste and Texture

Two reasons people choose to eat a certain catfish are their taste and texture. At the end of the day, who wants to add a nice fried fillet to their plate, unless they enjoy the taste? When comparing the two catfish, let’s examine which catfish taste the best.

Flathead and channel catfish have a similar mild to medium taste. Both catfish may taste slightly fishy or muddy depending on the type of water it came from. The textures of both are firm and less flakey than most white flesh fish. A farm raised catfish will taste milder.

Therefore, a catfish from cleaner water will taste better than one from muddier water.

Channel is good to eat due to its mild to sweet taste. A wild caught channel cat flavor will be more medium, slightly fishy or muddy. The texture is firm and moist if cooked properly.

Flathead have a mild to sweet flavor if farm raised or from clear water. If wild caught, the flavor may be muddy or fishy. The texture is moist and meaty if cooked properly.

To conduct original research, I polled clients, friends, family and readers and people from food groups I participate in. The following are the results from the poll of 42 people. I asked which catfish tastes better?

  • 54% preferred the taste of channel.
  • 40% preferred the taste of flathead.
  • 6% said they had no preference, or it depended where the fish was caught.

Keto Bread Tip: Great News! Did you know, you don’t have to give up your favorite bread, pizza or sandwiches to follow a 100% Keto diet. Find out more in the KetoBreads website by clicking here, Keto Breads.

Catfish dinner with fries.
Catfish dinner with fries


It’s not always possible to locate the type of fish called for in a recipe in the store. In addition, maybe you only caught one type of catfish or already only have one in the refrigerator.

Flathead and channel catfish can substitute for each other in recipes due to their similar mild to medium flavors. Both can be prepared using similar cooking methods due to their firm textures. Both catfish can be cooked by frying, grilling, baking, searing or broiling. 

Channel cat substitutes include the following:

  • Blue catfish
  • Flathead catfish
  • Bullhead
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Bass
  • Grouper
  • Northern pike

Flathead substitutes include the following:

  • Bullhead
  • Blue catfish
  • Channel catfish
  • Bass
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Northern pike
  • Grouper

Find out how blue catfish compared in my article here.

How To Cook Both Fish

Channel Catfish

Some people may find them a little muddy or fishy therefore the preparation is important. Some people soak the fish in milk or icy water, rinse the fillets and soak the fish again. Keep repeating this process until the water and the flesh of the fish become clearer.

Another way to remove the muddy taste is to remove the darker flesh from the middle of the fillets or right below the skin. It’s easy to trim away the darker strip although the fillets become smaller.

Popular ways to cook:

  • Deep frying
  • Frying
  • Searing
  • Baking
  • Broiling
  • Grilling

Flavor pairings:

  • Yellow cornmeal
  • Cajun
  • Creole seasoning
  • Chili powder
  • Smoked paprika
  • Dijon
  • Lemon
  • Garlic
  • Buttermilk
  • Yellow cornmeal

The following video explains how to make smoked catfish on the grill.

Flathead Catfish

If the catfish is muddy or fishy, there are two things you can do.

  1. Try soaking in milk or icy water over night. Rinse and soak again. This helps extract the dark, muddier flavor and blood from the flesh and makes it lighter.
  2. Trim away all the darker flesh from the middle of the fillet or directly under the skin. The darker meat has the muddier flavor.

Popular cooking methods:

  • Deep frying
  • Frying
  • Grilling
  • Searing
  • Baking
  • Broiling

Flavor pairings:

  • Yellow cornmeal
  • Cajun
  • Creole seasoning
  • Chili powder
  • Black pepper
  • Salt
  • Lemon pepper
  • Lemon
  • Mustard

Find out how bullhead compared in my comparison article here.


The prices for most fresh fish and fillets will vary depending on where they’re sold and how the fish are caught. Always check the label to see if it’s wild caught or farm-raised which affects the price. Therefore, let’s take a close look at the prices of each one.

Channel and flathead have a similar price per pound. Wild caught channel catfish price ranges from $18.99 to $29.30 per pound.

I conducted a search for the most popular websites selling fish online. Many of the businesses sold catfish but didn’t specify what type. The following are the prices I was able to find in my search.

I checked online at Amazon and found the following:

  • Catfish fillets (didn’t specify which type)
    • $34.56 per pound

Check out Amazon’s current prices and selection of any other seafood, Fresh Seafood.

I checked Fulton Fish Market online:

  • Wild Channel fillets
    • $29.30 per pound

I checked Citarella online:

  • Catfish fillet (didn’t specify type)
    • $16.00 per pound

I checked FreshDirect online:

  • Farm raised Catfish fillets (didn’t specify the type)
    • $12.99 per pound

I checked Cast Away Lakes online:

  • Live flatheads
    • $3.50 per pound
  • Live blue catfish
    • $3.50 per pound
Kevin Garce checking prices of catfish and seafood in his local supermarket.
Checking prices of catfish and seafood in my local market

Mercury Levels

The FDA and EPA have issued suggestions and warnings regarding mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed2. This is especially important for:

  • Young infants
  • Developing children
  • Pregnant women

They established a list of the following:

  • Best fish
  • Good choices
  • Fish to avoid

Let’s examine the level of one catfish compared to the other.

