How Long Do Catfish Live? (Average Lifespan Of Catfish)

Catfish is one of the most abundant species in America. You can find them in most freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams throughout the country. They might not look pretty, but they grow huge and make a delicious fish fry. 

Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing to worry about their dietary habits as they usually feed on small minnows, crayfish, freshwater shrimps, and worms. Catfish also have a long life expectancy while being quite resilient without water. So, how long do catfish live in and out of water?

How Long Do Catfish Live?

The lifespan varies across the species. Catfish can live from 5 to 20 years, though Wels catfish can reach an average lifespan of 30 years. Mekong giant catfish are known for the longest life expectancy of up to 60 years. 

The food resources and population density also have a significant impact on how long a catfish can live.

Also, catfish can survive a few hours when taken out of the water as long as their skins stay moist. Some even manage to last up to 18 hours without water. 

Quick facts about catfish

Catfish (Siluriformes) is a diverse group of gray-finned fish with barbels resembling whiskers around the mouth. Most catfish are found in freshwater, but there are two saltwater species. Over half of catfish are native to America, of which blue catfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish are the primary species. 

Catfish are bottom dwellers, hard-fight, and taste great on the dinner table. In addition, their body, with more than 100,000 taste buds, is sensitive to food particles. Thus, catfish are willing biters and easy to hook from a boat or bank with minimal equipment. 

Catfish lifespan by species

Flathead catfish: As the name suggests, the flat head is a distinctive feature of this species. Flathead catfish are yellow; thus, many people also call them yellow cats. The typical life expectancy of flathead catfish is between 5 and 22 years old. However, some can live up to 28 years old.

Catfish lifespan by species

Blue catfish: Blue catfish are large with smooth blue skin and whisker-like barbels around their mouths. They are the largest species in North America and can grow to 65 inches in length. Blue catfish can live up to 9 to 10 years, though some can reach an impressive lifespan of 25 years.

Channel catfish: Channel catfish are smaller than their flathead and blue cousins. This species features an olive-brown color skin with a deeply forked tail. Some also have shades of grey and blue on the sides. They are the most common type of freshwater catfish.

Channel catfish

Channel catfish lifespan averages 14 years old. The oldest reported age of channel catfish is 24 years old.

Wels catfish: The only species native to Europe, Wels catfish can grow to 60 inches long. Their colors vary depending on the environment: the skin changes to greenish-brown in murky water and black in clear water. The lifespan of a wild Wels catfish is from 15 to 30 years, though several cases have seen aging up to 80 years.

Wels catfish

Mekong giant catfish: This species belongs to the shark catfish family and is one of the largest known freshwater fish. They are white and grey and are distinguished from other large species by the near-total absence of barbels.

This species is known for being long-lived and for the fastest growth rates among catfish species and can grow to 440 pounds in only 6 years. Some can live up to 60 years.

Mekong giant catfish

How Long Do Catfish Live Out Of Water?

The amount of time that catfish can live when removed out of water depends on the weather conditions. Yet, these species are known for their remarkable ability to survive out of water. 

The average age expectancy for a catfish without water is a few hours, which is an impressive amount of time. To be specific, if catfish are kept wet, they can live up to 3 hours without water. As long as there’s water on the grills, some can stay alive for 15-18 hours, separated from the water. 

As its name suggests, walking catfish can use their spiny front fins to move on the wetlands and survive 18 hours without water. Technically, walking catfish can breathe out of the water thanks to its suprabranchial organ. It gives walking catfish the ability to travel short distances on land to get to the water source.


Catfish are abundant and exciting to catch with a long life expectancy. When taken out of the water, you can keep them for as long as a few hours, which is longer than many other fish species. 

Knowing the answer to “how long do catfish live without water” is also crucial if you practice catch and release. You want to return them unharmed to their natural environment.

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