Do Catfish Like Deep Or Shallow Water?

Catfish are fun to catch and great to eat. These fish are exciting for all anglers, and catching a trophy catfish is the dream of many fishermen. However, these fish can be challenging to catch, and their behavior can be difficult to predict. This leads anglers to wonder if catfish prefer deep or shallow water. 

Catfish like deep water, but they can be found in shallow water in spring and autumn to spawn, look for food, and regulate body temperature. Catfish mostly dwell at the waterbed in holes and natural shelters, such as rocks and roots but are most often caught at depths between 15 and 20ft. 

There are several secrecies of catfish, all of which exhibit similar behavior regarding the depths they swim and dwell at. The depth you fish for catfish determines how successful you will be. Let’s learn everything we can about how deep or shallow catfish tend to be and how to find them in both shallow and deep water. 

catfish swimming in clear water

Do Catfish Like Deep Or Shallow Water?

Catfish are found in almost every continent and reside primarily in rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. There is a species of catfish found on every continent except Antarctica, where the water is too cold. 

This means that fishing for catfish is an almost universal activity, and every fishing culture has its own techniques and methods for catching these fish. 

However, while there are so many diverse species of catfish internationally, they all exhibit very similar behavior regarding habitat and water depth. 

Catfish typically live in deep water, especially during the warmest and coldest months of the year. These fish are bottom-feeders and typically hunt for food at the waterbed. This is true for catfish found in lakes, rivers, and salt water. 

These fish are found in deeper water more often, but they are known to move to shallow water in certain seasons and in specific circumstances. 

Catfish can be found at the waterbed, dwelling in holes, crevices, debris, and structures at the bottom. The depths that catfish are most likely to be found at is determined by the depth of the water they dwell in. 

If you are looking for catfish to catch, it is always best to look for them in deeper water, but it is essential to understand that they may be found in shallow water in certain circumstances.

red tailed catfish in aquarium

Why Do Catfish Prefer Deep Water?

Catfish are well-adapted to living and hunting in deep water, but they are sometimes found in the shallows as well. Why do catfish usually dwell at the waterbed?

Catfish prefer deep water, as deeper water provides the type of shelter that these fish seek, the temperature conditions are easier for the fish to manage, and the food items that catfish prefer can be found at these depths. 

Some catfish species primarily eat dead material on the bottom of lakes and rivers, which is another reason why they can be typically found at the bottom rather than in the shallows. 

The larger the catfish is, the more likely it is to dwell near the bottom of the water. Larger catfish can more easily regulate their body temperature, they can live at the bottom more easily, and they prey on larger food items, such as other bottom feeders. 

Smaller catfish species can be found in shallower waters to regulate their body temperature and find smaller food items. Most catfish species prefer deeper water for the protection and shelter that it provides. 

Catfish venture into shallow water when necessary, but if you want to catch one during the day or during the summer months, it is best to fish for catfish as deep as the water allows. 

How Deep Do Catfish Swim?

Catfish live in all types of water. Both freshwater and saltwater catfish are found internationally, but freshwater varieties are more common and grow to the largest sizes. 

However, the depth that a catfish will swim to is dependent on the water that it lives in. Lakes are typically much deeper than rivers, so catfish in lakes are found at deeper depths than river catfish. 

Saltwater catfish are not found in the depths of the ocean and remain along the coast, which means that lake-dwelling catfish are likely to live in deeper water than ocean-dwelling catfish. 

Some catfish have been known to swim to depths greater than 70ft depending on the water and the season. 

However, catfish tend to dwell near creaks and water inlets in lakes, which are not the deepest areas of the water. 

This means that if you want to catch a catfish, the best depths to look for them are between 15 and 20ft. 

According to data collected by hundreds of successful catfish fishermen in the USA, 15 to 20ft is the most common depth for successfully catching catfish, especially in freshwater. 

Even though these fish can live in deeper water, they will always live where there is the most food, and the water conditions are conducive to maintaining health and body temperature. 

blue catfish swimming in clear water

Do Catfish Come To Shallow Water?

Even though catfish typically live in deeper water where they can find shelter and food and regulate their body temperature, there are instances when catfish venture into shallow water. 

All species of catfish do come to shallow water, depending on their requirements. These fish will move to shallow water when the temperature of the water warms up after winter when spawning, when they need more oxygen, or when they cannot find food or shelter in the deep water. 

Catfish, like all carnivorous fish, will always live where the food is. These fish rely on steady sources of food to maintain their health and must eat regularly to grow properly and survive well. 

This means that if there is no food for them at the bottom, catfish will move to shallower water to find it. 

Deeper water has a lower saturation of oxygen, and these fish need more oxygen than others to survive and are even known to swim to the surface to gulp air when the water does not have enough oxygen to support them. 

When the water warms up after winter, catfish will venture into shallow water to seek warmth and food. 

Catfish also swim to shallow water to spawn, as most fish do, and spend the most time in shallow water during the spawning season. 

These fish are most commonly found in shallow water at night, especially during spring for spawning and fall for hunting. If you are fishing for catfish at night, when they are most active, fish in shallow water, especially during spring and fall. 

Catfish are most active in warm water, meaning they will also travel to shallow water where the water is warmer in spring and summer when they need to hunt or seek food more aggressively. 

Catfish are primarily bottom-dwelling fish, but they do swim to shallow water when they need to. 

large catfish swimming in shallow muddy water

When To Fish Deep For Catfish

We have established that catfish are mostly found in deep water, but they also swim in shallow water on occasion. How do you know when to fish for catfish in deep water?

Optimal times to fish for catfish in deep water are during the daylight hours, especially dawn and dusk, and during the hottest and coldest months of the year. 

