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How Long Can Catfish Live Out of Water? (An Unbelievable True Story)

catfish out of water

If you don’t know this already, catfish are a very sturdy fish. Talk to any catfish angler and they’ll tell you stories about the will catfish have to live. I personally have driven 3 hours with a stringer of catfish in the back of my pickup, no water, wind blowing, only to arrive home with them still flopping around trying to escape.

They’re pretty incredible fish, actually.

Read More: Best Fishing Reels For Catfishing

How Long Can Catfish Live Out of Water?

So how long can catfish live out of water? It really depends on what species of catfish you’re talking about. With over 3000 catfish species out there, it’s hard to give a general answer. That’s because some catfish breathe air while others remove oxygen from the water with gills.

With that said though, it’s safe to say that the typical kind of catfish we run into, such as blues, flatheads and channel cats can survive out of water for up to 15 hours and even longer. And that’s at the very extreme end. On average, you could expect catfish that you catch to stay alive for at least several hours after you remove them from the water. Again, this is different for each species of catfish.

An Incredible True Story About A Catfish Out of Water

From personal experience I knew that catfish could stay alive out of the water for at least 3 or 4 hours. It’s happened to me numerous times.

But while doing some research for this article, I came across this incredible story of a couple anglers who caught a catfish and found it alive days later!

The following is from Elisha Harris and was originally posted on Quora.

“I can only speak from experience, but when i was a kid I went fishing with my Dad and the only thing we caught that night was a five pound flathead catfish.

We put the catfish in a 5 gallon bucket with about a inch of water to keep it alive until we got home. After we unloaded the truck we received a phone call that his mother had died….So we took a flight to southern California and completely forgot about the catfish on the patio.

Three days later when we came home, I went outside to do the yard work and on the patio was the bucket. That’s when it hit me we forgot about the catfish!

Expecting to see a gruesome site, I looked inside the bucket and there was this white fish still alive. I immediately called my Dad and he came out and saw the bucket and realized the fish was still there.

He told me to dig a hole and and bury him. I said he’s still alive! He couldn’t believe it. He acted immediately and grabbed the hard plastic swimming pool, put it under a tree and filled it with the water hose. He told me to put the fish in the pool.

I asked why don’t we just kill it and he said it’s because we’ve had enough death for awhile.

So i put the fish in the water and sure enough it started to swim around and get it’s color back. Over the next week we nursed it back to health with worms and cut bait.

We released it back to the river where I hope it grew into a monster. Ever since then I’ve had a soft spot for catfish and I’m in awe of the drive of some animals to stay alive. In all, that catfish lived for 80 hours in very little water about a quarter of an inch deep!”

Final Thoughts

Do you have an incredible catfish survival story? If so, shoot me an email and tell me about it. I’d love to hear it and share it here for everyone to hear about it.

Written by Don

When I'm not bass fishing or looking for steelhead in my home state of Oregon I can be found working on house projects dreaming of my next fishing adventure.

I started this website to share just some of the things I've learned along my fishing journey, and the many things I'm still learning. Enjoy!

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