The Hardy, Plentiful (and BIG) Blue Catfish

The blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) is the largest catfish in North America and is a very interesting species in general. In this article, we will take a deep look at this species, its’ anatomy, and its’ behavior.

Blue Catfish (A General Description)

blue catfish

Some distinctive features of the blue catfish are its body shape, color, jaw and fins. (photo credit: Tennessee Aquarium – tnaqua.org).

Blue catfish have a blue-gray coloration and have wide and stocky bodies.

One of the key physical identifiers of a blue cat is a distinct and noticeable dorsal hump when it becomes a mature fish, which is a good anatomical feature to distinguish a blue catfish from a channel catfish.

blue catfish forked tail

The tail of the blue catfish has a deeply notched fork.

Other catfish in North America have a lower protruding jaw, but blues have an upper protruding jaw which is another observation you can make to distinguish between catfish species.

The blue catfish features barbels, or “whiskers,” which are present on all catfish species in North America.

The number of anal fin rays is also different from that of a channel cat. Blue catfish anal fin rays will vary from 30-36 rays, while channel catfish only feature between  25-29 rays.

cody and Alyssa Hall with blue catfish

Blue catfish (pictured here) are sometimes mistaken for channel catfish (below picture) as a result of having a similar appearance in the bodies of water where both are found. This occurs more often when trying to determine the species of the fish when they are juveniles.

channel catfish
Channel Catfish


Where Are Blue Catfish Located?

The most well-known waters the blue catfish calls home would be the Mississippi river system and its branches and tributaries, which include the Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Ohio rivers, along with their tributaries and nearby smaller bodies of water.

The rivers listed above aren’t the only rivers to hold native populations, other rivers, such as the Rio Grande river and the Des Moines river in Southern Iowa, also have prominent populations of blue cats.

Cody Hall holding blue catfish

Interestingly, the blue catfish range extends farther south than most people in the United States are aware of, farther than any other catfish prominently found in North America, and extends throughout the Gulf coast of Mexico and continues south to the countries of Guatemala and Belize in Central America.

Blue catfish have also been introduced into many bodies of water outside where they are found historically, expanding their range and giving anglers more opportunities to catch the fish.


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Blue Catfish Diet

The blue catfish has a diet comparable to all catfish species, and they will feed on various species such as frogs, mussels, crayfish, small to medium-sized fish like bluegills and bullheads, minnows, and other aquatic and semi-aquatic prey like small land mammals and birds.

Blues are opportunistic feeders like all catfish and eat virtually any animal or edible animal parts that is the appropriate size.

blue crabs

One interesting food choice… The blue catfish also feeds on the blue crab, a valuable species for the economy around the Chesapeake Bay. Blue crabs are the most valuable species in economic fisheries for seafood, and the number of blue crabs has suffered due to the introduction of blue catfish.

Blue cats prefer easy meals, such as animals that are already dead or wounded, this is the main reason the fish will gather near any hydroelectric dams to feed on animals and fish that have been pulled through the spillways.

Anglers who fish for blue cats favor using live bait like bullheads or cut bait from various fish species like shad, skipjack, bullhead, bluegills, and others. Some anglers also use various other types of bait, like chicken liver or a mixed catfish bait recipe that is thick, smelly, and has a consistency of something like peanut butter.



How Big Do Blue Catfish Get?

According to NOAA Fisheries, mature blue catfish will typically be less than two feet long. However, blue catfish can grow to be even 5 feet long and weigh in over 100 pounds!

two men with a blue catfish

Most adult blue cats, like this one pictured, tend to be less than 24 inches in length, but they can get huge… over 100 pounds!


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Invasive Species

Blue catfish is a very adaptable species that can tolerate a wide range of environments, which means that in some places where they have been intentionally or accidentally introduced, they can have negative effects on the ecosystem.

They can even tolerate water with salinity levels, such as tributaries and brackish water areas leading to the ocean.

In certain waters in Virginia, the blue catfish was purposely introduced in the 1970s, the population quickly exploded and has caused issues with the native species to this day.



In the tidal rivers leading to the Chesapeake Bay, the blue catfish has become the dominant predatory species, out-competing other species native to the waters.

