Illustration by Duane Raver
Scientific Name: Ictalurus furcatus
Classification: Nongame Fish
Abundance: Common in large rivers and Piedmont reservoirs.
District 2 Assistant Fisheries Biologist Kelsey Lincoln with a ~ 20-lb Blue Catfish (Photo: NCWRC)
State Record Blue Catfish (Joey Baird; 121 pounds, 9 oz from Lake Gaston on July 5, 2020)
Catfish Management in North Carolina's Southeastern Rivers
Blue Catfish, like Flathead Catfish, are native to the Mississippi River Basin. They have been introduced to many river basins that flow to the Atlantic Ocean, such as the Cape Fear and Catawba rivers in North Carolina. They are most common in large rivers, where they often favor faster currents than other catfish. Blue Catfish commonly reach 36 inches and 20 pounds. The Blue Catfish has a deeply forked tail and typically has a bluish-gray body above, fading to white on its sides and belly. The anal fin is the most prominent feature of a Blue Catfish and has a straight outer edge (sometimes referred to as a “barber’s razor”) with 30–36 fin rays. Similar species: Channel Catfish have a rounded anal fin with fewer (24–29) fin rays.
Blue Catfish are piscivorous when large and consume native fishes. Problems could arise due to competition with resident and migratory fish species. Blue Catfish also displace native catfishes when habitat preferences overlap. Based on these negative interactions with native species, they are considered invasive in North Carolina.
Blue Catfish are considered nongame fish by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. There are currently no limits on recreational and commercial harvest, except for the one-fish daily creel limit for Blue Catfish greater than 32 inches on eight Piedmont reservoirs and the six-fish daily creel limit on forked tail catfishes in Commission game lands and Community Fishing Program ponds.
Nongame Fish Size and Creel Limits
Nongame Fish Regulations
Trot lines and set hooks baited with cut fish work well. Experienced hook-and-line anglers prefer cut gizzard shad above all other baits. Live fish, cut bait, crayfish, clams and shrimp are often used. Like channel catfish, blue catfish will bite stink baits and chicken livers.
The Cape Fear River, impoundments of the Yadkin River, and Lake Norman are popular fishing spots.
2021 - Tar River, Flathead Catfish, Channel Catfish, White Catfish, Blue Catfish, 2020 (16-page Final Report)
2019 - N.C. Catfish Management Plan (PDF)
2014 - Assessment of Neuse River Catfish Populations (PDF)
2019 - Assessment of Catfish Populations in the Pungo River, Newport River and Great Lake, 2019 (PDF)
2018 - 2018 Catfish Survey in the New River in Onslow County (PDF)
2017 - Assessing Blue Catfish Population Dynamics in Lake Gaston (PDF)
2009 - Cape Fear River a Haven for Catfish Anglers (PDF)
Where to Fish
NC Freshwater Fishing State Record Program
NC Angler Recognition Program (NCARP)
NC Catfish Management Plan (PDF)