Taken off the state's endangered species list, blue cats are now fair game for anglers n the Ohio. Specimens over 70 pounds have recently been caught, so be prepared! (July 2008)
Dale Broughton, an
Ohio River catfish guide,
helps angler Austen Leach pose with a big blue cat
caught near Cincinnati.
Photo courtesy of Dale Broughton.
Finally, the state's largest game fish -- the blue catfish -- has been removed from the state's endangered species list. Buckeye State anglers may now legally pursue this giant of the Ohio River system. Joint studies conducted on the Ohio River with the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODW) and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) found enough numbers of blue catfish to warrant downlisting it to a "Species of Concern."
"Our studies indicated the numbers of blue catfish were more abundant then first thought," said fisheries biologist Rich Zweifel, of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
"Our sampling on the Meldahl Pool found good numbers of big blue catfish between 40 and 42 pounds, with a few over 50 pounds."
The blue catfish is one of the nation's largest freshwater species. The all-tackle record is 124 pounds, one caught from the Mississippi River in Illinois.
Another giant, taken below the Cannelton Dam on the Ohio River, weighed 104 pounds and is the current state record for both Indiana and Kentucky.
COMING FULL CIRCLE
According to Mike Greenlee, an ODNR fisheries biologist, populations of blue catfish in the Ohio River above the Greenup Dam are low, in comparison to the larger populations in the Meldahl and Markland pools.
"The downlisting opens up future possibilities of rearing and stocking blue cats into Ohio's lakes," added Scott Hale, Inland Fisheries Program administrator for the ODNR. West Virginia is currently the only state stocking blue catfish in the Ohio River.
According to Milton Trautman's book Fishes of Ohio, blue catfish were common in the Ohio River before 1911, when the first dams were constructed. The largest blue catfish that Trautman observed was a 92-pounder caught in the Ohio River near Higginsport.
WHAT'S A BLUE CAT?
Blue catfish and channel catfish closely resemble each other.
"The real difference lies in the anal fin," said Doug Maloney, fisheries biologist for the ODNR.
"The length of the anal fin on a blue catfish is longer then that of a channel cat. Blue catfish have 30 to 36 rays on the lower anal fin, while a channel catfish has between 24 and 30 rays.
"The outside edge of the anal fin on a blue catfish is almost straight, while the anal fin on a channel catfish has a rounded edge." Also, Maloney said, any "channel" cat over 40 inches long is probably a blue catfish.
Dale Broughton, a veteran catfish guide on the Ohio River, has caught many blue catfish over the years, including one 50-pounder taken near Cincinnati. During summer and fall, Broughton said, "Current is critical when fishing for blue catfish. The cooler the water gets, the better the conditions for big fish. Fishing is the best from October through winter.
"Look for big deep-water pockets. In winter, fish around river bends, holes and ledges, from 40 to 65 feet deep."
Blue catfish feed on a variety of forage, including freshwater mussels.
"Large mussel beds contain a lot of blues because they feed on mussels," said Broughton. "Look for rock or gravel flats in about 25 feet of water."
Other good places to look for blues are off the deep edge of sediment bars and along the channel edge of shoals and tributary mouths.
"Barge tie-ups near power plants and factories where drifting timber has collected on the upriver side of the structure are also good bets," said Broughton. "Still other promising areas are the deep mouths of tributaries." According to seasoned Ohio River fisherman Tom Long, some of the best locations for blues are the deep scoured holes below the old dams that previously existed along the Ohio. Most of those old dams were left partially intact, and the scour holes are still present. But to find them, anglers will need an Ohio River Navigation Chart.
The greater Cincinnati area, from Coney Island to the mouth of the Great Miami River, has the largest concentration of blue catfish available to anglers.
WHERE TO FIND THEM!
If you want to catch a blue catfish big enough to make the record book, the following hotspots are the places to be:
The greater Cincinnati area, from Coney Island to the mouth of the Great Miami River, has the largest concentration of blue cats available to anglers.
