Can a Catfish Jump Out of Water?

The catfish is a famous fish with many unique features, one of which is that it can jump out of the water. If you have a pet catfish or observe catfish in the wild, you might find them jumping out of the water. They jump out of the water for many reasons, which will be mentioned below. There are many other fish that can also jump out of the water. The evolution of fish has helped them breathe outside water, sometimes for short periods of time. However, one thing is clear; they will only jump out of the water when absolutely necessary.

There are many species of catfish, and they occupy different levels in the water. Some fish live deep in the water and never need to come up, whereas others live closer to the surface. Sun catfish, channel catfish, and the Pangasius are some of the fish that can jump out of the water.

Regardless of the type of fish, they all come to shallower water, if needed. Some more often than others. The big catfish can jump out and scare someone who is not experienced with catfish. So, yes, catfish can jump out of the water if they need to, but that does not mean that they do. This is only observed when they have to survive and adapt by jumping out of the water for a few seconds.

Jumping fish

Why do catfish jump out of water?

There are many reasons why catfish can jump out of the water. When small catfish jump out of the water, it is harmless, but you better move out of the water if a large catfish jumps out. A 200-pound or bigger catfish can actually kill you if it jumps on you. Regardless, here are the most common reasons mentioned below.

For food

The main reason that catfish jump out of the water is to catch prey. Most catfish are omnivorous, meaning they eat whatever they can find, and sometimes that means jumping out of the water. Food is a huge motivator for catfish to jump out of the water. However, do remember most catfish are bottom feeders, so they will avoid coming to the top. If a fish cannot find food at the bottom at all, it will decide to venture out. But this will only be during the night when it is dark, and there are not many predators around. They rarely come out in daylight when they can easily be caught.

For breathing

Another reason that the catfish will jump out is when there just is not enough oxygen in the water. Just like humans, fishes also need oxygen to breathe, and they can do so through a special organ known as the gills. The catfish will come out of the water to convert some oxygen from the air so they can breathe with the help of a labyrinth organ. You should remember not all catfishes have this organ that helps them breathe outside water, and only some catfishes will jump out for oxygen. When a catfish does not have this organ, it will die outside of water.

If there is not enough oxygen, catfishes without the labyrinth organ will come to the surface of the water but not jump out. This is because this is where the most dissolved oxygen is and is closer to the surface of the water, and no catfish wants to suffocate to death.

To reproduce

Most fish, including catfish, follow a ritual to mate. Most of the time, this includes the catfish moving to shallow waters to mate. During the mating ritual, the male fish will be seen competing for the right to breed with the female fish. It means there will be lots of fish closer to the water’s surface. To compete, some catfish will also jump out of the water. During this, you will most probably notice many catfish huddled together, with some jumping out of the water.

To escape

Another reason a catfish will jump out of the water is to escape predators. If there is a large fish following the fish, it will try to escape the water to outrun the predator fish. This is not that common because most predators of catfish are larger fishes that reside in deeper waters. However, it is not completely uncommon. If the catfish swim very fast and jump out of the water at intervals, they are trying to lose a predator chasing them.

How high can catfish jump out of water?

It is actually unknown how high a catfish can jump out of the water when the need arises. They are believed not to jump very high because they cannot. However, if the catfish has a labyrinth organ that allows it to breathe outside the water, it might be able to jump higher. The height of the jump depends on the size of the fish. If the fish is big, it will be able to jump higher compared to a smaller fish. Some fish can jump up to a foot or two out of the water, but those are fishes known for jumping out of the water, unlike catfish.


Now you know that catfish can, in fact, jump out of the water if the need arises. They usually do this when the catfish are looking for food, mating, escaping a predator, or trying to breathe. Regardless of why the catfish jumps out of the water, it can be scary if you are not ready to experience it. Therefore, when fishing for catfish, make sure to be prepared to see it jump. It is a rare sight, though.

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