If you live in a part of the country where people like to eat catfish, raising catfish for profit can be a lucrative side job or full-time career. Southern states have a large and often untapped demand for locally raised catfish. Catfish farmers can also find lucrative niches in several markets: selling fish to pay lakes (lakes where people can fish and pay by the pound for the fish they catch); directly to consumers; to grocery stores; or to restaurants. However, taking advantage of all the opportunities catfish farming has to offer requires some planning and attention to the fish that will be your bread and butter.
Select a pond. The best ponds for catfish farms have easy road access so you can check on your fish, are close to a populated area to deter poachers and are near electricity to power an aeration system, which can greatly improve your yield. Finding a pond that has drains will also greatly reduce your construction costs.
Modify the pond for commercial production. Clear trees and debris from the levee and repair any leaks to ensure that the catfish stay in your pond and that you can move equipment on top of the levee. Check the emergency spillway to ensure that it won't get clogged with trash or release fish. Clear away silt, stumps and other debris from the pond floor. Regrade the bottom so it is smooth and has a gentle grade, which will make the job of harvesting much easier than if your pond has deep pockets or drop-offs.
Obtain the necessary permits. Your state and local government will likely require specific permits for you to farm and sell catfish commercially. You may also need a permit for the equipment you will need to operate on your farm. Other common permits include those to farm nonnative species of fish, a live-fish dealer's license, transportation permits and permits to construct or modify your pond.
Stock your pond. Several factors -- including the type of aeration equipment you use, the time you have to cultivate the fish before selling and the size you want the fish to be at harvest -- will determine the number of fish you stock. Kentucky State University recommends that first-time producers limit their stocking to 3,500 fish per acre in aerated ponds if the market size is 1 1/4 pounds or more.
Feed your catfish a nutritionally complete food. Feed labeled supplemental feed lacks the nutrients your catfish need to thrive and can reduce yield and lead to disease. While feeding rates depend on factors such as water temperature, type of pellet used, and the number and size of your fish, feeding twice a day will generally increase nutrient absorption and keep your fish healthier over time.
Keep a close eye on water quality. Maintaining the quality of your water will help prevent fish diseases and ensure you have a healthy, marketable crop. Maintain the proper oxygen concentration; the easiest way to do this is to invest in an aeration system such as a fountain or a paddle wheel. You will also need to maintain proper ammonia and nitrate levels by flushing the pond or adding chloride depending on measurements that should be taken about once a week.