Suni Catfish

posted: 03/18/14
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Suni Catfish
Johnny Jensen/ |

This obscure variety of catfish, found throughout the Congo River system, seems to have an identity crisis. In scientific nomenclature, it's known as both Chrysichthys cranchii and as Amarginops cranchii. calls it the suni, which also happens to be the name of a type of dwarf African antelope, while in the database, it's the kanzema, kokuni, the manora, or the tshirima, depending upon what language you speak or what country you're from. In this article, we'll call it the suni catfish.

Fishbase lists its maximum length as around 5 feet, with a top weight of nearly 300 pounds, though there's a semi-credible report of one that topped out a foot longer and 100 pounds heavier. It's one of 59 members of the family Claroteidae, a clan that also includes the giraffe catfish (Auchenoglanis occidentalis) and the African big eye catfish (Chrysichthys longipinnis), both of which have very charismatic monikers. If you want to catch a truly enormous catfish, though, this monster might be the ticket.

The Mystery Fish

Sadly, there's not a wealth of research data available about the suni catfish from the Congo. But we can tell you that its skull and teeth were once used as sacred objects in initiation rituals by the Lega people of the southeastern Congo, for whom it traditionally was an important food source. Like other claroteids, the brown and black fish has a moderately elongated body and four pairs of barbels (barbels resemble a cat's whiskers) along with dorsal and pectoral fins with strong spines.

Albert C. L. G. Günther's 1864 reference work "Catalogue of the Fishes in the British Museum" notes more species-specific details: a striated head, broad snout, a dorsal fin as high as the body, and a considerably shorter adipose fin. The fish's reproductive patterns, lifespan and precise diet are question marks, though we'll guess that like other African catfish, they're probably omnivores who dine on everything from algae and aquatic plants to shrimp, snails, crawfish, small fish and insects.

How to Catch One

Oddly, considering its truly impressive dimensions, there aren't a lot of fishing safari promoters on the Web clamoring to help you catch one, so fishing advice is scarce. You could follow the Lega people's centuries-old lutumpu method of catching the giant catfish: The men of the village dragged branches with leaves through the river and chased the fish into a big net held by a row of the tribe's women. That requires a pretty big crew of helpers, though, so you might want to try a heavy-duty rod and reel. Like other catfish, it's a bottom feeder, so you may want to use a boat instead of fishing from shore.

Why You Should Throw It Back

Chrysichthys cranchii is not a particularly resilient fish. According to, it can take between 4.5 and 14 years for its population to double, so every mature fish that you take is one that isn't available to replenish the species.

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