Blue Catfish Species Information

Blue Catfish - Ictalurus furcatus

The blue catfish is one of the biggest species of catfish in North America. It is bluish-gray in color with a white belly. They have a forked tail, very smooth skin with no scales, and a wide head. Blue Catfish have a dorsal hump near the center of their back which earned them the nickname "humpback blue." An average catfish is usually between 25-40 inches and measures 20-40 pounds.

Geographic Range

Regions native to blue catfish include the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio river basins and the Gulf of Mexico drainages that stretch north from Pennsylvania to South Dakota, and south to the Gulf Coast. Between 1974 and 1985 the United States Fish Commission and the Virginia Division of In-land Fish and Game stocked blue catfish in the James, Rappahannock, and York Rivers. Since then, they have quickly expanded to major tributaries in Maryland and Virginia, and the surround-ing Chesapeake Bay areas. Smaller introductions of blue catfish have taken place in the rivers of more than 5 other states such as Alabama, Florida, and California, as well as Mexico. Today, their habitat includes most rivers in California, Louisiana, and the Atlantic slope regions including the Rio Grande, James, Rappahannock, Mattaponi, York, Potomac, Patuxent, and Nanticoke Rivers. There have also been reports of blue catfish in the Burke and Brittle Lakes and far north in the Chesapeake Bay tributaries such as the Susquehanna River.

Habits of the Blue Catfish

Learn about the habits of this catfish species.

Physical Description

Blue catfish are included in family Ictaluridae, or bullhead catfishes, and have many characteris-tics shared by members of this family. These characteristics include lack of scales, a single dorsal fin followed by an adipose fin just before the caudal fin, and a flat anal fin. The anal fin is long, possesses a straight distal margin, and contains between 27 to 38 rays, although the typical range is 30 to 36. The tail fin, or caudal fin, is deeply forked and contains 16 branched rays with 6 soft rays. Their dorsal fin and posterior fins contain spines, which are strongly serrated for defense. Blue catfish have eight barbels (whiskers) positioned around their faces. Two barbels arise dor-sally, from the nose, two extend from both corners of the mouth (one for each corner), and four protrude from the chin. Their jaws contain small teeth in villiform bands. Recognized for their large bodies that can weigh well over 100 pounds (45kg), blue catfish can reach two to five feet in length (600 to 1500mm). Their bodies appear bluish-silver and grey dorsally, silvery-white on their sides, and white ventrally. They have similar characteristics as channel catfish; however, unlike channel catfish, blue catfish have no dark blue spots, possess a straight edged adipose fin, and usually have more than 29 rays in their anal fin. No sexual dimorphisms have been observed in blue catfish.

  • Range mass: 50+ (high) kg/100+ (high) lb
  • Average mass: 2 kg/4.41 lb
  • Range length: 600 to 1500 mm/23.62 to 59.06 in
  • Average length: 700 mm/27.56 in

Food Value

Life Span

Up to 21 years


Blue catfish prefer to live on the sandy bottoms of medium to large freshwater channels and pools that possess swift and well-flowing currents in depths greater than 6 meters. They enjoy living near or in complex structures and rock piles that offer both cover and a place to rest without cur-rents. During spring, they may enter areas with little to no currents such as backwaters, sloughs, and reservoirs for nesting and reproduction. During these times, they seek protected, slightly iso-lated, and covered areas such as in logs and under rocks. Blue catfish have a more migratory na-ture than other catfish and often travel long distances in pursuit of these locations. This species adjusts to water temperature changes and swims to warmer waters during the winter and cooler waters during the summer. Although blue catfish prefer freshwater, in rare situations they can occur in brackish estuaries with salinities below 12%, and can tolerate salinities up to 22 ppt (parts per thousand). This tolerance has allowed blue catfish to pass through brackish waters that were thought to serve as barriers. They have now spread beyond the rivers and tributaries stocked by the USFC.

  • Habitat Regions: temperate freshwater
  • Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds, rivers and streams, brackish water
  • Range depth: 0 to 15 m/0 to 50ft
  • Average depth: 6 m/20 ft

Blue Catfish: Image Gallery


Blue catfish have an average life expectancy of 9 to 10 years, but can live to ages upward of twenty years. Their life expectancy does not exceed 25 years, a record set in Virginia in the Rap-pahannock River. Life expectancies can range from river to river, with rivers in Virginia being bet-ter suited at producing older and larger catfish. In Maryland, electrofishing surveys produced blue catfish between the ages of 3 to 14 years; however, the majority was between 5 to 7 years old. High parental investment from male blue catfish in the early stages of development increases the longevity of the young by making it difficult for predators to prey on the species at an early age. During their early life, when they are smaller in size, they are hunted by other predatory fish such as flathead catfish and even their own species. However, as they age, they become larger than other predatory fish, resulting in less predation.

Home Range

Unlike flathead catfish, blue catfish do not exhibit any home range territorial behavior.

Conservation Status

Major threats for blue catfish come from impoundments like Bull Shoals and Table Rock reser-voirs, which have resulted in population losses in places like the White River in Missouri. How-ever, blue catfish are healthy members of family Ictaluridae, with populations that are considered to be of least concern overall. Birth, death, and growth rates remain stable for blue catfish. They are neither threatened nor endangered.  

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