Blue Catfish vs Channel Catfish: 5 Key Differences

Written by August Buck
Updated: December 5, 2022
© iStock.com/Renars2014
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Whether you are an avid angler or simply want to learn more about blue catfish vs channel catfish, you’re in the right place. Both of these fish are frequently caught by fishermen in North America, but how can you learn how to identify these catfish and tell them apart?

In this article, we will address all of the differences and similarities between these two commonly confused catfish varieties. We’ll go over the behavioral differences, the preferred habitats, and the lifespans of these two fish so that you can gain a greater understanding of them. Let’s get started now!

Comparing Blue Catfish vs Channel Catfish

blue catfish vs channel catfish
The blue catfish grows far larger than the channel catfish, both in length and weight.

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Blue CatfishChannel Catfish
Size30-60 inches; 40-150 pounds12-24 inches; 1-5 pounds
AppearanceBluish gray in color with protruding jaw; has a dorsal hump and 30-35 rays on anal finOlive or gray in color and the younger fish have spots on them; anal fin has less than 30 rays on it
Location and HabitatSouth and Southeastern United States; found in large, fast riversCentral and Eastern United States; and waterway with a low current
BehaviorPrefers fresh bait; extremely picky eater and may be considered a trophy catch, depending on sizeEnjoys wide variety of bait; often the most common catfish caught
Lifespan20-30 years10-15 years

Key Differences Between Blue Catfish vs Channel Catfish

There are many key differences between blue catfish and channel catfish. The blue catfish grows far larger than the channel catfish, both in length and weight. The blue catfish is considered a trophy catch, while channel catfish are the second most frequently caught fish in North America. The lifespan of the blue catfish is also longer than the lifespan of the channel catfish.

Let’s address some of these differences in more detail now.

Blue Catfish vs Channel Catfish: Size and Weight

blue catfish vs channel catfish
The average channel catfish weighs 15-40 pounds, while blue catfish weigh 40-150 pounds.

©Sergey Goruppa/Shutterstock.com

You won’t be disappointed if you catch a blue catfish rather than a channel catfish. This is because blue catfish far outweigh channel catfish, often by a large margin. The average channel catfish weighs 15-40 pounds, while blue catfish weigh 40-150 pounds, though anything over 100 pounds is impressive!

The overall length of these two fish differs as well. The blue catfish reaches anywhere from 30-60 inches, depending on age, while the channel catfish grows 12-24 inches on average. However, there are always outliers to this rule, so keep this in mind if you end up catching an extra large channel catfish!

Blue Catfish vs Channel Catfish: Location and Habitat Preferences

blue catfish vs channel catfish
Blue catfish are primarily located in the Southern United States stretching east, while channel catfish are located in the central and eastern portions of the United States.

©M Huston/Shutterstock.com

While both of these fish are found in North America, there are some differences in their locations and preferred habitats. However, both blue catfish and channel catfish are fished for in the same area, so their location isn’t a hard and fast rule when it comes time to identify your catch.

Blue catfish live in the Southern United States stretching east, while channel catfish are located in the central and eastern portions of the United States. These two fish have some habitat preferences as well. Channel catfish enjoy any type of waterway with low to moderate currents, while blue catfish prefer fast moving streams and large rivers.

Blue Catfish vs Channel Catfish: Appearance

blue catfish vs channel catfish
The blue catfish has a blue-ish skin color, while channel catfish maintain more of an olive or gray appearance overall.

©Jennifer White Maxwell/Shutterstock.com

Despite some of their similarities in coloring and appearance, there are some key differences in the appearance of a blue catfish and a channel catfish. The blue catfish honors its namesake by being covered in blue and gray skin, while channel catfish maintain more of an olive or gray appearance overall.

Channel catfish are spotted on their body especially at a younger age, while blue catfish aren’t spotted. The blue catfish is identified using the amount of rays on its anal fin, and this is a surefire way of telling the difference between these two types of fish. The channel catfish has an anal fin with 30 rays or less, while they blue catfish has an average of 30 to 35 rays on its anal fin. 

Blue Catfish vs Channel Catfish: Behavior

blue catfish vs channel catfish
The channel catfish is regarded as one of the most commonly caught fish in the United States, while the blue catfish may be considered a rare and trophy catch depending on the size.

©Rostislav Stefanek/Shutterstock.com

While both of these fish occupy similar waterways and have extremely similar life cycles in terms of their reproductive cycles and offspring, they do have some differences in their behaviors. Let’s talk about those in more detail now. 

The channel catfish is one of the most commonly caught fish in the United States, while the blue catfish is a rare and trophy catch depending on the size. Blue catfish eat fewer baits compared to channel catfish, so this is important to note if you want to fish for them. Channel catfish eat a wide variety of types of bait, while blue catfish prefer live and fragrant bait.

Blue Catfish vs Channel Catfish: Lifespan

blue catfish vs channel catfish
The channel catfish lives an average of 10 to 15 years in the wild, wild blue catfish live an average of 20 to 30 years.

©Ryan Somma / Creative Commons

A final difference between blue catfish and channel catfish is their lifespans. All species of catfish grow throughout their entire lives, which means that the larger the catfish, the older it is. However, that does not mean that these fish do not have average lifespans.

For example, the channel catfish lives an average of 10 to 15 years in the wild, wild blue catfish live an average of 20 to 30 years. This is why blue catfish often outgrow channel catfish: they are simply older and have lived longer lives!


The Featured Image

Catfish Teeth- Fresh Catfish
© iStock.com/Renars2014

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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