Barbel Fish – The African Sharptooth Catfish

The African Sharptooth Catfish is more commonly known as the “Barbel”. 

In Zimbabwe this African barbel has a local name. In the Shona language it is known as the Muramba fish.

What Is A Barbel?

The Barbel or Sharp Tooth Catfish are widely distributed throughout Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.

The common name barbel is derived from the Latin word “barba”, meaning beard. Its Latin name is “clarias gariepinus“.

This species of catfish is of the family Clariidae. The airbreathing catfish genus.

In Zimbabwe they are found in Lake Kariba. They grow up to 40 kg with an average mass of 8 kg.

Barbel Catfish Scientific Classification

Common Name:Barbel

Fishing For Barbel

These are the most commonly caught species in Lake Kariba. When it comes to catching this fish, a wide range of techniques as well as bait can be used.

This includes bait fishing with living as well as dead baits, lure fishing, and fly fishing.

Barbel Fish Bait

The best bait to catch barbel are tilapia, carp, and paper mouth, other baits to use include frogs (platanna), bread, worms, mealies (corn pips), day old chickens, and meaty baits like braai meat or raw chicken livers.

How To Catch Barbel – Fishing Tips

Barbel are sensitive to noise and feed during the early morning and late afternoon/evening. The bottlenose fish are also active in the early evening.

They are a great fish to catch as it is an excellent fighter and very strong in and out of the water. It will drag your line to the bottom, with strong runs between.

Be careful as it will wrap around any obstruction in the water such as rocks and trees and other water plants.

It can also twist itself around the line in order to break it off. Strong tackle is a must to lift this catfish from the bottom and to manage the runs.

Biggest Barbel Caught In South Africa

Officially the biggest barbel caught in southern Africa has an angling record of 35 kgs.

Unofficially, a whopping 58.9kg specimen was caught in the Vaal River.

African Sharptooth Catfish

Barbel Anatomy

The barbel is a large heavy-boned fish. It is well-known for its flattish head and the long barbs that surround the mouth. The whole head is covered with taste and smell organs with incredibly sharp senses for food location.

It has a grey-colored back with bronze flanks and a pearl-colored lower half.

It is easy to recognize by the four barbs on its face, each one on the corner of its mouth in addition to two on the snout. These are essentially taste and smell organs for food location.

As the barbel forages in the riverbed these barbs are feeling for and smelling the potential food.

Catfish are typical bottom feeders and therefore has the typical foraging mouth. The downward curving shape is a big help when picking food off the river or lake bed.

What Do Barbel Eat?

The catfish are carnivorous fish and they feed on anything that moves provided it is small.

What do barbel fish eat?

  • frogs
  • crayfish
  • snakes
  • frogs
  • small crocodiles
  • fish
  • snails
  • larvae
  • insects

Barbel has a habit of feeding in fast gravelly runs, where they use their sturdy snouts to forage for food alongside the riverbed.


How long do Barbel live?

The catfish can easily live up to 10 years of age.

They are very adept at surviving in the harshest of conditions. This fact ensures their survival during drought for future seasons.


They are very hardy fish and are famous for the time span that they can live out of water.

The barbel has great survival strategies especially when food becomes scarce and when there is little water in the rivers, dams, or lakes. Due to its strong survival instinct this catfish can move over land when damp conditions occur.

These unusual fish can eat seeds and fruit in their survival diet.

It will bury itself in the mud at the bottom of a river or dam when water is scarce and drought arrives. They will then re-emerge at the first sign of rain and water flow.

Adults tend to be inactive during the day and are often found hiding under overhanging trees or bridges. They are most active during dusk and dawn while larvae and juveniles are active during both day and night.

Larvae and juveniles live in the bottom in very shallow shoreline habitats. They leave the shorelines and the sluggish waters for faster-flowing areas as they grow and mature.


Individual females breed with several males. The males will assemble at breeding grounds and then follow ripe females. This ritual is often accompanied by much splashing to shallow riffles.

Males may display courting or sneaking tactics in the breeding sites. During the breeding act, one male swims head to head with the female.

The sneaking males, waiting in the breeding site, then join the couple and try to fertilize eggs. Up to 130 males have been reported to be involved in a single breeding act.

Females lay non-sticky eggs in 2-3 portions into excavations made in the gravel.

Can You Eat Barbel Fish?

Barbel is edible.

Although be warned, Barbel roe is poisonous and definitely to be avoided. Consumption causes diarrhea and vomiting in some people. However, the fish itself may have a muddy flavour depending on the time of year it is caught.

Contrary to popular belief, fish do not have muddy tastes because they are captured on muddy lake bottoms.

Geosmin is a chemical component that contributes to the flavor.

The blue-green algae that may be seen on some lakes’ surfaces and the actinomyces bacteria that contributes to the breakdown of organic matter on lake bottoms are the two main sources of geosmin in freshwater lakes. Geosmin gets absorbed through their bloodstream into their skin, meat, and muscular tissue.

Only once the algae bloom clears and/or the rate of decomposition slows does geosmin become completely gone.

Cleaning Barbel

  • With running water, thoroughly wash the Barbel.
  • Then completely remove all of its scales.
  • Take the head and tail off.
  • Remove the insides by splitting it in half along the back.
  • The meat should then be washed and dried one more.
  • You can immediately cook it or salt it.
  • It’s recommended to discard the roe if you find it while washing the fish because, according to some, it can be hazardous.

Cooking Barbel

The common barbel is delicious to cook with the best seasonings including black pepper, paprika, chile, soy sauce, and white wine. The meat is flavorful and pairs well with vegetables.The common barbel tastes great when fried, steamed, grilled or baked in the oven.

Advantages of Barbel

Eating barbel is not only a treat for the taste buds; it is also a feast for the body. Barbel are rich in vitamins, 1, 12, D, E, and other essential nutrients. Barbel consumption enhances heart and brain health. The fish is also nutritional, making it a valuable ally in the fight against weight gain.

In Conclusion

In a nutshell, the barbel’s unique and great survival skills ensure this fish is the most exciting species to study.

Fishermen know the African sharptooth catfish as one of the hardest fish to catch.

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