How Long Can A Catfish Live Out of Water? (Answered)

Some of us who actively angle for catfish have been at the point either at the beginning of catfish fishing or some point along the way where we have a stringer full of catfish.

Some of us just catch, photograph, and release and some of us enjoy taking home the correct sized catfish to prepare for a nice fish fry.

How long can a catfish live out of water?

Some catfish have been known to live 15-18 hours out of the water and some won’t make it even a few hours. However, in general, it is known that many catfish can make it several hours out of the water. In my experience, it’s always 1 hour or less.

Along the way, we have all had to learn the preparation and the little ins and outs about the catfish and what best practices are.

I’m sure everyone reading this has stumbled upon advice to end the catfish’s life in a certain manner or do something one way or another before prepping the catfish for dinner time.

In this post, I’ll also answer some other related questions that I know I had early on in the process and early into my catfishing hobby. To kick things off, let’s cover a few of the basics.

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Why do Fish Die Out of Water?

Fish die out of water because they suffocate. Fish don’t have the same abilities to pull oxygen directly into their lungs. When out of the water, they can no longer use their gills to suck in water which is how fish receive oxygen.

amateur angler holds the catfish

This is going to apply to catfish as well. Catfish will usually die within an hour or so of being out of the water.

I have seen circumstances where this can last longer depending on the circumstances.

How to Keep a Catfish Alive for Longer Periods of Time

I’ve heard of this method but haven’t used it. If the wife will allow, then go for it. Other anglers have discussed placing the catfish in the bathtub after catching to keep fresh until it’s time to prepare for cooking.

If you only add salt to the water during this time, you can essentially have the fish go through a cleansing and detox phase.

This may be a viable option for you if you are attempting to keep the catfish breathing for a longer stretch of time until it’s time to prep, clean and cook the fish.

Other Options for Keeping Catfish Alive

For all the boat fishermen, you can also use your live well. Live wells do however require a little maintenance if you’re using it often. It’s important the aeration system is functioning properly inside the live well.

In addition, it’s important to keep the live well clean. You can bleach the live well from time to time and allow it to sit overnight.

Adding ice to the live well can also prove helpful but it’s not 100 % necessary. The biggest thing to avoid when using ice in a live well is dropping the temperature too quickly. This can harm the fish and defeat the purpose altogether.

Some live wells will also come equipped with an oxygenator which can help keep fish alive for much longer periods of time by releasing a heavy amount of oxygen bubbles into the live well. If your boat doesn’t come equipped with this, it shouldn’t be all that expensive to add it.

How Else Can You Keep A Catfish Fresh For Cooking?

Use Ice. Make sure to always have a cooler ready with ice if you plan on catching catfish in the size range you plan on cooking. A nice cooler of ice will do plenty fine for keeping the fish fresh and also will make it to where the catfish can die in a humane manner without beating it with a hammer or by using some of the other methods, I’ve seen individuals do online or on YouTube.

fisherman caught large catfish

Considerations to Keeping Catfish Fresh Until Cooking

Another method you can try to preserve catfish after catching is to gut the fish. The blood left in catfish helps speed up bacteria growth and other factors that spoil your delicious catfish nuggets.

If you gut the fish quickly after catching, rinse out and place on ice, it will go a long way to ensuring you can have a better tasting catfish after cooking.

Do I Have to Put Catfish out of Its Misery to Prep It?

You do have to put catfish out of it’s misery before prepping it. The old school method of a sledgehammer is not necessary and pretty inhumane. It’s much easier to let the catfish die naturally on the ice and basically suffocate due to being out of the water.

You obviously don’t clean and begin the process of cooking, preparing or fileting the catfish while it’s alive but no need exists where you physically need to do anything to ensure the fish is dead before starting the process.

You should be able to keep the fish fresh and allow it to die in a calm manner and still have perfectly good catfish ready to clean, prepare and cook.

You have several options to ensuring you can keep your catfish fresh after the catch if you plan to clean it and cook it.

Altogether, catfish are going to expire fairly quickly once pulled from the water but using the live well, ice coolers and the bathtub method are all viable options to give a try if you need an extended period of time.

If You’re Not Cooking Catfish, Catch, Photograph and Release

If you don’t plan on cooking the catfish you have caught, you should plan on releasing before ever learning how long a catfish can live out of water anyways.

catfish just caught on a hook

My personal rule I like to follow is anything over 10lb, I release back. After 10lb’s or heavier is not nearly as good eating and usually worth the trouble of cleaning, preparing and cooking. The taste just gets to dull and the meat becomes tough.

Not to mention, I don’t want to ruin the fun for any future anglers. If you have no intentions of having that neighborhood fish fry, just get back them back into the water and on their way.

What methods have you used to keep your catfish fresh for longer after the catch? Have we left anything out? Be sure to drop a comment below. As always, thanks for reading.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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