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Fishing for Blue Catfish

Updated on October 22, 2014

Blue Catfish Facts

Blue catfish are native to the Mississippi River Basin. They are most common in large rivers, where they often favor faster currents than other catfish.

They have been introduced to several rivers in Mid Atlantic region, including the James and Potomac Rivers in Virginia and the Cape Fear and Catawba rivers in North Carolina.

They are the largest American catfish. They can grow to over 55 inches long and can weigh over 100 pounds. Blue catfish can live up to 20-25 years.

Adult blue catfish have stout bodies with prominently humped back in front of the dorsal fin. They have deeply forked tails similar to channel catfish, but lack spots and have a large straight edged anal fin. The back and upper sides are blue to slate gray, and the lower sides and belly are white.

Fishing for Virginia Blue Catfish

Virginia has some of the best fishing for monster blue catfish on the East coast. Popular Virginia rivers for catching blue catfish include the James, Rappahannock, Chickahominy, Mattoponi and Shendandoah.

Blue catfish are also plentiful in Kerr Lake on the NC-VA border.

In tidal areas such as the James River, blue catfish have adapted to saltwater tidal flows and actively move into position to feed upcurrent as the tide changes direction. James River specialists fish live baits such as shad which are live lined around structure where big catfish lurk.

The range of blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is increasing as these fish establish populations in other river systems.

Blue catfish in Virginia tidal rivers steadily increase in length over a fairly long period of time (through age 15). They grow fairly slowly for the first several years of life. After reaching adulthood, blue catfish make a diet shift to larger, energy-rich, prey items and the rate of weight-gain increases dramatically.

Blue catfish in the James River attain only 5 pounds on average by age 8. Then, with a rapid increase in growth, they average 10 pounds at age 10, 20 pounds at age 12, and 30 pounds at age 13. Fish in this population are known to reach 50 pounds by age 11, although age 13 – 14 is more typical.

Books on Fishing for Catfish

Fishing for Catfish: The Complete Guide for Catching Big Channels, Blues and Flatheads (Freshwater Angler)
Fishing for Catfish: The Complete Guide for Catching Big Channels, Blues and Flatheads (Freshwater Angler)

Fishing for Catfish is another exciting addition to the Freshwater Angler series. This highly requested title is a valuable reference guide that covers all aspects of catfishing. An appealing book that conveys helpful how-to information through four-colour photography, illustrations and easy-to-understand instructions.


How Big Do Blue Catfish Get?

Research conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University showed that blue catfish in the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James Rivers can grow to monster proportions. VIMS biologists measured the growth of individual blue catfish by tracking the length and weight of fish at different ages. According to the study, some blue catfish reached lengths of nearly 40 inches by their 17th or 18th year.

Blue Catfish Recipes

The blue catfish is considered an excellent food fish with white, firm, delicately flavored flesh. They are a good source of protein, omega 3 and other nutrients.

Herbed Blue Catfish

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chopped chives

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon chopped lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Tabasco sauce to taste

1 1/4 pounds blue catfish fillets


In a small mixing bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, chives, parsley, lemon juice, zest, salt and Tabasco sauce. Transfer half of the mixture into a separate bowl, cover, refrigerate and set aside.

Heat a large nonstick pan or griddle over medium-high heat. Brush fillets with remaining herb mayonnaise. Place each piece (coated side down) into the preheated pan, and cook for 2-3 minutes until golden. Using a spatula, turn over and brown on remaining side for another 1-2 minutes until cooked through.

Transfer cooked fillets onto serving plate and top each portion with approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons of reserved herb mayonnaise. Serve with cole slaw, dill pickles, cornbread or chips. Serves 4.

missouri state record - IGFA world record blue catfish
missouri state record - IGFA world record blue catfish

World Record and State Record Blue Catfish

In the last several seasons, state and world records for blue catfish have been challenged several times.

In 2011, a monster blue catfish, caught by Richard Nicholas "Nick" Anderson in Virginia's John H. Kerr Reservoir set a new Virginia state record for the species. At 143 pounds, the new state record blue catfish may also become the next world record blue catfish.

If certified by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), the Virginia blue catfish will top the previous world record, a 130-pound blue catfish caught in the Missouri River in 2010.

Earlier in 2011, the Virginia state record was shattered with a 109 pound blue catfish, caught by Tony Milam of South Boston, Virginia, in John H. Kerr Reservoir.

In 2010, Greg Bernal set a new Missouri state record for blue catfish (ictalurus fucatus). The fish measured 57 inches in length, 45 inches in girth and weighed 130 pounds.

photo credit: Missouri Department of Conservation (Missouri state record blue catfish)

Noodling for Blue Catfish

"Noodling" is a type of hand fishing for catfish that is legally practiced in rivers, lakes or ponds in a handful of southeastern states.

Noodling is when a person wades or swims into water and inserts a hand down into holes under mud banks, rocks, or inside of hollow logs. Using bare hands as bait, the noodler wiggles their fingers in the hole in hopes that they find a large catfish. If the noodler is lucky, a monster catfish will strike and attempt to swallow their hand. The noodler then must pull the fish out onto land or onto a waiting boat without being pulled under water.

Catfish Feedback

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      9 years ago

      I haven't fished for catfish too much, but I would love to tie into big blue.


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