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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Mystery of Catfish in Trees


A flathead catfish balanced on a tree limb. (c)Eric Engbretson

A few years ago while taking pictures in Missouri’s sprawling Table Rock Lake, I noticed quite a few flathead catfish around trees and other sunken timber.  What I found unusual was that many of the catfish were not lying on the lake bottom underneath the trees as you might expect.  Instead they were balanced on top of tree branches often several feet above the bottom.  In short-they seemed to be perched in trees the same way you might see squirrels or birds.  One flathead was lying in a tree at least 10 feet off the lake bottom.  I had been looking for catfish around the base of the trees and under sunken timber, but as began looking higher into the water column and “off the bottom” I noticed more catfish in the trees. 
It wouldn’t be accurate to say they were suspended.  They seemed to be inactive and they were resting very still on the higher branches that had a horizontal slant to them.   (See above photo) The channel catfish I also saw around trees were always near the bottom, but I encountered many flathead catfish perched higher in the trees. 

It was an interesting discovery that puzzled me.  Why would these flathead catfish be so far off the bottom in a tree?   Clearly there must be some advantage or benefit that makes sense to the catfish that I wasn’t aware of.  I did a web search looking for flathead catfish in trees and couldn’t find any mention of this specific action.  For the time being, this peculiar behavior remains a mystery.  You can view more pictures of flathead catfish in trees here.

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