Are saltwater catfish good to eat? That’s a question that gets asked a lot! It’s also a question that until recently I would have said no to. However, after seeing several YouTube videos of people eating them and claiming that they tasted the same, if not better than their freshwater counterparts, I had to try them for myself.
In short, yes, you cat eat saltwater catfish! They are completely safe to eat. As far as table fare goes, I personally don’t think that they taste much like a freshwater catfish, but more like a Whiting or Sea Trout. While I was impressed with their taste, I don’t think that I’ll be keeping them for dinner on a regular basis, as they are super messy and a pain in the butt to clean.
So Why The Bad Rap
Over the years Saltwater Catfish have gotten a bad rap and have been labeled as a “trash fish” by most fishermen. So why the bad rap? I’m not really sure when or how this fish has managed to acquire such a bad reputation when it comes to table fare. All I know is that ever since I started fishing as a little boy, I was always told to throw them back.
Maybe it’s because they are such a hassle to clean? Maybe it’s because they are scavengers that feed on the bottom? You know the saying…” you are what you eat.” Wait, aren’t Black Drum and Redfish also bottom feeders that eat just about everything a catfish would?
It could also be that based on their numbers, you are more likely to catch a saltwater catfish than that prized redfish you are targeting. I can speak from experience that it can be really frustrating having this pesky nuisance steal your bait and leave your line and gear covered in slime.
And let’s not forget about their poisonous barbs! These pointy things can really hurt if they poke you. The good news is that you can usually prevent this with a good pair of fishing pliers.
Types of Saltwater Catfish
There are two types of saltwater catfish – Hardhead catfish and Gafftopsail catfish. Both can be found throughout the Southeastern United States and the Gulf of Mexico. They thrive in coastal waters, including bays, river mouths, estuaries, and even venture into brackish waters.
Basically, if you plan on doing any type of bottom fishing in saltwater, there is a very good chance that you will catch one of these pesky fish.
While Saltwater Catfish may not be thought of as a good eating fish, you won’t find a fishermen who doubt their fighting ability. These fish fight like a freight train, providing a fun-filled fishing experience for even the most inexperienced angler.
Hardhead is the most common of the two saltwater species. They have a brownish to gray-green body, with a white to yellowish belly and can grow up to 24 inches (12 pounds).
One thing to look out for when handling catfish of any type is their spines! Hardheads have three prominent, sharp spines (one at beginning of dorsal fin and one on each pectoral fin). Believe me, it’s not a pleasant experience getting poked by one of these bad boys. Make sure that you have a good set of fishing pliers when handling Saltwater Catfish.
Like their Gafftopsail cousins, Hardheads are super easy to catch. Commonly caught from bridges, catwalks, and piers, particularly in passes and inland waterways, they will eat everything from shrimp, squid, baitfish, crabs, cut bait, and even fall victim to artificial lures from time to time.
Also known as Sailtop Catfish and Sailcats, Gaftopsail Catfish are less common than the Hardhead Catfish and are usually larger and widely considered to be better table fare, although after taking the plunge and actually eating a Hardhead, I honestly can’t tell any difference in taste.
Gafftopsails have a bluish-green back, fading to a silver-white belly and like other catfish, are equipped with three sharp spines that need to be taken seriously when handling.
As far as appearance goes, the one noticeable difference between the two saltwater cats is that the Gafftopsail sports a super long dorsal fin, giving it the appearance of a sail, which is how the fish gets its name.
Gafftopsails can be found in the same waters as Hardhead catfish and will eat pretty much the same thing.
Are Saltwater Catfish Poisonus
While Saltwater Catfish are not poisonous to eat, they do have a poison in their spines that can make their sting extremely painful, much like a bee sting or even a small stingray sting.
However, unlike a Jelly Fish sting, the spines of a Saltwater Catfish do not sting on contact. They actually have to be inserted into your skin, which is why it’s very important that you handle them with care. Their spines are razor sharp and have been known to penetrate the soles of tennis shoes without any problems.
The best way to treat a Saltwater Catfish sting is to first remove all of the spines from the affected area. Next wash with soap, then soak for about 30 min in warm water. If needed, it’s recommended to take a few Tylenol or Advil.
You’ll want to keep a close eye on the area where you were stung. If you notice redness, swelling, or an unreasonable amount of pain, you’ll need to seek medical attention.
Another thing to keep in mind is that contrary to some false information, a catfish’s whiskers (saltwater or freshwater) do not sting.
How to Cook Saltwater Catfish
When it comes to what the best recipe is for cooking Saltwater Catfish, I highly recommend that you choose a fried recipe.
The recipe that I used is called “Big Daddy’s Deep-Fried Catfish.” It’s a little spicy, but you can always replace the Cayenne pepper with another seasoning such as “Old Bay”, or just take it out completely. This recipe is super simple and the best part is that it requires beer!
If you don’t feel like mixing your own batter from scratch, I’m sure that any premixed fish fry batter will do the trick.
So are Saltwater Catfish good to eat? In my humble opinion, yes they are! They are safe to eat and they taste the same if not better than a Freshwater Catfish. If you can get past the stigma that has been placed on this fish and the fact that they are extremely slimy and are a pain to clean, then I encourage you to fry some up the next chance you get.
I know that I learned my lesson when listening to people about what is good and what’s not. Next time someone tells me that a certain fish is bad for eating, my next question will be, “have you ever tried it?”
I think the next time I catch a stingray, I might just have to try it as well! Supposedly they taste just like scallops.