What you need to know about catfish barbs

The catfish is one of the oldest game fish still sought out today. There are different types of catfish with the most popular ones being the flathead, blue, bullhead and channel catfish. The blue cat is the largest followed by the flathead and these two can grow to some impressive sizes. This makes them quite a challenge and a lot of fun to catch. Catfish live in both freshwater and saltwater and you can find them just about everywhere you go fishing.
When most people think about catfish, they think about the spines or barbs. You may have even heard stories about how the catfish sting can be deadly but how true are these stories. There are actually many misconceptions surrounding the barbs of the catfish making it a very controversy topic. If you’re interested in catfish fishing, it’s important to know just how dangerous the catfish barbs really are.
A Little about Catfish Barbs
The barbs of the catfish stick out from around the mouth like cat whiskers and this is where its name comes from. They are long tactile organs and they are one of the most important features of the catfish. The barbs are covered with taste buds that alert the fish when it finds food so they used them to search the underwater environment for prey. This makes it easy for the catfish to find its food in murky waters and at night. These barbs are also responsible for the strong sense of smell the catfish has.
Being stuck by the barbs can be painful and it’s something that all anglers should try to avoid. They can go deep into the skin and possibly even all the way through your hand if it’s a big catfish. Many people are afraid of the barbs and the damage they can do but it may not be as bad as you thought.
What You Need to Know about Catfish Barbs
One of the biggest misconceptions about catfish barbs is that they are poisonous and you must rush to the hospital if you are stuck. There is a type of catfish found off the coast of Florida that is very poisonous and if you are stuck by this one, then you will most likely need to go to the hospital.
The area where you get stung will usually burn and swell very quickly. The pain will be very intense and you may even become sick. If you have an allergic reaction to the poison, then it could become serious and even life threaten. This is where the misconception that the barbs of the catfish can be deadly came from. However, that is the only catfish known to have enough poison to do any major damage unless you neglect to take care of the sting when you are stuck.
If you’re stung by one of the other types of catfish, it can still be very painful and if the wound is not properly treated, then it can become a serious problem. The area can become infected and if this happens, you’ll need to see a doctor right away. However, it’s the infection that causes the most problems, not the sting itself even though it can be very painful when it occurs.
How to Properly Care for a Catfish Barb Wound
Always carry a first aid kit with you when you go fishing even if you’re seeking out a different species. Just because you’re not fishing for catfish doesn’t mean one won’t take your bait and you’ll need to get it off your line. If barbs stick you, treat the wound immediately with antibiotics and wrap it to keep it clean.
When you get home, clean it again and rewrap. Keep a close eye on the wound to monitor how well it’s healing. It’s natural for it to hurt but the pain should be easing off as time goes by, not staying the same or getting worse. If you notice the area swelling, turning red or becoming tenderer, then it would be a good idea to see a doctor. This could mean that the wound is infected or you may be having an allergic reaction.
It’s important to know that the majority of wounds caused by the barbs of a catfish heel by themselves in a day or two. Even the deeper wounds will usually heel on their own as long as they cared for properly.
Using a few preventative measures will help you avoid being stuck by the barbs. The first thing that you need to do is learn how to hold the fish correctly. Place the ventral side of the catfish on the palm of the hand and place your fingers on both sides of the pectoral spines. Hold the fish firmly as you remove the hook.
If you’re careful and pay close attention when handling the catfish, you can usually avoid being stuck by the barbs. Wear gloves when handling the catfish and use a hook remover or a pair of pliers to make it easier to get the hook out. The less you handle the catfish, the less likely it will be that you’ll be stuck.


Dan Eggertsen is a fellow catfish fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on catfish fishing since 2004.

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