Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Blue Catfish - Ictalurus furcatus

(This page was last updated - 06/14/2007)

Scientific name: Ictalurus furcatus (Ictalurus = "fish cat", furcatus = "forked")

Common names: blue catfish, chucklehead

 blue catfish

Species Overview

The blue catfish is one of the three species of large catfish found in Tennessee. They are common in large rivers throughout the state and in several reservoirs including Douglas Reservoir in East Tennessee.

The Tennessee state angling record taken from the Cumberland River in 1998 weighed 112 pounds. A 130 pound blue catfish taken by a commercial fisherman from Fort Loudoun Reservoir in 1976 holds the non-sportfishing record.



Blue catfish are sometimes confused with adult channel catfish that have lost their characteristic spots. The difference in their anal fin structure is the best distinguishing characteristic. The anal fin of a blue catfish is longer with a straight margin while that of a channel catfish is much shorter and rounded (see image below).

Both blue and channel catfish have deeply forked tail fins which distinguishes them from the other 21 species of catfish found in Tennessee.


blue and channel catfish 
Anal fin characteristic of blue and channel catfish - photo by Jim Negus


Blue catfish are widespread in the Mississippi River Basin and in other rivers that drain into the Gulf of Mexico from Western Florida to Texas.

Young feed on zooplankton while adults eat other fishes, clams, crayfish, and invertebrates.


Life Cycle

Blue catfish spawn when water temperatures reach 70 F. They are cavity spawners and their spawning behavior is similar to channel catfish. Males construct nests in holes in the banks, under logs, or rocks. They fan out debris and defend the nests until spawning is completed and the fry leave the area.

There are reports from the late 1800's of blue catfish exceeding 350 pounds in the Mississippi River, but maximum size is thought to be somewhere around 150 pounds.


blue catfish 
Rob Lindbom with a 40 pound Tennessee River Blue Catfish


Etnier, D. and W. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee Press.