Flathead catfish and channel catfish have similar levels of mercury and are listed on the FDA’s best choices of fish regarding mercury levels. 

If you’re pregnant, breast feeding or has a young child, Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits.

Mercury warnings can change over time or affect only a particular area or state. Please check with your local EPA and FDA for the current recommendations3.

Find out how blue catfish compared in my article here.


The table below shows the nutrients contained in 4 ounces of each fish.

Nutrient Flathead Catfish, raw (4 Ounces) Channel Catfish, raw (4 Ounces)
Calories 130 108
Fat 3.1 g 3.2 g
Saturated Fat 1.1 g 0.8 g
Cholesterol 68 mg 66 mg
Protein 20 g 19 g
Sodium 55 mg 49 mg
Omega-3 0.57 g 0.53 g
B-6 0.3 mg 0.1 mg
B-12 1.9 mcg 2.5 mcg
Thiamin 0.19 mg 0.23 mg
Riboflavin 0.08 mg 0.08 mg
B5 0.4 mg 0.8 mg
Iron 0.3 mg 0.3 mg
Niacin 2.9 mg 2.1 mg
Folate 9.2 mcg 11.3 mcg
Potassium 508 mg 405 mg
Magnesium 37 mg 26 mg
Phosphorus 293 mg 237 mg
Calcium 25.3 mg 15.8 mg
Zinc 0.6 mg 0.5 mg
Selenium 17.2 mcg 14.2 mcg

Nutrient Sources45

Taking a look at the nutrients above, both catfish contain a good number of B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and minerals. The numbers for each are similar. Therefore, it’s difficult to say if one is better than the other.

Flathead catfish and channel catfish are both healthy and provide a similar amount of potassium, heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and selenium.

To find out how each of these nutrients is beneficial for health, keep reading the next section.

Find out how bullhead compared in my article, Bullhead Catfish vs Channel: What’s The Difference?

Health Benefits

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy in many ways, especially for the heart. They have been determined in scientific studies to help with the following:

  • Maintain healthy blood pressure.
  • Lowering bad cholesterol.
  • Increasing good cholesterol.
  • Lowering inflammation.
  • Keeping the arteries healthy and functioning properly.
  • Reducing triglycerides.
  • Regulating heart rhythms.

For this reason, omega-3s are sold as a supplement. They are extracted from the flesh of fatty fish like sardines, herring, salmon, anchovies, tuna and cod livers. The best way to obtain omega-3 is consuming fresh fish, low in mercury twice per week.

Two of the fatty acids, EPA and DHA, have been shown in studies to lower blood pressure and improve the function of blood vessels ((National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease)).

Other studies have shown them to reduce joint stiffness and pain in people with arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids have also increased the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Watch brown bullheads in their natural habitat.


It helps the body get rid of excess sodium reducing fluid build-up. These helps keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower ((American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure)).

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between high blood pressure and low potassium levels6.

The more potassium, the more sodium your body will lose. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water7.

B Vitamins

The B vitamins provided by both catfish include the following:

  1. B1 (thiamin)
  2. B2 (riboflavin)
  3. B3 (niacin)
  4. B5
  5. B6
  6. B9 (folate)
  7. B12

B vitamins help support the following:

  • Energy levels.
  • Nerve function.
  • Digestion.
  • Red blood cells.
  • Brain function.
  • Cardiovascular disease.


Selenium is a nutrient provided which doesn’t receive much attention. Many scientific studies8 show selenium may help to protect the following:

  • Thyroid
  • Heart disease
  • The immune system
  • Cognitive issues


The phosphorus has been shown in scientific studies to help with the following:

  • Muscle contraction.
  • Muscle recovery.
  • Help the body store and manage energy.
  • Promote bone and teeth strength.
  • Promote healthy nerve conduction.
  • Help the kidneys remove waste.


The magnesium provided helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. A recent study researched previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure9.

Magnesium helps control the following:

  • Muscle
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar
  • Insomnia
  • Nerve function

One reason many people supplement with magnesium in the evening is because it helps calm the whole body including blood vessels.

In the heart and muscles, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat ((National Institutes of Health: Magnesium)).

Catfish dinner.
Catfish dinner


Calcium is important for the heart and blood pressure. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure by helping in the controlling of the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels10.

Calcium also helps the following:

  • Improve nerve function.
  • Build and maintain strong bones.
  • Helps muscles function properly.


Will flathead catfish eat channel catfish?

Flathead catfish prefers live prey and will eat small fish including channel catfish. Channel catfish will feed on other smaller catfish, fish, worms, insects and crustaceans.

How can you tell how old a flathead catfish is?

The maximum recorded lifespan  of a flathead catfish is 24 years. A mature male flathead catfish is 6.3 inches long at 4 years of age. A mature female flathead catfish is 7.1 inches long at 5 years of age. Therefore, a 50 lb, 70 lb or 48 inches or longer flathead catfish is between 5 and 24 years old.

Read Next: More Catfish vs Fish Articles!

Bass vs Catfish – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare

  1. Chesapeake Bay Program: Flathead Catfish []
  2. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish []
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake []
  4. USDA: Fish, catfish, channel, farmed, raw []
  5. USDA: Catfish []
  6. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure []
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach []
  8. National Institutes of Health: Selenium []
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis []
  10. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure []

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