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July 2010 cover image 12 Why Water Matters

Wild Thing: Big Blue

Got a monster cat on the line? Bet it’s a blue!

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Among North American freshwater fish, blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) rank among the largest. Just ask Cody Mullennix, a fishing guide from Howe. In January 2004, he hauled up a 121.5-pound monster from Lake Texoma northwest of Sherman. Dubbed Splash, the famous fish — who resided at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens until her death in December 2005 — was proclaimed the world record blue catfish.

Until May 2005, when an Illinois man landed a 124-pound blue from the Mississippi River.

“This species gets a lot of attention from anglers because it can get so big,” says Kris Bodine, a fisheries research biologist at the Heart of the Hills Fisheries Science Center in Mountain Home. “Many people think blue catfish are similar to channel catfish, but they differ in behavior.”

More like striped bass, blue catfish school in large groups in the open waters of large rivers and reservoirs, where they largely feed on smaller fish. Channel catfish have a different diet. They prefer to forage for insects, crustaceans and nearly anything else they can find in shallow water and mud.

Most blue catfish reach weights of 20 to 40 pounds. At 24 inches, females become sexually mature and spawn in early summer when waters warm to 70 or more degrees. Ten catfish species inhabit Texas rivers, streams and lakes. All have cat-like whiskers called barbels that enable them to sense weak electrical impulses in water, usually triggered by a potential meal ... or someone’s fishing line.

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