Lake Oconee Breeze

May 13, 2009

Learn to identify your catfish

By Bobby Peoples

Many folks including myself sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between catfish species. Recently I was sent photos of some catfish and the largest was identified by the sender of the photo as a blue catfish. Initially I also identified the largest catfish in the photo as a blue catfish but after studying the photo I came to the conclusion that the catfish in the photo was

actually a channel catfish.

To be sure, I sent the photo to Steve Schleiger, a fisheries biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Wildlife Resources Division (WRD). Schleiger confirmed that indeed the large catfish in the photo was a channel catfish and not a blue

catfish.

Since both Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair have several catfish species, I decided this week to take a closer look at how the three primary species of catfish in both lakes can be identified.

Lakes Oconee and Sinclair have several species of catfish in their waters but only three species dominate and are of real interest to the angler. The lakes contain white and bullhead catfish but they are infrequently caught, are usually small and the bullhead isn’t good table fare. The primary species of catfish in the lakes that provide anglers with opportunity for both good table fare and a chance at catching a trophy sized fish are the channel, blue and

flathead catfish species.

The largest population of any of the catfish species in both lakes is the channel catfish. They are currently the dominate catfish species and will reach trophy potential of 10 to 25 pounds. The second most dominate species in both lakes is the blue catfish. The blue catfish is relatively new to both lakes as they were illegally stocked in the lake sometime within the last five to 10 years.

The blue catfish is now being caught with regularity by anglers in both lakes, and due to a similar appearance to the channel catfish, they are often being misidentified. The coloration of the two species is quite similar and cannot be used for identification. The fins hold the key to determining whether a

catfish is a channel or blue.

Channel catfish have a rounded anal fin and the forked tail is rounded. The blue catfish has a straight edged anal fin and a very distinctive forked tail. The photos included with this week’s article should help in showing the differences between the channel and blue catfish.

The blue catfish population in lakes Oconee and Sinclair is steadily growing and the blue catfish is known to reach over 100 pounds in some waters. The world record blue catfish weighed 124 pounds. The current Lake Oconee record for blue catfish is 15 pounds and 6 ounces. The Georgia Outdoors News (GON) maintains records for all species of fish caught in Georgia lakes and rivers. No one has submitted a blue catfish entry to the GON for Lake Sinclair.

Whether the blue catfish will reach 100 pounds in size in Oconee or Sinclair is unclear but certainly a 50-pound blue catfish is possible. The blue catfish diet consist of primarily live prey and that might include shad, bluegill, other catfish, crawfish, turtles, frogs and the young of almost any fish species in either lake. They can be caught on cut baits of shad and bluegill but live specimens of both shad and bluegill are best.

The last species of catfish that provides for the possibility of a trophy catch is the flathead catfish. Again the flathead was likely illegally stocked by an angler in Lake Oconee several years ago since 30-pound specimens are now regularly caught. Any fish specie in Lake Oconee is going to end up in Lake Sinclair by escaping through the Wallace Dam and the flathead catfish that are now showing up in Lake Sinclair likely came through the Wallace Dam.

Several flatheads were electro-shocked in Lake Sinclair by the Georgia DNR in recent months and the largest weighed between 15-20 pounds. According to the Georgia DNR, the populations of blue and flathead catfish will likely continue to grow and the population of channel catfish may be somewhat

reduced as a result.

Like the blue catfish, the flathead catfish prefers live prey and has already reached close to 40 pounds in Lake Oconee. The flathead can live for 20 years and reach weights that exceed 100 pounds. The world record flathead weighed 123 pounds. The Lake Oconee record for flatheads is 40 pounds and 2/10 ounces. No entry for flathead catfish caught in Lake Sinclair has yet been submitted by an angler to the GON.

The flathead looks nothing like a blue or channel catfish in appearance so identifying that species is much easier and less confusing. The long-term impact on other lake species in the lake from the illegally stocked blue and flathead catfish is unknown at this point. All three primary catfish species in both lakes offer good trophy potential for anglers. If you catch a trophy catfish and you are not sure of the catfish specie that you have caught, send me a photo and I will get it properly identified.

So there you have most of the details that will allow you to catch and identify the catfish specie you have harvested. Don’t forget the lake records and submit your trophy catch to the GON if you think your catch exceeds the current lake record and make sure to send me a photo. Good fishing and see you next week.