Minnesota River yields rare blue catifish


Mar 11, 2001
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Rare blue catfish caught near Lac qui Parle (2002-06-05)

Minnesota has a new record fish. A blue catfish, so uncommon in Minnesota that an official state record does not even exist, was caught on May 22 in the Minnesota River below the Lac qui Parle dam. Steve Ness of Browerville lugged the 52-pound, 8-ounce giant out of the river at about 5 a.m. while using 20-pound test line and chicken liver for bait.

The National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis., lists the all-tackle record for blue catfish at 111 pounds for a fish caught in Alabama. The record for a blue catfish caught on 20-pound test line is a 97-pound fish caught in Georgia.

According to Huon Newburg, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regional fisheries supervisor at New Ulm, blue catfish are common in large river systems such as the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio.

"Blue catfish in the Minnesota River are rare. In fact, this is the first confirmed blue catfish catch in the Minnesota River for many, many years, at least that I am aware of," Newburg said.

Closely resembling the channel catfish, blue cats often grow to large size, with 50-pounders common. Blue cats more than 100 pounds have been caught in Texas. It has been reported that fish exceeding 350 pounds were caught in the Mississippi River during the late 1800s. To the untrained eye, the blue cat is distinguishable from other catfish primarily by its long, flat anal fin. Biologists typically inspect the internal swim bladder of a blue cat to distinguish it from channel catfish. A blue cat has a swim bladder that is pinched in the middle, while those of the channel cat are singular.

About 6,000 blue catfish fingerlings were stocked into Lake St. Croix in the St. Croix River in the early 1970s, so it is possible some could have migrated into the Minnesota River.

"However," Newburg noted, "in order to get from St. Croix Lake to Lac qui Parle, this fish would have had to get past two dams at Granite Falls. The best explanation is that it might have done that during extensive flooding when water skirted around these dams."

However the blue catfish made its way to Lac qui Parle, it will soon also make its way into Minnesota's state fish record book – and onto a wall at the home of Steve Ness, who intends to have the big cat mounted.

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