Does Holding a Catfish by the Gills Hurt it?

Many people tend to hold a fish by the gills for an easy grip. However, is it the right way to hold this fish? Generally, if you are going to release the catfish again, it is better not to hold it by the gills as there is a more proper way of holding it. Just because you know how to catch a fish does not mean that’s the only skill you need. You should also learn different ways to hold catfish, so you don’t hurt it or accidentally set it free.

Can catfish be held by the gills?

If you are going to kill the fish to eat it, you can hold it by the gills, but it will hurt the fish, so it is not the most humane way to hold it. Catfish also deserve some respect, and the best way to do this is by holding them correctly, regardless of why you are fishing for them.

What are catfish gills?

You know that holding a fish by the gills is not a good idea, but why is that? Well, it is because gills are a very important part of a fish’s body. Gills are the lungs of the fish, and they are how they breathe underwater as we do outside of water.

These gills help the fish by taking in oxygen and removing carbon dioxide, exactly how a human lung operates. This single process takes a lot of energy for the fish, so any damage can be fatal. If you release a catfish that has damaged gills, it will not be able to breathe properly and soon die or get eaten. Not to mention, it will be in pain.

Holding a catfish

How to hold catfish by the gills?

If you want to hold the fish by the gills, it is important that you do it skillfully, and the gills do not actually get damaged. Here is how you can do that.

First, put three fingers on each side of the gill area and hold it by the tough cartilage of the walleye. Hold on by the tough structure that makes up the gills but not the actual gill. The actual gill is bright red and should never be touched or grabbed. You have to be careful and ensure you are experienced enough not to damage the gills.

Also, if the fish is heavy and weighs over 10 pounds, it is important to place the hand that is free under its belly to balance the heaviness. Moreover, this technique can be harder because the fish will be heavy, and unless you can use life weights, it will strain your arm, at least.

It is best to avoid using this technique unless you really need to. This is because holding the fish critically can damage the inside organs, especially if the fish is very large. To avoid permanent damage to internal organs, it is best to hold the fish horizontally. This is how they swim in the ocean as well, so being upside down will be unpleasant for them.

How to properly hold catfish

Now that we know how to hold the fish by the cartilage around the gills, there are easier ways to hold them. These methods will put less strain on your arms as well as the fish. So, here are the steps to be followed before holding the fish as well as handling the catfish.

Before holding the catfish

You cannot just grab the fish as soon as it comes out of the water. Remember, fish cannot actually live outside of water, so they need to be held properly, and that includes preparing yourself beforehand.

Before grabbing the fish, make sure to wet your hands because catfish have a thick layer of mucous on their skin. This protective layer can prevent infections in the fish and keep them healthy. If the mucous layer is touched for too long with a dry hand, it can damage it extensively. Make sure to also wet the gloves when holding the catfish.

After that, you are ready to hold a catfish, but be careful with the process.

After holding the catfish

To not stress the fish, you have to hold it properly, especially if you release it back.

Hold it properly

To hold the fish properly, you can use methods such as holding the fish by the stomach vertically. This will be harder to handle because the fish will leap back into the water, and it will be harder to control it. Moreover, this is more suitable for holding smaller fish.

You can also hold it by the tail, vertically or horizontally. Holding it horizontally, make sure to have another hand below its belly to balance the fish out.

Another way is to hold the fish by the lip. This is a less popular method because you can injure the fish if you are not gentle. When you hold it by the lip, make sure the fish does not have sharp teeth, or you will be bitten.

Do not keep the fish out for long

The longer the fish stays out of the water, the more stressed it will get, and there is a greater chance of dying. Not to mention, the fish will not be able to breathe for more than a few seconds. To ensure the fish is okay, hold your breath when it is out of the water, and as soon as it starts getting harder to stay without breath, release the fish. This usually takes around 90 seconds.


Taking care of the catfish and holding it respectably is very easy. Catfish are slimy fish, so it can be pretty hard to get a proper grip on them, but still, you should never touch their gills. There are many ways to hold catfish, and with practice, you can learn them. Hopefully, now you will be more careful when trying to hold a catfish (or any fish for that matter).

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