The blue catfish is one of the largest species of North American catfish reaching a length of 165 centimetres (65 in). Blue catfish are distributed primarily in the Mississippi River drainage including the Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Arkansas rivers. These large catfish have also been introduced in a number of reservoirs and rivers, notably the Santee Cooper lakes of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie in South Carolina, the James River in Virginia, and Powerton Lake in Pekin, Illinois.
The blue catfish, the channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus), and the white catfish (Ameiurus catus) are the only three catfishes in the U.S.A. that have distinctly forked tails, setting them apart from the bullheads and the flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris), which have squarish or slightly emarginate tails. The blue catfish can be distinguished from the channel and white catfish by its noticeably longer anal fin, which has a more even depth and a straighter edge than in the other two species. There are 30 36 rays in the fin, versus 24 30 rays in the channel catfish and 19 23 rays in the white catfish. Internally, the blue catfish can be identified by the fact that it has three chambers in the swim bladder, whereas the channel catfish has two chambers. All three forked tail species may be almost uniformly pale blue or silvery in color, though white catfish may show a more distinct difference between the bluish back and white belly. Channel catfish frequently have spots.
On a Father's Day weekend fishing trip, Saturday, June 18, 2011, Nick Anderson of Greenville, NC reeled in a 143 pound blue catfish. The fish was caught in John Kerr Reservoir, more commonly known as Buggs Island Lake, on the Virginia-North Carolina border. On June 22, 2011, the Virginia Dept of Game and Inland Fisheries certified the blue catfish as the state's largest setting a new state record.
On February 7, 2012, a 136 pound blue catfish was caught on a commercial fishing trot line in Lake Moultrie, more commonly known as Santee Cooper Lake, near Cross, South Carolina. It was 56 inches long. The fish is the largest blue catfish ever weighed on a certified scale in South Carolina but it is not eligible for state record certification because it was not caught on a rod and reel.
On July 20, 2010, a yet to be certified new world record blue catfish was caught by Greg Bernal of Florissant, Mo. on the Missouri River. Greg's girlfriend, Janet Momphard, a nurse from St. Charles, Mo. helped land the world-record fish. The record catfish weighed in at 130 lbs. It was 57 inches long and 45 inches in girth. The previous angling world record was 124 pounds, and was caught by Tim Pruitt on May 22, 2005, in the Mississippi River. This record broke the previous blue catfish record of 121.5 Lbs caught from Lake Texoma, Texas.
Blue catfish are opportunistic predators and will eat any species of fish they can catch, along with crayfish, freshwater mussels, frogs, and other readily available aquatic food sources; some blue catfish have reportedly attacked scuba divers. Catching their prey becomes all the more easy if it is already wounded or dead, and blue cats are noted for feeding beneath marauding schools of striped bass in open water in reservoirs or feeding on wounded baitfish that have been washed through dam spillways or power generation turbines.
Due to their opportunistic nature, blue catfish will usually take advantage of readily accessible food in a variety of situations, which from the angler's perspective makes cut up or dead baits, and even stink baits an excellent choice to target these fish. Blue cats will also respond well to live baits, with live river herring and shad usually a top choice, followed by large shiner minnows, sunfish, suckers, and carp. All of the above baits can be used as fresh cut baits with good success and freshwater drum also work well in this capacity. Generally a fairly large piece of cut bait (4-12 inches long) on a fairly large hook (3/0 to 9/0) is a good choice in rivers or reservoirs where large blue cats (50 pounds and up) are a possibility.
Depending on current conditions, sinkers ranging from 1/2 to 8 oz. may be required, with 1-2 oz. a good choice for many situations. To catch large blue catfish in rivers, the more current the better usually, although fishing along current edges and breaks is often a good option. Blue catfish tend to favor deeper water in larger rivers and reservoirs, but will make feeding and spawning forays into relatively shallow water. Blue catfish can be frequently caught in warmer climates in water as shallow as twelve inches. For the largest of specimens, fishing for them requires incredibly powerful tackle, often fishermen targeting these brutes will choose saltwater tackle such as a large heavy action pole with 100lbs line, and 10/0 circle hooks, with a 2 lbs. chunk of cut skipjack herring. Blue catfish are incredible fighters, and are often considered game fish due to their reputation for attacking anything from panfish baits to artificial bass lures.
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