How to identify a Blue Catfish

The blue catfish, the channel catfish, and the white catfish are the only three catfishes in the U.S.A. that have distinctly forked tails, setting them apart from the bullheads and the flathead catfish, which have squarish or slightly emarginate tails. The blue catfish can be distinguished from the channel and white catfish by its noticeably longer anal fin, which has a more even depth and a straighter edge than in the other two species. There are 30-36 rays in the fin, versus 24-30 rays in the channel catfish and 19-23 rays in the white catfish. Internally, the blue catfish can be identified by the fact that it has three chambers in the swim bladder, whereas the channel catfish has two chambers. All three forked tail species may be almost uniformly pale blue or silvery in color, though white catfish may show a more distinct difference between the bluish black and white belly. Channel catfish frequently have spots.

Where to catch Blue Catfish

This native species of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River basin systems frequents deep areas of large rivers, swift chutes, and pools with swift currents. It is confined to the major rivers of the aforementioned systems, extending north into South Dakota and southern Minnesota, and south into Mexico and northern Guatemala. It has been introduced into Virginia.


How to Identify a Blue Catfish
 1 30-36 rays on anal fin

 2 Almost uniformly pale blue or silvery in color

 3 Distinct and deeply forked tail


  • Current Edges
  • Drop-Offs
  • Rivers and Streams
  • Undercuts
  • Dams and Falls
  • Riparian Zones
  • Rock and Boulder Pockets

Acknowledgements:  We thank (, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Indiana Department of Natural Resources for their contributions to these FISH FACTS.