There is something of a debate among the fishing community about whether catfish sting.
All my life, I’ve heard and read about the painful sting of catfish and I’ve laughed it off. So you get finned by a catfish…it’s gonna hurt a bit but it’s no big deal; everyone who fishes long enough is going to get finned. Right? Right?!
I’ve caught catfish my whole life and never once have I been “stung.” I’ve had my fingers roughed up by their teeth, but never have I been stung.
Fishing at a local lake, I caught a small channel catfish. As I tried to get him off the hook so I could pitch his butt back into the water (channel cats are the worst-tasting of all catfish and not worth keeping, in my book), it happened. He caught me right on the tip of my middle finger with his dorsal fin.
And, oh boy, did it ever hurt.
I was pacing the shoreline, bleeding like a stuck pig, slinging my hand in the futile (but involuntary) effort to wave off the pain, which resulted in blood splattering me from head to toe. The bleeding stopped soon enough, but then the swelling began, with a throbbing that went from the tip of my middle finger all the way to my shoulder.
Do catfish sting? You better believe it.
I suppose I mostly scoffed at the notion of a catfish stinging because of guys like this fellow, a professional catfish guide who proclaims the whole stinging thing a myth:
Catfish don’t “sting”, let’s go ahead and get that out of the way now.
Catfish whiskers don’t sting. Their barbels or fins don’t either. They can cause some discomfort though (if you’re not careful)
The same guy goes on to point out that it’s the smaller fish (like the one I caught) and channel cats (like the one I caught) that you especially need to look out for:
The tip of these spines are pointed and very sharp (especially on smaller catfish, and especially channel cats).
He also points out that these spines contain venom that is injected into sting victims:
The spines contained in the dorsal and pectoral fin contain a venom that causes edema (swelling) and ahemolytic (causes increased blood flow in the area of the injury) if these spines puncture the skin.
So that begs the question: if these spines stick you, and they release a painful venom, aren’t we just debating semantics when we say they don’t sting?
The bottom line is that most people, including the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, calls it what it basically is — a sting. Here’s what the NCBI has to say about it:
Numerous species of fish are capable of inflicting painful or even dangerous stings by means of dorsal or caudal spines provided with complex venom glands. Catfish and stingrays have stings, not spines.
Here’s what eMedicineHealth.net recommends as treatment for catfish stings:
• Immerse the affected area in water as hot as is tolerable usually relieves pain from a sting.
• Spines should be removed with tweezers.
• The wound should be scrubbed and irrigated with fresh water.
• The wound should not be taped or sewn together.
• Oral antibiotics are usually recommended for catfish stings that become infected. Antibiotics should be taken if infection develops for at least five days after all signs of infection have resolved. Potential drug allergies should be checked prior to starting any antibiotic. A doctor can recommend the appropriate antibiotic. Some antibiotics can cause sensitivity to the sun, so a sunscreen (at least SPF 15) is also recommended for use with such antibiotics.
• Pain associated with a catfish sting may be relieved with one to two acetaminophen (Tylenol) every four hours and/or one to two ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) every six to eight hours.
While I was spraying blood and cursing under my breath, my fishing partner went and released the fish (which was flopping around on the bank with my hook still in his mouth) back into the water. I almost threw him in the water to chase the fish down and pull it back out…I wanted to cut his head off and throw him on the bank as a warning to his catfish brethren to keep their dorsal stingers to themselves.