There are many myths about fishing, but none more persistent than the belief that catfish whiskers “sting”
It is simply not true. Not even a little. Although their whiskers might look frightening, they are harmless.
This doesn’t mean catfish won’t hurt you if you handle them. They can, and will, but it’s not their whiskers that are dangerous. You should be concerned about their pectoral or dorsal fins.
This article will explain how to keep a catfish in your hands and how to avoid their pointed fins.
The spines of catfish are protected from the venomous bite of catfish
You may be surprised to learn that many catfish species are venomous.
The long whiskers at the mouth of a catfish’s head are sensory organs. They are completely harmless and soft.
The long, sharp spines on the dorsal and pectoral fins were designed for business.
According to the University of Michigan, catfish venom glands can be found along with sharp, bony spines at the edges of dorsal or pectoral fins. These spines can be locked in place when threatened. The membrane around the venom gland cells ruptures when a spine strikes a predator. This releases venom into the wound.
The top pair shows the front and rear views of a pectoral spinal spine. The bottom pair shows the dorsal spinal spine.
It is common for fish to be swallowed head-first by prey animals. Fish will straighten the fins of their tails to protect themselves against being swallowed by other animals.
Catfish assume that you are about to swallow them. They will then extend their fins and shake vigorously to the side and try to stick you with one of its pectoral spines.
If the hit is successful, toxic venom will be released into the wound. This can cause severe pain, inflammation, and cell death.
The spine is home to the venom gland.
However, wildlife biologists such as Jeremy Wright warn of the dangers of infection.
This is confirmed by a review of medical literature. Other than rare allergic reactions to the poison, all dangerous outcomes can be attributed to secondary infections.
This is not a joke: People can and do it! Untreated infection can cause you to lose your fingers and hands. You can!
What to do if you’ve been stung by a catfish spine?
Catfish have a thick coating of bacteria-rich slime on their fins. This can lead to infection. Their venom can be painful. If you have an allergic reaction, it may also cause severe reactions. Anaphylaxis can be a serious but uncommon problem.
Catfishermen used to rub their spine wounds on fish’s stomachs before there were pain relievers or antiseptics. It will instantly relieve your pain but can lead to a serious infection.
Instead, seek sound medical advice.
- If necessary, perform CPR on the injured person.
- Don’t rub the wound with catfish slime
- Use tweezers to remove any spine remaining.
- Use soap and water to clean the wound. Rinse it with warm water.
- For about 30 minutes, immerse the affected areas in as hot water as you can handle. This should immediately relieve the pain. You can also add Epsom salts to help disinfect the wound.
- Don’t cover or tape the wound.
- Any lingering pain can be treated with Tylenol or acetaminophen.
- As soon as possible, see your doctor.
How to hold a catfish
Because the spines are what you have to worry about, you must grip the catfish tightly while keeping your hands clear of danger.
The dorsal fin should be flattened, while the pectoral fins should be out front so they don’t get in your way.
For smaller cats, grasp the fish with one hand. In front of the dorsal fin, and behind the two pectoral Fins.
This video will show you how it’s done.
A lip gripper such as Ensport’s is ideal for large cats. You can use them on little guys too, and they will not leave you with a painful cut on your hand.
For the best fish graspers, check out our buying guide