This is a popular species within its range and prized for its flesh, as well as for its sporting value. The blue catfish is a strong, stubborn fighter. It can grow quite large, which enhances its appeal. It is considered good table fare and is widely pursued by commercial fishermen for the market. Its flesh is white, delicate, and tender, especially in smaller specimens.
IdentificationBlue catfish are generally blue gray or slate blue and possess no spots or other markings, although they may be almost pale blue or silvery; their flanks taper in color to their bellies, which are light gray or white. They have deeply forked tails, and their anal fins have straight margins. They resemble channel catﬁsh and when small are most easily confused with that relative.
A larger blue cat has a distinct humped-backed appearance, with the hump occurring at and in front of the dorsal ﬁn; its head is generally larger than that of a channel cat, and its body is less sleek. It can be distinguished from a channel cat by its longer and straight-edged anal ﬁn, which has 30 to 35 rays. In smaller specimens, a distinguishing characteristic is their lack of black body spots. Internally, the blue catfish has three chambers in the swim bladder, whereas the channel cat has two.
Like the channel catfish and the little-known Yaqui catfish of Mexico, the blue cat has a deeply forked tail, a characteristic that distinguishes these three from the ﬂathead catfish and the bullhead, and to some degree also from the white catﬁsh, which has a moderately forked tail. As with other catﬁsh, channel cats have heavy, sharp pectoral and dorsal spines, as well as long mouth barbels.
Size/AgeBlue cats are capable of growing to gargantuan sizes but are rarely found at the upper limits of their capabilities. Most anglers catch blues in the 5- to 20-pound range. Fish in the 20- to 50-pound class are not uncommon in waters with a good population of ﬁsh, but blue catﬁsh in that range are infrequently caught and specimens exceeding that size are rare. The all-tackle world record for the species is a 116-pound, 12-ounce ﬁsh caught in the Mississippi River in Arkansas in 2001.
A 116-pounder caught on a trotline was reportedly taken at Lake Texoma, Texas, in 1985, and in 1879 a 150-pounder from the Mississippi River near St. Louis was found at a local market and shipped to the U.S. National Museum. Historical accounts describe 100-pounders at the turn of the twentieth century, and individuals between 200 and 400 pounds have been reported but undocumented, perhaps being more lore than likelihood.
There is similar haziness concerning the blue cat’s growth and longevity. Several scientiﬁc reports indicate that these fish grow up to 14 years of age, and they have been reported to live to 21 years, but greater longevity for the biggest specimens is evidently possible.