Deep water has an almost constant temperature all year round and can even be warmer in winter, as it is more well-insulated from the cold air. 

Deep water is also insulated from hot summer air and sunlight, which means that the deep water in lakes and rivers is warmer in winter and cooler in summer, which allows catfish to properly regulate their body temperature.

The summer months are also when food items for catfish are most abundant, which means that they do not have to travel to shallow water to find food and can easily find what they need at their preferred depths. 

Deep water provides catfish with shelter and places to live in. These fish tend to live in holes in the waterbed, holes in deep river banks, and in underwater structures. Catfish will most likely seek these locations during the day to remain as hidden as possible. 

It is always best to fish for catfish in deep water during the summer and winter months and during the day when the fish look for places to hide. In spring and fall or during the evening, these fish are least likely to be in deep water. 

When To Fish Shallow For Catfish

Catfish can be found in shallow water, but it can be challenging to decide when to fish for catfish in the shallows. If you want to catch catfish in shallow water, when should you do it?

Catfish are found in shallow water during the night hours and during the months of spring and autumn. 

Catfish are most active at night, as they rely on ambush hunting and use their barbels or whiskers to navigate the water when food items and other fish cannot see well. 

This activity often leads catfish to swim in shallower water, as they are more likely to find food items in shallow water at night, especially when the water warms up after winter. If you are fishing for catfish at night and the water is not too cold, always fish the shallows before fishing in deep water. 

Catfish also come to the shallows in the spring months to spawn. Spring brings the ideal water temperatures for catfish spawning, so these fish will linger in shallow water for long periods to spawn before returning to deep water when spawning is over.

The spawning season brings catfish to very shallow water, and it is easy to catch them in this environment, especially if the fish are large. 

Autumn brings catfish to shallow water due to cooler water temperatures, which draws catfish out of the depths to maintain body temperature closer to the warmer water of the surface. 

All fish will come closer to shallow water in this season, which again means that catfish will come to these waters in search of food.

The best time to fish for catfish in shallow waters is during the spring and autumn or at night when the water is warmer. These are the only instances when almost all catfish, especially those in mainland USA can be found in the shallows. 

It is usually easiest to catch catfish when swimming or dwelling in shallow water, as the fish are more accessible, closer to the surface, and usually on the lookout for food, which means that they are more likely to take the bait. 

multiple catfish swimming in shallow clear water

How To Find Catfish In Deep Water

We know that catfish are most likely to be in deep water for most of the year, and this is where they are most likely to be caught, even though they are easier to catch in shallow water. How, then, do you find a catfish to catch in deep water? What do you look for when searching for the best environment for catching catfish in deep water?

Catfish prefer deep water, but water that is too deep is not sustainable for these fish. Catfish need a steady supply of food and an above-average amount of oxygen, and they need holes and structures to live in. All of these become scarcer the deeper the water gets. 

This means that the best place to look for catfish in deep water is to fish near a water inlet from a river when fishing in a lake, or to fish along the bank when fishing rivers, where the water is no deeper than around 25 feet. 

River inlets, in-flows into lakes, areas in rivers that have plenty of structures such as areas with exposed tree roots, and areas that are close to the banks of a river or lake where there are plenty of places to hide and a lot of vegetation are all excellent places to fish for catfish in deep water. 

The best chance of catching a catfish in deeper water is during the evening and the night hours in summer when the water retains its warmth into the night, and there is an abundance of food for the catfish to find at the lower depths. 

Catfish are more active in warm water. Where there is an abundance of food to eat, they will be very active and ready to take your bait. These fish mostly eat at night, so it is always best to fish in deep waters at night. 

If you take the time to find an ideal catfish habitat and are patient enough to wait until night, you can catch catfish easily, if you have the right bait type. 

How To Find Catfish In Shallow Water

Catfish can be difficult to catch, but they are easiest to hook when they happen to be in shallow water. This leads many anglers to wonder where the best places to find catfish in the shallows are and how to find them in these waters. 

To find catfish in shallow waters, the best locations to search are areas that have plenty of cover from vegetation and a good amount of food items for the catfish to find. This could be baitfish, insects, reptiles, frogs and toads, or even tadpoles. Where there is catfish food, there you will find catfish. 

Look for areas of shallow water that have plenty of hiding places for catfish. This is usually along the banks of the water and where there are natural structures for the fish to hide in.

Catfish spawning grounds are the best places to find them in shallows, which only happens in the spring. If you are lucky enough to trace a spawning area, which is usually in shallow river inlets, you are sure to catch a catfish. 

These fish are ready to eat during the spawning season, and they readily take bait during this time, especially during dawn and dusk. 

Shallow water near river inlets is another excellent place to search for catfish. These fish are known to frequent these areas, and there is usually a lot of food and hiding places in these areas, which is ideal for catfish. 

When searching in shallow water for catfish, always look for food items the fish may be attracted to. Look for baitfish, insects hatching on the water’s surface, a concentration of amphibians, or an area that is likely to have a lot of worms and groups in the waterbed. 

Looking for water birds feeding in shallow water is a good indication of where catfish food can be found, so these birds usually mark a good location to look for catfish in shallow water. 

Take your time and search for ideal catfish areas. Wait until evening, fish in warmer water, and you are sure to find some catfish in shallow water that will be relatively easy to catch. 


There are several species of catfish in the world, and most prefer to swim and dwell in deep water, but these fish are known to frequent shallow water for specific purposes. Almost all catfish are bottom feeders but venture to shallow water in certain seasons. 

If you want to catch a catfish, fish in deep or shallow water according to the season and what the fish need at that time of year. Take your time, use your understanding of the fish, and you will catch one with the right gear. 

Tommy Bull
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