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Why Are the Catfish in My Lake Changing Color? Pond & Lake Q & A

Catfish: Changing Color

Pond & Lake Q & A

Q: Why are the catfish in my lake changing color? – Carlos in Texas

A: When summer sun causes water temperatures to rise in your pond or lake, you may notice color changes in your catfish. Sometimes, the changes are caused by natural reasons like age, spawning and temperature fluctuations. Other times, their coloring lightens from environmental causes like stress and disease.

Your pond fish likely looked darker in the spring or fall – for good reason! The cooler water holds more oxygen, which your fish need to thrive and look their best. In warmer water, oxygen levels tend to drop off. The lack of sufficient oxygen, coupled with poor water quality, can cause your pond fish to stress. When stressed, they’re more prone to disease and health problems, which can cause their color to lighten.

In worst-case situations, stressed fish can succumb to disease. One that commonly affects stressed and oxygen-deprived catfish is Columnaris (Flexibacter columnaris), also known as cotton-wool, cotton-mouth, flexibacter or mouth fungus. It is a highly contagious bacterial infection that appears as white spots on the edges of the fish’s scales, fins and mouth area. When one fish is affected, the bacteria causes death within days; when an entire lake population is affected, it will wipe out an entire population within hours.

As the saying goes, “Prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so the best way to keep your catfish healthy and deeply colored is by making sure they’re getting enough oxygen and proper nutrition. The Pond Guy® Game Fish Grower Fish Food helps by strengthening immune systems while promoting good health and longevity. An aerator, like the Airmax® Aerator, breathes life-giving oxygen into ponds and lakes, ensuring a clean water column, even water temperatures and reduced sediment.

With a healthy diet and oxygen-rich water, your catfish should start to show their true colors again!

POND TALK: What do you do to keep your fish healthy?

15 Responses

  1. stocked my pond with cat fish ”clarias” fishes and i noticed they are turning red in colour please what is the possible cause and what can i do as remedy or prevention

    • Do you have a little more information you can share about the red color? Is this appearing just on fins, gills or is the actual color of the fish changing? Red patches may indicate a bacterial infection in which you would need to isolate and treat the fish. If the entire fish is changing color or all the fish are changing in the same way, it may just be the genetics of that particular species.

  2. Is it possible for tilapia fish to die in a liner pond and not float?

    • Yes, not all dead fish will float and the reason may depend on what killed the fish. Generally you will still see the fish somewhere in the pond unless they were taken by a predator.

  3. Can you stop cannibalism among catfish

    • You probably won’t be able to stop them but you can give the smaller fish a chance by making sure there are plenty of other things for them to eat and leaving some weeds beds available. This will also help the smaller fish with places to hide. If you do not already, consider some fish habitat which also provide hiding places and spawning areas.

  4. Why are my catfish changing colour on their head and they are just two months old

    • It is hard to say without knowing your specific pond conditions. Catfish can change color based on available oxygen and will change slightly throughout the year. Also it is not uncommon for smaller fry fish to change color quite a bit in the first few months of life. Check the conditions in your pond to be sure they are suitable for fish and if everything checks out chalk it up to natural fluctuations.

  5. Not all my catfish are the same color? Some of them have lighter colored heads… any idea? Thank you.

    • Hi Maria – Catfish can change color depending on time of year (including spawning season), stress levels and general age. If they are channel catfish, my guess is on spawning/mating.

      • Thank you. I stocked my pond 2 years ago. When we feed them, it is a feeding frenzy and some of them have lighter faces. They are multiplying… I stocked 60 and now there are hundreds. Thank you.

  6. We have a 4000gal. pond with one catfish and some goldfish. We do want to be sure that we are feeding the right stuff to our catfish. We feed surface food for the goldfish. We also feed Algae Waffers and Shrimp Pellets and try to land an amount of them in the catfish area. All like these foods, so at times it is hard to keep the goldfish from eating what the catfish wants.
    Are we feed the right stuff?

    • Diana,

      Yeah, its difficult to feed a certain fish in your pond when there are more than one. No matter what you throw in there once they are used to pellets they will all think its food and try and go after it. Just know that catfish will eat anything, so even though you may not be able to feed him as much as the other goldfish, he will still be fed with the other food sources in the pond.

      Hope this helps! Thanks for the question!

  7. We have had plans drawn up for a pond which would be just over one acre with an earthen dam no higher than 20′ high.
    We would like to have a fountain that also doubles by helping the oxygen content. We are in East TN so our winters are mild.
    We intend to use this pond for fishing and canoeing. do you have recommendations for the type of fountain or oxygenating system on a budget? There will be power located nearby.

    • Bryan,

      If the pond will be deeper than 6 feet deep then for aeration, a bottom bubbler like the Airmax Aeration System will be the best at aerating and circulating. Depending on the shape of your pond either an AM30 ONE PLATE SYSTEM or an AM60 TWO PLATE SYSTEM would be sufficient.

      Usually fountains for more for decoration but at depths of less than 6 feet deep they can act as a aerator as well. Based on your sized pond a 2 HP Kasco Fountain would be great.

      If your on a budget your going to notice real fast that a fountain is way more expensive than a bottom bubbler system. Again for the fountain you are paying more for the decoration than you are the aeration. Keep that in mind.

      Hopefully this helps you!

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