Small fish species like alewives, anadromous shad species, and blueback herring have seen massive drops in numbers due to predation from the blue catfish.

There is a bit of a silver lining to the blue catfish issues in Virginia waterways, as the catfish also feed on the Asian clam and hydrilla, both of which are also invasive species. While they help keep these invasive species in check, it’s difficult to say whether this outweighs the effects the fish has on native species.



Fishing for the Blue Catfish

Like all fish, the blue catfish has preferences in its habitat, and to successfully catch them, you have to be in the right place at the right time.

As mentioned earlier, your best choices for bait selection will typically be live or cut bait, with cut bait being the most prominent selection. When fishing in locations holding blue cats, cut bait utilizing herring, shad, bullheads, bluegills, or manhaden is sure to seal the deal on one!

Commercially produced stink bait, chicken liver, and other smelly types of bait are the favorite of many anglers, and some swear by their effectiveness over live or cut bait in certain fishing situations.




Blues like deep holes in the river systems they inhabit, so be sure to search out any holes that are 15-25 feet in depth, along with any depressions in otherwise flat and shallow areas that are in the 10-12 foot depth range.

If there is timber present on the edges of holes or in the hole itself, be sure to add it to the top of your hit list, and even areas with rocks, rip rap, and boulders can consistently hold big blues. Maybe you can put a hook N1!



It’s a great idea to run as many rods as you legally can for blue cats, covering a fairly wide area and running a variety of bait options.

Not only does having multiple lines help you contact more fish, but running different bait options not only allows you to figure out what the fish are keyed into on any given day, but you can also adjust your offerings based on what they want.



Final Thoughts

Blue catfish can get huge and are vicious predators in the waters they inhabit. Understanding the fish, its environment, behavior, and anatomy can help you be consistent on the water when pursuing them, and the results can be epic.

man holding giant flathead catfish

Water Whiskers! | Different Types Of Catfish

North America has several different species of catfish, with a few being well-known among anglers and others that are a bit more obscure, or less desired, as a prized catch.

So, let’s take a look at the different types of catfish in North America (and one bonus catfish!)

Flathead Catfish

flathead catfish2

The flathead catfish can grow very large and is one of the most popular catfish in North America. (photo credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – dnr.wisconsin.gov)

 The flathead catfish is one of the most popular species among anglers, only overshadowed by the channel catfish, and this is due to their wide distribution throughout the United States.

The flathead catfish is also popular with those who prefer to catch catfish by hand (called “noodling”).

General Description

Flatheads have an olive base coloration that features mottled brown and black splotches along their flanks for camouflage, this coloration giving way to a white or yellow colored belly.

man holding 2 noodled catfish

The flathead catfish typically has an olive-colored skin with brown and/or black splotches that can vary based on the color of the water they live in.

Depending on the bodies of water they inhabit, such as stained or murky water or clear water environments, the darkness and coloration of the flathead catfish can vary.

Flathead catfish can grow to very large sizes compared to other freshwater fish in North America, with a length of 60+ inches and a weight of 100+ pounds or more being possible, depending on their environment and available forage.

two men holding giant flathead catfish

Flatheads can grow very large and provide an epic fight, whether caught with a fishing pole or even by hand (noodling).


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Distribution

The flathead catfish has a range that extends from the very southern parts of Canada throughout the Great Lakes region and as far south as Northern Mexico.

Flatheads can be found throughout the Appalachian range, Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri basins, the Gulf coast states, and as far west as Texas.


Giant flathead catfish caught by hand!

Diet of the Flathead Catfish

The diet of flathead catfish mostly consists of live prey, as that is what they prefer to feed on. They will eat most live prey, from insects, and crayfish, to various fish species like bluegills and even smaller catfish, including other flatheads.

bluegill fish

Flatheads feed on various forms of prey, including bluegill like this one.

They will also feed on other prey if the opportunity presents itself, including small birds, frogs, and small land animals that may fall or swim into the water.

The flathead, like most catfish, has small eyes in proportion to its’ body, which is a clear indicator that the fish does not rely on its’ eyesight as a predominant method for feeding or catching prey.


