It is fair to say that most folks that enjoy fishing harbor the dream of one day catching a record fish. That dream became a reality for a lucky angler named Richard Barrett of Axson on Oct. 14, 2017 when he pulled a new state record blue catfish from the waters of the Altamaha River. This behemoth was later determined to be 14 years old and tipped the scales with a weight of 93 pounds. The large catfish exceeded the former state record by more than 12 pounds.
Barrett later recalled he was shocked when the gigantic blue cat finally came to the surface. He went on to say when he saw the fish he was convinced there was no way he was going to get it out of the water.
As big as Barrett’s catch was, it pales in comparison to the size of the current world record blue catfish. A 29-year-old football coach landed this fish on Virginia’s Buggs Lake in 2011. This monster was 57 inches long, had a 43.5-inch girth and weighed 140 pounds.
Since the Georgia Fisheries Management Section reported the catch, some local anglers have been speculating whether or not a record blue catfish may be lurking in Monroe County waters.
The truth of the matter is the blue catfish is native to the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri river basins. Here in the Peach State fisheries biologists say the fish is native only to the Coosa River basin.
However, due to its large size, and excellent taste, the large catfish has been introduced widely throughout the state. Consequently, blue catfish are currently swimming the waters in the Chattahoochee, Flint, Ocmulgee, Oconee, Altamaha, Satilla and Savannah River basins. It is thought blue catfish were released by fishermen into the Ocmulgee River above the dam in Juliette many years ago, around the time they also stocked flathead catfish. Consequently, here in the county the best places to fish for a potential record-breaking blue catfish would be in the Ocmulgee River and its tributaries as well as Lake Juliette.
According to the Wildlife Resources Division, “Blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) typically are bluish gray above, fading to white on the sides and belly, and do not have spots. They have a deeply forked tail, an overhanging upper jaw, pale chin whiskers, and an anal fin with a long straight margin. They are most similar to channel catfish, which often have spots, have dark chin whiskers and a curved margin on the anal fin.”
Although they can be caught throughout the year, fishing is best during the spring and summer. Like other catfish, blue catfish can be fished both the day and night. However, night fishing often yields the best catches.
The blue catfish is a large fish. Back in the day, early writers reported that during the late 1800s, 200 to 300-pound blue catfish were routinely caught in Missouri Rivers. Unfortunately, if fish this large still exist, they are few and far between.
Nowadays, fish weighing 20-40 pounds are common. Although blue catfish were once considered river fish, they have adapted well to reservoirs. In fact, nowadays many of the largest fish are taken in reservoirs.
Cut and live bait are used most often by blue catfish anglers. Baitfish are often sliced into 1-inch squares and fished on the bottom. Live fish, such as shad, is also commonly used as bait. However, it is interesting to note that the new state record blue catfish was caught on a channel catfish the angler had landed earlier in the day.
I am sure that Richard Barrett did not get up on the morning of Oct. 14 and say to himself, “I am going to catch a state record blue catfish today.” Like the rest of us when he left home he did not know what, if anything, he was going to catch.
Many days I go home with an empty creel. However, on other occasions I just happen to be in the right place, at the right time and fishing with the right bait. When that happens the fishing action is nonstop. Now that I know there is at least a glimmer of a chance I might land a record blue catfish in my home waters, my future fishing trips will be filled with a little more excitement.
Terry Johnson is the retired Program Manager of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He has written the informative column ‘Monroe Outdoors’ for the Reporter for many years. Email him at email@example.com.