Other Names: forked-tailed cat, humpback blue, and chucklehead
Blue Catfish Ictalurus furcatus
Blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) is a sizeable smooth-skinned fish species with a blue body and whiskers called barbels around its mouth.
With a typical length of 25 to 46 inches and living up to 20 years, the blue cat is the largest North American species of catfish. This fish is a native of the Mississippi river basins, whose drainage includes the Tennessee, Rio Grande, Missouri, Arkansas, and Ohio river basins. This fish usually inhabits large rivers and reservoirs over mud, gravel, or sand.
Blue catfish or Ictalurus Furcatus have a discernible forked tail fin, from which their scientific description is derived. Ictalurus in Greek means fish cat while Furcatus is Latin for forked. Other common names for this fish species include forked-tailed cat, humpback blue, and chucklehead.
Apart from the Rio Grande species, which has dark spots on its back and sides, blue catfish generally have a slate blue coloration without spots and commonly exceed 100 pounds.
In some areas, such as Virginia and particularly the Chesapeake Bay, blue catfish are considered an invasive species. In other lakes, river systems, or reservoirs, people introduced this species in significant numbers, and since it can tolerate brackish water, it has colonized waterways along many coastal regions.
Blue cats are heavy-bodied fish generally without spots and a deeply forked tail. They have smooth skin without any scales and a broad head with a dorsal hump, a high spot forward center of the head. These fish are silvery-blue in color with a white belly and four pairs of black whiskers or barrels around their mouth.
Diet Size and Lifespan
Blue catfish are voracious feeders, targeting prey like shad, crayfish, blue crabs, and mussels to reach weights of between 40 and over 100 pounds. These fish are bottom dwellers but will happily attack baitfish and other prey above the water bottom.
During the late 1800s, there are reports of blue catfish in the Mississippi River that exceeded 350 pounds in weight though none of this size has ever been caught and weighed officially. Size, weight, and growth rate vary according to population density and baitfish availability. On reservoirs in Oklahoma, only a small percentage of blue catfish will reach over 30 inches long, while in Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi, 100 pounders are common.
As a long-lived fish, blue catfish can attain 30 years but average nine up to 25 years old. In the wild, catfish have few natural predators, except for bald eagles and osprey in areas like the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Spawning for blue catfish takes place during spring or summer when the water temperatures are optimal. The blue and channel cat spawn in temperatures between 70 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit; 80 to 81 degrees is considered the best. Generally, the peak spawn is between April and June. The male builds and guards the nest where they fertilize the eggs; the eggs hatch in about six to ten days, depending n the temperature of the water. Females produce between 4000 to 8000 eggs per kilogram of their body weight. Both parents will participate in raising the fry, but males are the primary caregivers.
Fishing For Blue Catfish
Blue cats are highly sought after by anglers because these giant fish are ferocious fighters when hooked. Finding the bait means that blue catfish are in the area as these determined hunters are never too far away from food.
Anglers catch blue catfish throughout the year, but March through May are usually the best months. Anglers can catch them any time of day, but usually, this fish is most active at night or in any low-light conditions.
Blue catfish have a defense mechanism that you should be wary of in serrated spinal barbs or spines on their pectoral and dorsal fins, which secret toxins.
Blue catfish will strike at both live bait and artificial. The primary prey or forage fish in the fishery is the best bait to use for this fish. The most effective setup is usually heavy tackle with cut bait, shad, live herring, or peeler crabs.
Many anglers use a bait with plenty of stink, such as cut herring, mud shad, or menhaden.
The world record blue catfish with a length of 57 inches, a circumference of 47 inches, and weighing 143 pounds was reeled in by Nick Anderson on June 18, 2011, at the John Kerr reservoir. From Greenville, NC, Nick was fishing at what’s commonly referred to as Buggs Island Lake at the border of North Carolina and Virginia.
Channel catfish prefer well-oxygenated, clean natural waters such as swiftly flowing streams, but they also live in ponds, lakes, sluggish streams, and large reservoirs. Usually, channel catfish live in waters with gravel, sand, or rubble bottoms, rarely waters with mud bottoms.
Moreover, you will hardly find them in dense aquatic weeds. They are naturally freshwater fishes, but they can also survive in brackish and muddy waters.
During the daytime, channel fishes are found in deep holes, especially in places with the protection of rocks and logs. Their feeding activity and movement usually takes place at late hours of the day and just before sunrise.
Young channel catfish feed in shallow areas, while adults prefer feeding in deeper waters immediately downstream from sand bars. You also hardly find adult channel fishes moving from one place to another. They are mostly sedentary—their young move from one place to another, especially at night when they are feeding.
Age And Growth
Channel catfishes tend to grow more effectively in warm waters. Optimum growth occurs in waters at temperatures of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. When there is an 18-degree change in temperature, there is always a halving or doubling of their metabolic rate.
In fresh or natural waters, the average size of the channel catfish caught by fishermen is usually less than 2- 3 pounds. Their size and age that they reach in natural waters depend on a lot of factors.
Research and studies on the age and growth of the channel catfish have shown that they do not reach 1 pound in size in many natural waters until after 2 to 4 years. A study in the Lake of Ozarks showed that the channel fish doesn’t reach a size of 13 inches total length until they are eight years old. The maximum age ever recorded for this fish is forty years.
Subsequently, the channel fish’s growth rate in production ponds depends on factors such as the taste of food, quality and quantity of food fed, water quality, frequency of feeding, and a lot of others. Most farm-raised channel catfishes are harvested at the age of 18 months and a weight of 11/4 pounds.
Blue Catfish Vs. Channel Catfish
The US’s primary catfish species are blue, channel, and flathead catfish; the blues and channels are the most commonly mixed up.
Ictalurus Punctatus, which means fish cat and spotted respectively, is the distinguishing feature of a channel cat. Even when blue and grown to the sizes equated with blue catfish, the channel cat will not lose their spots, which are entirely missing from the latter.
A large channel cat and a medium-sized blue is the most difficult to tell apart, but the anal fin and tail can always differentiate the two.
The Number of Anal Fin Rays
Counting the number of anal fins rays is a common way to tell the two fish apart. Channel catfish will have significantly fewer rays than blue catfish, which has up to 30.
A Different Tail
Channel catfish have a rounded forked tail, as opposed to a blue catfish’s pointed one, and this is a great way to tell the difference if you have no time to count the anal fin rays.
Size of The Fish
Blue catfish are gigantic fish, and they’re known to weigh over 100 pounds, while channels will rarely tip the scales past 30 pounds. There are exceptions, but generally, the blue monster you are trying to pick up for its colossal size isn’t a channel.
As with all catfish, blue catfish are delicious as table fare, and many people associate their flavor with that of rockfish. This fish species is also available all around the country and in significantly large numbers, with some areas trying to control their populations.
Being a predominantly southern fish, the best recipes for blue catfish involve frying and spicing with Cajun seasoning flavors to give the flesh and skin crisp perfection that goes well with a hot sauce.
The Chesapeake Bay Program
In the 1970s, blue catfish were introduced into the Chesapeake region and are considered an invasive species. The Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team of the Chesapeake bay program adopted an invasive catfish policy that outlines the need to control the effects these nonnative fish have on the local ecosystem. The state record of largest blue catfish caught in Virginia in the James River in 2009 weighed 102 pounds.
Tournaments are held every year on the James River and the Potomac River, known hotspots for catfish angling. In some parts of the Chesapeake Bay, releasing these fish are catching them is discouraged; instead, anglers are encouraged to remove and kill the invasive species.