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Channel Catfish

channel catfish

The channel catfish is the most numerous true catfish species in North America, with a large distribution. They are very popular among anglers, and while they are numerous, they do not reach the sizes of the flathead and blue catfish species (photo credit Texas Parks and wildlife – pwd.texas.gov).

General Description

Like with flathead catfish, the coloration of the channel catfish can vary, and in the case of the channel catfish, they can have an olive, light brown, or grey coloration depending on the body of water.

Some channel catfish may feature speckles or mottled colorations, while others may not feature any additional markings at all.



The top end of the size and weight for that channel catfish, while still large compared to other freshwater fish, is much smaller than the blue and flathead catfish, with 40 to 50 pounds in weight being the typical maximum.

The average weight and length for a channel catfish caught in any given body of water is around 2-4 pounds and 12-26 inches in length.



Distribution

Channel catfish can be found in the Nearctic of Canada and are widespread throughout southern Canada. The channel catfish is found throughout the eastern two-thirds of the United States as well as the northeastern coast of Mexico.

holding channel catfish

The Channel Catfish has also been introduced to waters outside of their native ranges, such as states in the U.S. like California and in landlocked bodies of water in Europe, most notably in the Czech Republic and Romania (photo credit: University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources – calfish.ucdavis.edu).

Europe isn’t the only place with bodies of water hosting stocked populations of channel catfish, they can also be found in parts of Malaysia and Indonesia in Southeast Asia.



Diet of the Channel Catfish

Like other species of catfish, the diet of the channel catfish is quite diverse, and they will feed on everything from small fish like perch and sunfish to snails, worms, insects, crayfish, frogs, small birds, and small mammals.

Channel catfish will also feed on other food sources like algae, nuts, seeds, grains, and aquatic plants.

Blue Catfish

blue catfish

The blue catfish is the largest species of catfish in North America, but compared to the channel catfish, they inhabit a much smaller range (photo credit: Tennessee Aquarium – tnaqua.org).



General Description

Smaller blue catfish are often misidentified as channel catfish due to their coloration, which at times is very close to the gray coloration of some channel catfish.

Blue catfish have a blue-blueish-gray coloration and have a very bulky and wide body shape. The fish features a prominent dorsal hump on its back when they get to adult size, which is a great identifier.

Whereas flathead and channel catfish and a lower protruding jaw, the blue catfish has an upper protruding jaw, along with the barbels that are the characteristic feature of all catfish.

The tail is deeply forked on the blue catfish, and a failsafe way to identify a blue catfish is to count the anal fin rays. The blue catfish has anywhere from 30-36 rays, while channel catfish have 25-29 fin rays.

two men with a blue catfish

The blue catfish is the largest species of catfish in North America, but compared to the channel catfish, they inhabit a much smaller range.



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Distribution

The main region of waterways hosting blue catfish is the Mississippi river and its’ tributaries, which include the Tennessee, Ohio, Arkansas, and Missouri rivers.

Some other rivers hold native populations, such as the Des Moines in Southern Iowa and the Rio Grande river.



The blue catfish range also extends far south, farther than any other catfish in the United States, and follows the eastern coast of Mexico to the countries of Belize and Guatemala.

Blue catfish have also been stocked in many different reservoirs and lakes throughout the southeastern United States.


Catch and release of a blue catfish.

Diet of the Blue Catfish

The diet of the blue catfish consists of mussels, small fish, crayfish, frogs, and other semi-aquatic and aquatic prey. Blue catfish are opportunistic feeders like all catfish, and will eat almost anything that is deemed edible.

Blue catfish prefer to eat food that is already dead or wounded and will congregate near the spillways of dams to feed upon fish and animals that are disoriented, killed, or wounded from going through the spillways

Bonus Catfish: The Wels Catfish

wels catfish

We decided to add a very interesting catfish to this discussion, and while they are not in North America, catfish anglers in the states can appreciate the Wels catfish simply for what it is (photo credit: Watershed Council – watershedcouncil.org).

General Description

The Wels catfish can grow to incredibly large sizes, with reports of massive fish weighing 440-550 pounds recorded in the last two centuries.

