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Walking Catfish

rest assured they have no legs

A prime example of a Walking Catfish.


While going through some fishing log, I happen to come across a fish, which I have not been catching for many years. A small catfish native to many parts of South East Asia. It rarely exceeds the 1kg mark so it is not about the fight I am fond of. Neither the number as they prefer to hang out in small groups, well scattered. In truth, their rarity & culinary appeal is what fuels my excitement. And the catfish I am referring to is the Walking catfish. Urbanization has, over the decades, pushed this fish into an infrequent occurrence. Not close to extinction but difficult to find in the wild.

Unfortunately, the Freshwater catfish also shares the same fate. Both are almost similar in size & appearance, causing confusion even amongst veteran fishermen. However, there is an easy way to differentiate them, by the shape of the occipital process in the head portion.

The difference between Walking Catfish & Freshwater Catfish.

Occipital process of a Walking Catfish.


As a hard wriggling species, they possess a trait to survive without water for several hours, the ability to breathe atmospheric air. This means they are able to live in a wide range of water conditions including extremely difficult ones. Despite the wide range water conditions available, the Walkiing catfish prefer almost non-moving waters such as slow flowing jungle stream, peat swamp & small ponds. As for diet, it consists of worms, insects & dead fish. From this, we can conclude that any meat based bait will work.

About two weeks ago, I had asked some friends to be on the lookout for any body of water that may hold this fish. Good news arrive sooner than expected. They manage to identify three promising spots boiling with air gulping activity! They also say that, for some unknown reason, the fish are reluctant to bite. This discovery is too valuable to raise the white flag so I propose a trip with earthworm as bait. For now, I brush off the Walking catfish's reluctance to bite as an isolated incident.

A closer look at its body. No scales, peppered with khaki coloured spots.

The humble earthworm is a reliable bait.

On Arrival

Our first spot is a peat swamp just by the edge of jungle. Needless to say this place holds an insane amount of mosquitoes & I am dressed in their favourite colour, black! On the good side, fish can frequently be seen rising for air & judging by their rise, they are most likely to be Walking catfish. The three of us fan out but remain within view. I opt for pole fishing while the other two have their spinning tackle for the job.

I drop my baited hook into what appeared to be fish rise hotspot. Hope is sky high. While waiting for a bite I greet the assaulting mosquitoes with killer handclaps. Some time into the wait, a soft-shelled turtle reveals her head like a periscope. Her neck is close to 3 inches in diameter so that thing of a beast must have weighed between 9 to 10kg. I must give her credit for trying to entice me with her delicious meat but I have stop fishing for these reptiles for more than 10 years.

Their home can range from stagnant water...

to slow flowing stream.

Persistence & Perseverance

An hour into fishing & the dark brown pole has yet to experience as much as a dip. This trip is fast turning into a cock & bull story until someone suddenly gives out a long hoot. Hooting is a norm, a standard way to call someone in the jungle. Calling by name is forbidden for reasons unknown to modern science. The hooter got a fish hanging from the hook; a Walking catfish close to a pound. A good size.

That first catch got our determination fuelled up. But no matter how mulishly we wait, there were no more bites. Rises, yes but no bites. The inaction has got to a point where spot switching is necessary otherwise good results can hardly be achieved. We foot it to our next spot, a slow flowing jungle stream. The path is slippery from yesterday's rain but it poses no problem to studded rubber shoes.

First Walking catfish of this trip.

A parade by its captor shows a black top & white belly.

Drowning Earthworms

We are greeted by a murky stream; tea served with milk type of murky. As for fish activity, it is much frequent compared to the first location. Obviously, more fish. The earthworm on my hook is pale & requires a change. Ah yes hook. The Walking catfish has a leathery mouth so a de-barbed (optional) thin shank hook will be appropriate. You can go with Eagle Wave DX400 #13 or Mustad Sode #13 or anything similar from other brands. Both hooks have long shank to hold more bait, a sound approach for murky water.

We continue with fishing by moving around every now & then to get something to bite. Those continuous rise can be misleading. Suggestive of a one cast one fish phenomenon but that did not happen. Contrary to expectation, they totally ignore our bait, leaving us in a jaw dropping disbelieve. Imagine a Buddhist monk buying a comb.

If there are no takes from your current spot ...

keep moving to other potential ones ...

until you get result!


During the long wait, we agree to adopt a proactive approach for our final spot. Cast to a rise & if it is not taken within the minute, cast to the next. The very least is everyone catches a fish. When Abdol implement this method at the third spot, his reward arrives by the second cast. Smaller than the first fish but the satisfaction must have been great considering the difficulty in getting bites.

The limitation of a pole is having to fish close to the bank. That itself is not an issue as Walking catfish tend to hang around at places of such. The sun is still soft & just before I was going to say, "We don't have to break a sweat", the straight pole evolved into a parabolic dip. A steady lift triggers the fish into a deep dive, a befitting reaction from a snag loving species. In the end, I manage to land it along with a lump of underwater vegetation. Also a small catch but yes, the satisfaction is colossal.

If relaxation is your idea of fishing then do it in style with a 13' pole.

As long as results can be achieved.

Success Or Failure?

We fish until the sun is high without getting any more bites. Unless there is a better understanding of this fish, going on will only mean doing things the hard way. Like an ox pulling the plough & nobody wants to be the ox. Compared to the average of five fish I experienced donkey's years ago, this session's failure is short of a disaster. So it is back to the drawing board to crack their code. See you next trip!

Correct way of handling a catfish to avoid a 3 days 2 night vacation package to the hospital.