Three large river tributaries flow into the Ohio River near Cincinnati: the Little Miami, the Licking and the Great Miami. Also, a number of industrial and power-plant barge tie-ups and various man-made structures provide cover and holding areas, collect driftwood and attract catfish.
Cincinnati and North Bend also happen to sit on some of the tightest and deepest river bends on the Ohio.
Said Broughton, "I catch a lot of 20- to 35-pound blue cats in the Cincinnati area, accounting for a large percentage of the big catfish I catch every year."
MELDAHL LOCK & DAM
The tailwaters of the Meldahl Dam offers shore-anglers one of their best places in Ohio for catching blue cats.
On the Ohio side, shoreline access is found on the downriver side of the locks. Parking is available at the dam.
At Neville there's a ramp that is only a short boat ride to the dam. However, restrictions limit how far boaters can get into the tailwaters.
Meldahl Dam is a popular place for catfishermen. The shipping channel, tight against the Ohio shoreline, features the deep, cold water and current that the biggest blues require. The area has plenty of forage, plus a mile or more of rocky riprap shoreline.
Tailwaters below the dam on the Kentucky side are renowned for producing big cats.
Two miles above Meldahl Dam are the remains of the No. 34 Lock and Dam, which have been converted to a county
park. Part of the dam's structure was removed, but the rubble and a deep scour hole still remain.
Last summer, a 70-pound blue catfish was caught near Maysville, Ky., across the river from Aberdeen, where a ramp provides easy access to two power plants and the Little Three Mile Creek warmwater discharge. Several big blue cats are taken from this area every year.
Kentucky Power, the DP&L Stuart Station, and Dravo Corporation have barge tie-ups that collect driftwood at their bases. At the DP&L plant are the remains of the old No. 33 Lock and Dam. The warmwater discharge at Three Mile Creek contains a robust population of skipjacks and gizzard shad and has a long sediment bar extending into the river.
MANCHESTER & BRUSH CREEK ISLANDS
Blue catfish are plentiful around these islands, but fishing pressure is light. The islands provide important shoal areas and have abrupt dropoffs along their edges.
River mussels are also abundant in this section of the river. The current remains steady around those islands, even during periods of little flow.
On the south side of Manchester Island, the channel is deep and rocky. At Brush Creek Island, the shipping channel lies just off the north edge of the island. Both islands have long gravel shoals that drop off quickly into 30-foot-plus water. The islands are well served by three boat ramps.
The remnants of the No. 32 Lock and Dam are five miles upriver from Ohio Brush Creek. The scour hole that remains below the old lock is one of the deepest in that section of the river.
PORTSMOUTH AREA & GREENUP DAM
The Portsmouth area boasts a number of bridge abutments, old barge and industry tie-ups. The Scioto River, which enters the Ohio River between the city and the state Route 852 bridge, has built up a large sediment bar extending almost to the bridge.
Four miles downriver from Portsmouth are the remains of the old No. 31 Lock and Dam. Upriver from Portsmouth, you'll find large gravel bars at Tygarts Creek and Little Scioto River.
Fifteen miles upriver from Portsmouth is Greenup Dam -- and Ohio anglers' last viable chance at a big blue catfish. Tailwater access is at the dam. Two miles downriver from the dam is the Burks Point boat ramp. A large gravel bar, Burks Point Bar, sits across from the ramp on the Kentucky side.
For more about fishing for Ohio's trophy blue catfish, contact Richard Zweifel, an Ohio Division of Wildlife fisheries biologist, at (740) 928-7034.
As of this writing, there are no creel or length limits on blue catfish in either Kentucky or Ohio. West Virginia has established a 24-inch minimum size limit and daily creel limit of two fish.
The minimum length for Ohio-caught trophy-fish recognition is 45 inches. Following the downlisting of the blue catfish, the Outdoor Writers of Ohio -- the organization responsible for Ohio's state-record fish program -- has enacted a set of guidelines for submitting any potential state record.
You can view these new guidelines and download applications by visiting www.outdoorwritersofohio.org.