Raising fish for food has been a popular rural activity for centuries. You don't need a lot of room, though, to raise catfish for the table. You can bring up to 40 table-size catfish to maturity with a 55-gallon barrel and some simple equipment.
Set up tap assembly in the barrel. Mark a spot on your barrel approximately 8-inches up the side from the bottom. Drill out a circle just large enough to snugly fit the tap assembly. Smooth the edges of the hole with a file and insert the tap assembly with the tap facing outward. Attach assembly to barrel with marine sealant to create a water tight seal. Allow sealant to dry for 24 hours before adding water. Attach garden hose to the tap end of the assembly.
Hook up the aquarium oxygen pump according to the manufacturer's instructions. Seat the pump firmly into the barrel and make sure that the water intake into the pump is screened over so as not to accidentally suck up the fish.
Find a suitable permanent location for the barrel. Keep the barrel in a shaded location safe from raccoons, cats, and other fish predators. The barrel will have to be close enough to an electrical outlet for the pump to plug in. Under an overhang on the north side of the house would be an ideal location.
Fill the barrel with water. It is best to use tap water for this process as pond or lake water can contain toxic algae which can poison your catfish. When the barrel is full to within 8-inches of the top, allow the water to de-chlorinate for 24 hours before introducting the catfish.
Add your fingerling catfish. You can purchase fingerlings from your local Extension office or a local fishery. Add up to 40 fingerlings to your barrel. This number will allow the catfish to grow to eatable size (1 to 1 1/2 lbs) in 9 months. Allow the fish to acclimatize to their new surroundings for 4 hours before feeding.
Feed your catfish twice a day. You can purchase commercial fish food or you can raise your own worms or larvae to feed them. Feed until catfish begin to lose interest in eating. If you feed too much, food will rot in the barrel and cause the water to become cloudy and encourage the growth of algae.
Change out the water daily. Drain off 15 gallons of the pond water through the hose and tap assembly every day. Replace with 15 gallons of fresh tap water that has been allowed to de-chlorinate for 24 hours. Use the waste water as a nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden.
Monitor the water temperature in the barrel frequently. The ideal temperatures for catfish are between 70 and 80 degrees F. In the north, this makes the ideal time to raise catfish from early spring until late fall. In the south, it is from early fall to late spring. Shade the barrel from the sun as much as possible in warm weather to moderate the temperature. Catfish can handle cooler temperatures but will grow more slowly.
Harvest your fish when they reach 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. You can either harvest them fresh as you need them or harvest them all at once and freeze them, either whole or filetted. When all of the fish are harvested, drain the barrel and wash with a weak bleach solution before starting the next batch of fish.