October 04, 2010
A five-year whiskerfish stocking program is bearing fruit. More anglers are catching bigger blue catfish (and channel cats, too) on this 3,000-plus acre impoundment. Here's the latest. (August 2008)
Anglers looking for really big catfish know that blue cat reigns supreme.
Of the three main species of catfish here in Kentucky, the blues grow the largest and are tremendous foes on rod and reel.
Blue catfish are primarily a big- water fish and inhabit our largest reservoirs and river systems. However, thanks to an experiment by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), anglers can now target a great population of blue cats at Taylorsville Lake, which is located near Louisville in Spencer, Anderson and Nelson counties. This creates a unique fishing situation for a lake in the heart of the state.
The KDFWR began stocking blue catfish at Taylorsville in 2002, with hopes that the fishery would do well. There were a couple of different reasons behind the stocking experiment.
First, the lake had a healthy population of gizzard shad that was not being fully utilized by the then-present fishery. Because blue catfish are great open-water predators, the KDFWR believed introducing them to the lake would add another species to make use of the forage base.
Additionally, if the stocking creates a successful fishery, the biologists are hoping to develop an opportunity for anglers to pursue trophy cats. And if early fishing results are any indication, then the lake may be well on its way to producing some excellent- sized blue catfish.
Biologists have already sampled blue cats up to 21 pounds. They are showing very fast growth rates and are adapting well to the lake.
It takes a little different sampling method to survey blue cats. The KDFWR uses electro-shocking, but in a special way to target blue catfish.
Biologists measure and release the fish and occasionally conduct age and growth studies. In 2008, the KDFWR will also be tagging blue cats to monitor exploitation (harvest) and growth rates.
The initial stocking had approximately 25,000 blue catfish. In 2003, the number of stocked fish increased to a dramatic 88,000, but many of them were smaller fish in the 4- to 5-inch range. The next year's stocking rate dropped back to 25,000 catfish.
Stockings also varied greatly over the next three years. In 2005, 22,568 fish were stocked ranging between 4 and 14 inches, although most were in the 9- to 14-inch range.
This amounted to 7.4 fish per acre. That rate fell to 5.5 fish per acre in 2006 when the KDFWR stocked 16,780 blues between 8 to 14 inches long. The stocking rate jumped back to 8.2 fish per acre in 2007 when the state was able to stock 25,116 fish.
Biologist Kerry Prather said he's heard several people who aren't familiar with blue catfish referring to them as "blue channel cats."
Actually, the blue cat and the channel cat are two entirely different species, though they can appear similar to each other to the untrained eye.
Blue catfish and channel cats have very different habits. The channel cat is known to hang out along the bottom and orients toward structure such as woody debris. Very opportunistic feeders, channel catfish can be caught on a wide variety of baits.
Blue cats, on the other hand, are more of an open-water species and don't relate much to the bottom. They often school like hybrid striped bass, moving around a lot, and can be found in shallow water off the bottom and also suspended or moving in deep water. In fact, many people occasionally catch blue cats while trolling for hybrids or other fish.
In Taylorsville, the blue cats haven't been in the lake long enough for anglers or biologists to really get a handle on their movement patterns. Do they tend to stay in one area or move around the lake? We don't know. We do know that blue catfish are fairly widespread throughout the lake, and anglers are reporting catches from Van Buren all the way to the dam.
Lots of blue cats are also caught near a spot popular with the locals called the Hump, located in the lower part of the main lake.
Anglers are targeting the blues in open water and also along channels, dropoffs and submerged points. Areas with some current seem to be the best.
These big cats are being caught on rod and reel, mostly by drift-fishing, but a good many are also caught by casting. Jug-fishing is also popular.
Unfortunately for shore-bound anglers, the typical locations where blue cats are found are usually not easily accessible from the bank.
Cut or live shad seems to be the bait of choice for most anglers. Lots of folks use cast nets to capture bait at the lake. Of course, other baits such as bluegills or minnows also work well at times.
Blue catfish can be found throughout a wide range of depths, and their preferred depth varies according to water temperature and time of year. Obviously, the fish will stay in a temperature range that feels most comfortable. During the heat of summer, the fish will hold deeper, but remember the thermocline and keep in mind that Taylorsville Lake usually stratifies at about 12 feet.
Therefore, anglers should keep their baits at or above the thermocline, with usually the best success from 5 to 10 feet deep.
Lots of blue catfish are also caught near a spot popular with the locals called the Hump, located in the lower part of the main lake.
Blue catfish can grow to enormous sizes. Fish exceeding 100 pounds have been caught in the big-river systems. Our current state record of 104 pounds was caught in the Ohio River near the Cannelton Dam. The world record of 124 pounds was hauled from the Mississippi River.
Will the blue cats at Taylorsville Lake ever get that large? It's doubtful, but they're expected to reach some very impressive weights.
At the rate they are growing and with the ample forage available, the lake could have some real pole-benders in just a few more years.
Although blue catfish are the new kids on the block and fishing is great at the lake, they are definitely not the only game in town. At Taylorsville Lake, the channel cat fishery has been tremendous ever since impoundment in the mid-1980s. It is again rated as