Bowfishing for Catfish: How to Catch, Clean, and Cook 'Em

Michigan is one of the unique states that allows you to bowfish a variety of species, from the common carp to the coveted goldfish. One notable species on the approved bowfishing list for Michigan is the mighty catfish. Not many of the fish we shoot in the Mitten State can be eaten, which is why I love the fact that you can legally shoot catfish here. I love bowfishing, and I love eating catfish. 

Bowfishing catfish

A quick note, catfish are an approved bowfishing species here in Michigan, but we still have to stay within the legal size and bag limits. We are allowed five flathead catfish at least 15 inches long. We are allowed 10 channel catfish at least 12 inches long.

Must-Know Tips for Bowfishing for Catfish

Catfish shooting tips for Michigan

  • Their spawning period is Memorial Day weekend to late June.
  • You can find them both during the day and at night. 
  • They like to swim in the shallows.
  • They don't scare easily.
Catfish bowfishing

Catfish swim in shallow waters and don't scare easily, so you will have lots of opportunities to shoot. Remember to only target fish that meet the minimum size limits. As they get deeper into their spawn, the males will actually follow the big females like rutting bucks. They will swim around following each other.

After the spawn is over, you will typically find catfish lying in their beds. This will usually be under a rock or a log, but every once in a while you will find a catfish bed out in the open. It will look like someone dug a hole in the bottom. When you do find a bed, you’ll sometimes notice the catfish lying still with just its head sticking out. This allows a clean shot so you don't ruin any of the meat.

Catfish Bed
Photo Credit: VEWH

How to Clean Catfish for Eating

The most important part of eating catfish is cleaning them properly. If you ever hear someone say they had bad catfish, it's likely because the cleaning wasn't done correctly.

I start cleaning catfish the same way I clean any other fish:

  • Cut a crescent moon around the gill.
  • Cut down the spine and out through the tail.
  • Cut the skin away from the meat.

However when it comes to catfish, there is one important additional step that must be followed. 

  • Trim ALL the fat between the meat and the skin. 

The fat is where the bad taste will come from. A lot of the time, especially on the bigger catfish, there is a thin layer of brown fat on the meat. Cut all of that brown off until you're left with just pure muscle. After you're confident you've trimmed all the fat, your filet is ready to be cooked.

Cooking Delicious Catfish is Easy

How you cook catfish is really up to you but deep frying catfish is by far my favorite method. I like to chunk mine up and deep fry it. I call it catfish nuggets. We have also cooked it with walleye and batter. There is a taste difference between the two species that gives the plate some nice variety. 

Here are a few other recipes to try for seasoning and eating catfish:

Fried Catfish

If you've never tried catfish, I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot. Some people have concerns about eating a bottom feeding fish, but if prepared right, they are absolutely delicious.

In addition, be sure to reference your local eat safe fish guide to be sure the fish you catch are not living in primarily polluted waters. This could impact the taste, and be harmful if consumed in quantities larger than recommended. 

- Johnathan Beebe

Johnathan Beebe is an expert bowfisherman from Michigan with 20+ years of experience. He is the only back to back winner of the Great Lakes Bowfishing Championship (2019 and 2021) and is a proud member of the Loxley Bowfishing team.

Bowfishing Expert

Leave a comment