Marine Biology

Fish Profile Blue Catfish



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The blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) is a species of catfish that is native to the rivers and streams of the southern United States.   Blue catfish are found in many of the waterways that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, including the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio river basins.  They are found as far north as Iowa and Nebraska and as far south as Mexico and Guatemala.  Blue catfish have also been introduced to the states of Arizona, California and Washington.

Appearance:

Blue catfish get their name from the fact that they are often blueish-gray in color, although coloration can vary.  Coloration can be related to water conditions.  Catfish that live in muddy water are more likely to be pale in color and are often confused with channel catfish.  Smaller blue catfish typically look a lot like channel catfish.  When they are young, blue catfish tend to have a thin, streamlined appearance similar to that of the channel catfish.  When they get larger, however, healthy blue catfish have a distinctive fat shape, with large pot-bellies.

Size:

Blue catfish are probably the largest catfish in the United States.  Historically, blue catfish may have reached weights of two to three-hundred pounds.  There are numerous reports of blue catfish weighing over 150, and up to 315, pounds from the nineteenth century.  These reports, however, are difficult to verify.  Today, however, fish weighing more than 60 pounds are rare and those over 100 pounds are often record-breakers.  The largest recorded blue catfish to date was caught on Saturday, June 18, 2011 by Richard Nicholas “Nick” Anderson in the John H. Kerr Reservoir (aka. Buggs Island Lake or Kerr Lake) in Virginia.  Kerr Lake/Buggs Island Lake is an artificial lake on the Virginia/North Carolina border created by the John H. Kerr dam on the Roanoke River (1).

Habitat and behavior:

Blue catfish are more active and less sluggish that many other North American catfish species.  They are predators rather than bottom feeders.  The main prey of larger blue catfish are smaller school fish such as herring and shad.  They tend to prefer cleaner, faster-moving water than other catfish like channel cats and flatheads.  Blue catfish are most commonly found in large rivers.  Specimens stocked in reservoirs often grow to large sizes.  In addition to small fish, blue catfish also feed on crayfish, insects, clams and various other invertebrates.  Blue catfish are one of the strongest freshwater fighting fish.  They are sought out by sports fishermen and are also eaten as food fish.  Relatively little is known about their reproductive behavior, but it is thought that they are similar to channel catfish in this respect.

Summary:

Blue catfish are found mainly in large rivers in southern and mid-western US states.  Blue catfish are some of the largest catfish in North America and are sought after as both sport and food fish.

Notes:

(1) http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/news/release.asp?id=301.

Reference:

“143-Pound Blue Catfish Certified as State Record” (Virginia Department of Game and Fisheries New Release, June 22, 2011):
http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/news/release.asp?id=301

Description of Blue Catfish (State of Virginia):
http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/fish/details.asp?fish=010390

Description of Blue Catfish (State of Texas):
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/species/blc/

Keith Sutton.  “Blue Catfish,” p. 18-21 in Fishing for Catfish: A Complete Guide for Catching Big Channels, Blues and Flatheads.  Chanhassen, Minnesota: Creative Publishing International, 1998.

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