The fish, on average today, can reach lengths of 5-6 feet, and fish weighing well in excess of 100-150 pounds are still somewhat common.



The anatomy of the Wels catfish is quite different from the catfish in North America, and the body drastically tapers with a very large head narrowing down towards the tail.

The anal fin of the Wels catfish is much longer than those of other catfish as well, with the anal fin following half the length of the body.

The Wels catfish is the largest freshwater fish in Europe and Western Asia.

Distribution

man with giant wels catfish

The Wels catfish can be found throughout most of Europe and is a dominant fish species in all of Eastern Europe (photo credit: deviantart.com)

The range of the fish extends from Europe to the northern regions of the Middle East and continues eastward into western Asia, with large populations in Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.



Diet of the Wels Catfish

Catfish that can reach the size of the Wels catfish can eat larger prey like ducks, birds like pigeons, and small to mid-sized land animals, snakes, and fish of varying sizes.

There have been reports of the Wels catfish feeding on people’s pets.



Final Thoughts On Types Of Catfish

There you have it, the general information on the three main species of catfish in North America, plus the bonus Wels catfish, which holds a legendary status in the regions where they are found.

piebald deer

Piebald Deer | Not Your Ordinary Whitetail

As a deer hunter, a whitetail deer is a welcome sight, but not necessarily a rarity. But, catching a glimpse of the incredibly rare piebald deer is a scarce and beautiful sight.

Every now and again, hunting enthusiasts get to witness rare images of a piebald deer on social media, discovered by a “lucky” select few hunters.

hunter with piebald buck

If you are a hunter and have the opportunity to harvest a piebald buck, consider it an extremely rare event.

DID YOU KNOW? The name “piebald” originates from the word “pie” – short for magpie, a black and white bird in the crow family. Piebald deer look bald because of their patchy appearance… Pie + Bald = Piebald! – VIDEOS BELOW!

This unique deer features impossible-to-miss white markings, standing out like a unicorn in a forest full of horses. In fact, many hunters focus exclusively on these hard-to-find critters – determined to add a new trophy to their collection.

But – what exactly is a piebald deer and just how rare are they?

piebald buck and boy

Piebald deer can have small areas of a splotchy, white pattern, or large areas of white, like this one pictured.


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What is a Piebald Deer?

Contrary to what many hunters believe, piebaldism is not a combination of a regular whitetail deer and its albino counterpart.

Piebaldism is a genetic abnormality responsible for the piebald deer’s appearance. It’s a rare condition that affects less than 2% of the whitetail deer population.

piebald doe in yard


Every piebald deer is especially unique, making them an incredible sight to hunters and non-hunters alike.

According to geneticists and researchers, the name “piebald” originates from the word “pie” – short for magpie, a bird in the crow family. The magpie has black and white plumage.

The piebald deer has a genetic abnormality, causing patches of white across its body. This patchy look gives it a mixed up appearance, in which the patches, or lack of pigmentation almost make it “bald.” Pie + Bald = Piebald!


Piebald definition:

Composed of incongruous parts. Of different colors, especiallyspotted or blotched with black and white. A piebald animal (such as a horse)

Merriam-Webster

Piebald deer come in a range of colorations and variations. There is no stock-standard. Some piebald deer look as though they’ve been splashed with white paint. Others may look almost “airbrushed” or spotted.

six point piebald buck

Piebald bucks like this one are a rare but beautiful sight.

It is believed that this recessive trait must be carried by both deer-parents, maternal and paternal, in order for the offspring to be piebald. That’s what makes the condition of piebaldism so exceptionally rare.

SCROLL DOWN TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS AND OTHER DETAILED INFO ON PIEBALD DEER

Piebaldism presents itself in many different forms, varying from moderate to severe depending on the circumstances. While some piebald deer can live normal, long, happy and healthy lives, most aren’t so lucky.

Interestingly, piebaldism isn’t just isolated to deer. Throughout nature, we see many other species experiencing this genetic abnormality, including horses, certain dog breeds, python snakes, moose, bald eagles, and on some cases, even humans.


piebald whitetail trailcam pic of deer in the snow

That’s not snow on that deer… it’s just piebald markings!



