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What is a Blue Catfish?

By Laura Evans
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ictalurus furcatus, the scientific name for blue catfish, means "fish cat" from the Greek word "Ictalurus" and "forked" from the Latin word "furcatus." Blue catfish have deeply forked tails. These fish inhabit to large rivers in Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi, Texas, Mexico, and Guatemala. This catfish typically weighs between 20 to 40 pounds (about 9 to 28 kg), although some can weigh 100 pounds (about 100 kg) or more. Although never officially confirmed, legends have an unidentified person catching a catfish weighing 300 to 350 pounds (about 136 to 159 kg), perhaps from the Mississippi River in the late 1800s.

In addition to having a forked tail, blue catfish is typically a blue-silver color on top. This color fades to a white belly. Most Ictalurus furcatus are unspotted with the exception of blue catfish living in the Rio Grande, which has dark spots on top and on the sides. Ictalurus furcatus prefer to live in waters that are about 77 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (about 25 to 28 degrees Celsius) and may move to cooler waters upstream during the summer months and downstream for warmer waters during the winter. These fish are fast growing and can live from 20 to 25 years.

Blue catfish spawn in the late spring from June to early July. Eggs are laid in a nest in water with temperatures between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (about 21 to 24 degrees Celsius). After about one week, the eggs hatch. While both parents may guard the fry, the male is typically more involved than the female. Around a week after the fry hatch, the baby fish swim away.

Ictalurus furcatus typically eat at night using their barbels, or "whiskers,” to smell for their prey near or on the bottom of the river. Although young blue catfish dine on insects and small fish, adult blues will eat insects, other fish, frogs, clams, mussels, and crayfish. Blue catfish will eat dead food as well as live food.

Blue catfish are caught for two reasons, because this catfish has a nice taste for those who enjoy eating freshwater fish and because Ictalurus furcatus are fighters when hooked. Because Ictalurus furcatus have a strong sense of smell, anglers use bait that will appeal to this sense of smell, such as "stink" bait, frogs, crayfish, and turkey livers. This catfish is strong enough after hooked that some prefer to use saltwater tackle rather than just heavy tackle to catch a fish.

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