Looking at the World Record Catfish: Channel, Flathead, Blue

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Looking at the World Record Catfish: Channel, Flathead, Blue

Catfish are among the most popular and commonly pursued freshwater fish in the world. When discussing catfish world records, however, it is important to keep in mind that there are three major species of catfish in the United States: channel catfish, flathead catfish, and blue catfish.

Each species differs in many ways. Likewise, the techniques used to catch trophy-sized fish of each species will differ. The particular bodies of water that house potential record catfish will also vary.

Before we look at the world record catfish for each species, however, let’s take a look at how each individual species is unique.

A Quick Biology Lesson: What is the Difference Between Channel, Flathead, and Blue Catfish?

Biological Classifications List
Biological Classifications Chart (photo via Peter Halasz/Pengo/Wikimedia Commons)

While we don’t want to turn this into a formal biology lesson, it is helpful to know the differences (and similarities) between the major species of catfish.

In terms of classification, it is important to know that the lowest level is the species. As you move up the chart, each level (or category) sees more differences between the types of fish under its umbrella.

For instance, all species within the same genus are more likely to have similarities than all fish within the same family, order, or class.

When considering fish classified as bass, for instance, there is a high degree of variance. Fortunately, the three major species of catfish are all closely related — at least on a biological level.

Three Species, One Family

As mentioned above, there are three major species of catfish in North America: channel catfish, flathead catfish, and blue catfish.

Two of these species — channel and blue — fall under the genus Ictalurus. They are joined by eight other lesser species, including:

  • Panuco Catfish
  • Chapala Catfish
  • Yaqui Catfish
  • Headwater Catfish
  • Balsas Catfish
  • Lerma Catfish
  • Southern Blue Catfish
  • Rio Verde Catfish

Flathead catfish, however, fall under the genus Pylodictis. Flatheads are actually the only species in this genus. Their closest biological relative in the widemouth blindcat, a cavefish with no pigmentation. Unlike flatheads, which can grow to massive sizes, the widemouth blindcat rarely grows more than 5 inches in length.

All three major catfish species fall under the family Ictaluridae. Over 50 species fall under this category, with the next most popular being the various species of bullhead.

What is the World Record Blue Catfish?

Common Name: Blue catfish

Species Name: Ictalurus furcatus

Popular Nicknames: Blue, bluey, big blue, blue cat, forktail, humpback cat, silver cat

Blue Catfish World Record: Perhaps the most coveted freshwater sport fishing world record outside of the largemouth bass belongs to the blue catfish.

Throughout the early 2000s, anglers in Texas, Missouri, Illinois, and Virginia all laid claim to new world record blue catfish. Since 2011, however, the record has remained intact and untouched. Many anglers have pulled new state records since, but none are touching the current record.

A Brief History of the Blue Catfish World Record

In January 2004, Cody Mullenix landed a 121.5 pound blue cat out of Lake Texoma — one of Texas’ best fisheries. His record would stand for about sixteen months. In May 2005, Tim Pruitt’s 124 pound blue cat, caught on the Mississippi River in Illinois, became the new world record.

Pruitt held the title for five years. Greg Bernal then captured the record by catching a 130 pound monster blue cat on the Missouri River (in Missouri).

The current world record blue catfish was caught on Lake Kerr (also known as Buggs Island) in 2011. Nick Anderson caught a 143 pound blue cat with a girth of 47 inches and a length of 57 inches.

Anderson’s catch came on an Ugly Stik fishing rod and a Shimano reel. The whopper blue cat fought for over 40 minutes before Anderson got it in the boat. Considering that Mike Mitchell’s near-Alabama state record blue catfish (at 117.2 pounds) fought for about seven minutes, this shows how much variation you can get between trophy fish.

An interesting note on blue catfish is that they never stop growing. Bigger fish tend to be older fish. For a species that can live up to roughly 20 years, there are certainly some aged fish out there vying to be the next world record blue catfish.

What is the World Record Flathead Catfish?

Common Name: Flathead Catfish

Species Name: Pylodictis olivaris

Popular Nicknames: Flat, mud cat, yellow cat, shovelhead

Flathead Catfish World Record: As is the case with world records sometimes, people will often question the validity of a catch. That said, the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) has awarded the distinction of world record flathead to angler Ken Paulie.

Examining the Controversial Flathead Catfish World Record

World Record Flathead Catfish
Ken Paulie holds his world record flathead catfish

The simple fact that Ken Paulie caught a 123 pound, 60+ inch flathead catfish is mighty impressive. The fish, which was believed to be roughly 22 years old, had recently eaten a bigmouth buffalo.

Paulie’s May 1998 catch, however, is not without its share of controversy.

This is largely due to the fact that he was fishing for crappie, not trophy catfish, on Elk City Resrvoir in Kansas.

While light tackle is great for catching crappie and panfish, it is rarely used when fishing for any type of catfish. This drew suspicions from avid catfish anglers who spent their careers using heavy tackle for heavy fish.

Interestingly, Paulie’s flathead, while the longstanding record, is not the largest ever “caught.”

A 1982 flathead pulled from the Arkansas River was substantially larger. This fish weighed an unbelievable 139 pounds, 14 ounces and measured nearly six feet in length.

Unfortunately, the flathead was not caught via conventional rod-and-reel methods, thus it did not qualify as a world record. It did, however, prove that flatheads could potentially overthrow blue cats as the largest species of catfish.

What is the World Record Channel Catfish?

Common Name: Channel Catfish

Species Name: Ictalurus punctatus

Popular Nicknames: Channel cats

Channel Catfish World Record: Caught way back in 1964, the world record channel catfish was a massive 58 pound fish caught on Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina.

Considering that a mature, 20-pound channel cat is considered trophy-sized, the world record is even more impressive. At roughly triple the weight of an “exceptional” catch, it is quite possible that the channel catfish world record may never be broken.

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