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Piebaldism | More Than Just A Coloring Abnormality

Apart from the strikingly unique coat, a piebald deer usually has other distinguishing features, include shorter-than-normal legs, an arched spine (scoliosis), and a prominent oral overbite.

Beyond the surface, a piebald deer normally experiences certain organ deformities, and even arthritis.

boy with piebald deer

Piebald deer are a rare sight, but harvesting one is a feather in the cap for some!

According to geneticists, this boils down to something called “pleiotropy,” which causes one single gene to control numerous traits. The affected traits range from pigmentation to bone development and more.

It’s not unusual to see a piebald deer with debilitating genetic mutations and severe birth defects. Combined, these factors make it exceptionally challenging for piebald deer to survive in the wild – let alone make it to adulthood.


This a video of a buck we call the “Halloween Buck.” More video below!

In one recent case study, Missy Runyan, a New York-based wildlife rehabilitator, was called to the scene of a distressed fawn in May of 2017.

The white-as-snow piebald fawn was plagued by severe birth defects, including life-threatening internal genetic mutations.

The fawn didn’t live for much longer, but Runyan managed to X-Ray the fawn’s body and detect numerous internal abnormalities. The results showed internal defects that made it impossible for the fawn to survive in the wild.



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Piebaldism Vs. Albinism

The genetic causes for piebaldism and albinism differ, something you can easily spot by gazing into the affected deer’s eyes.

While an albino deer’s eyes are pink, accompanies by a pink nose and hooves with pink hues, piebald deer have brown eyes, a brown nose, and black hooves.

albino whitetail deer on roadside

Some believe that a piebald deer is a cross-breed between an albino whitetail and a normal whitetail, but this is not the case. There are clear differences between albino deer (above) and piebald deer.

Piebald deer should also not be confused with melanistic deer, which typically lack brown or white color variations and usually appear to be black across their entire bodies.

While geneticists and scientists are still hard at work to fully understand the genetic mutation that causes piebaldism, one thing is for sure: If you see one, you should count yourself lucky. Few hunters will ever get the chance to get a glance of this rare creature out in the wild.



Piebald Deer | To Shoot…Or Not To Shoot?

More and more hunters are emerging on social media, slammed for their short-lived success at when taking rare trophy piebald deer. In various parts of North America, these rare white animals are seen as “sacred,” and not to be harmed.

Certain indigenous communities see piebald deer as “returning ancestors,” serving as a “reminder that something of significance is about to happen.”

There are various myths and legends, stating that by capturing and killing a piebald deer, you will “experience bad future hunts,” or, “guarantee your own death in a year’s time.”

Laws Regarding Piebald Deer | Check Your State Hunting Regulations

If you aren’t superstitious, do your homework by researching the rules and regulations of your state.

For example, it is illegal to shoot any white deer in Wisconsin, as herds of white deer are rising in numbers, making locals rather protective of the rare animals.


Amazing video of a young piebald buck

While certain jurisdictions have laws in place to protect piebald deer, among other white animals, many locations allow (licensed) hunters to lawfully harvest these rare creatures without consequence.

According to Brian Murphy, wildlife biologist and the Executive Director of the Quality Deer Management Association, there is no biological reason to protect piebald deer or albinos.

piebald whitetail doe

Spotting a piebald deer in the wild is a rare opportunity that many hunters don’t get to experience. Piebaldism affects just 2% of the whitetail population. (photo credit: Kevin Oldenburg)

Protecting them should not be regulated by the state, but rather, should be the decision of the landowners and hunters.

While piebaldism is indeed rare, population problems are apparently not a concern. Emerging research shows that the act of hunting a piebald deer will have no significant impact on the deer population, let alone damage it.



If you would wish to take such a rare trophy (and meat) back to your home, and if it is legal to hunt them where you live, there’s no reason not to hunt piebald deer.

Have you ever seen a piebald deer out in the wild? Leave a comment on this post or share your photos with us here at N1!

You can also view bow hunting tips videos and other hunting and fishing tips articles by visiting our blog.



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