American Oceans

What’s the Difference Between Flathead Catfish and Blue Catfish?

Flathead catfish and blue catfish are two of the largest and most sought-after species of catfish in North America.

an albino flathead catfish on a black background

These massive fish can grow to impressive sizes, with some specimens weighing over 100 pounds.

While they may share some similarities, such as their preference for freshwater habitats and their predatory behavior, there are also some key differences between flathead and blue catfish.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the characteristics and behaviors of these two species, and explore how their differences can impact everything from their habitat and diet to their value as a game fish.

Whether you’re an experienced angler or simply curious about these fascinating fish, read on to discover the unique traits and qualities that set flathead and blue catfish apart.

Key Takeaways

  • Flathead catfish and blue catfish have distinct physical characteristics that make them easy to identify.
  • Flathead catfish prefer slow-moving waters with plenty of cover, while blue catfish prefer deep, slow-moving waters with a rocky or sandy bottom.
  • Both species are popular among anglers for their size, strength, and fighting ability.

Flathead Catfish vs Blue Catfish

a big blue catfish underwater

Flathead Catfish and Blue Catfish are two popular species of catfish in North America. Both species are highly sought after by anglers for their size and taste.

However, they have distinct differences in appearance that can help identify each species.


Flathead Catfish and Blue Catfish have different appearances that make them distinguishable from each other.

Flathead Catfish have a mottled appearance with a brownish-black color on their back and sides.

They have a large, broad head with a wide mouth and long whiskers. The anal fin of a Flathead Catfish is rounded, and the pectoral fins are long and narrow.

The belly of a Flathead Catfish is pale, and the sides have a yellowish tint.

Blue Catfish, on the other hand, have a bluish-gray color on their back and sides. They have a smaller head with a narrower mouth and shorter whiskers.

The anal fin of a Blue Catfish is straight, and the pectoral fins are shorter and wider. The belly of a Blue Catfish is white, and the sides have a bluish tint.


Another way to distinguish between Flathead Catfish and Blue Catfish is by their tails. Flathead Catfish have a slightly forked tail, while Blue Catfish have a deeply forked tail.

The tail of a Flathead Catfish is wider and more rounded than that of a Blue Catfish.

Habitats and Distribution

an aerial view of the mississippi river

Flathead and blue catfish are two of the most popular North American catfish species. They are found in various water bodies, including rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.

The distribution of flathead catfish is primarily in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their tributaries. They are also found in the Rio Grande, Texas, and Mexico.

Flathead catfish prefer deep pools and slow-moving waters with little to no current. They can be found in areas with structures such as logs, rocks, and undercut banks.

Blue catfish, on the other hand, have a broader distribution range than flathead catfish. They are found in the Mississippi River and its tributaries, including the Missouri and Ohio Rivers.

Blue catfish are also found in reservoirs and lakes throughout the southern and eastern United States. They prefer large rivers with moderate to strong currents and deep waters.

The habitat preferences of these two species can be explained by their feeding habits. Flathead catfish are opportunistic predators and feed on live prey, such as fish, crayfish, and insects.

They are ambush predators and prefer to hide in structures and wait for their prey to come to them. Blue catfish, on the other hand, are active predators and feed on a variety of prey, including fish, mussels, and insects.

They are capable of swimming long distances to find food and prefer open waters with strong currents.

Size and Weight

person holding a flathead catfish

Flathead and blue catfish are both large fish that can grow to impressive sizes. However, there are some differences in their typical size and weight.

Flathead catfish are generally smaller than blue catfish, with an average weight of 5-20 pounds and a length of 12-24 inches.

However, they can grow much larger, with some individuals reaching up to 100 pounds or more. The current world record for flathead catfish is 123 pounds and was caught in Kansas in 1998.

Blue catfish, on the other hand, are typically larger than flathead catfish. They can weigh anywhere from 20 to over 100 pounds, with some individuals reaching lengths of over 5 feet.

The current world record for blue catfish is 143 pounds and was caught in Virginia in 2011.

It’s worth noting that size and weight can vary depending on factors such as location, diet, and genetics.

For example, blue catfish in some areas may be smaller or larger than average, depending on the availability of food and other factors.

Diet and Feeding Habits

a big blue catfish underwater

Both flathead catfish and blue catfish are opportunistic predators, meaning they will eat a wide variety of prey depending on availability. The diet of these catfish species changes with age and season.

Blue catfish feed mostly on fish, mollusks, chironomids and oligochaetes, and detritus/plant material.

Across all habitats, blue catfish diets were composed of 47% fishes (more than 15 identifiable species), 15% mollusks, 12% chironomids and oligochaetes, 7% detritus/plant material, and 19% unidentified material.

Blue catfish are known to feed actively during the day and night, but they may feed more at night.

Flathead catfish, on the other hand, have a more diverse diet. They feed on live baits such as shad, crayfish, insects, eels, and worms, as well as cut bait and other fishes. They are also known to feed on crustaceans and mussels.

Flathead catfish are primarily nocturnal predators, but they will actively feed during the day.

Both species are apex predators in their respective habitats, and they are known to prey on other fish species, including striped bass.

Flathead catfish are known to be more predatory than blue catfish, and they are more likely to consume live prey than blue catfish.

Behavior and Reproduction

a school of flathead catfish at the surface of the water

Flathead catfish and blue catfish exhibit different behaviors and reproductive patterns. Flathead catfish are known for their solitary behavior and prefer to stay in deeper waters during the day, moving to shallower waters at night to feed.

Blue catfish, on the other hand, are more social and can be found in schools during the day, moving to deeper waters at night.

When it comes to reproduction, flathead catfish tend to be more selective in their choice of mate.

They are known to engage in courtship rituals, where the male will chase and nudge the female to initiate mating.

Once fertilized, the female will lay her eggs in a nest created by the male, who will then guard the eggs until they hatch.

Blue catfish, on the other hand, do not engage in courtship rituals and are known to spawn in open water.

Both flathead catfish and blue catfish have been known to exhibit population declines in certain areas, often due to overfishing and habitat loss.

However, efforts to manage and conserve these species have been implemented to help ensure their survival.

For example, regulations on fishing size and limits have been put in place to help maintain healthy populations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the differences between flathead and blue catfish in terms of size?

Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) and blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) are two different species of catfish that can be found in North America.

Blue catfish can grow larger than flathead catfish, with the former reaching up to 5 feet in length and weighing over 100 pounds, while flathead catfish typically grow up to 3 feet in length and weigh around 50 pounds.

What are the distinct characteristics of blue catfish?

Blue catfish have a bluish-gray body with a white belly. They have a flat, broad head and a forked tail.

Their anal fin has a straight margin, and their dorsal fin is set far back on their body. They also have a distinctive hump behind their head.

Which species of catfish is more commonly found in Texas?

Both flathead and blue catfish can be found in Texas, but blue catfish are more commonly found in the state’s rivers and lakes. They are particularly abundant in the Trinity River.

What is the taste difference between channel catfish and blue catfish?

Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) and blue catfish have different taste profiles. Channel catfish have a mild, sweet taste and a firm, flaky texture, while blue catfish have a stronger, meatier taste and a firmer texture.

How does the taste of flathead catfish compare to channel catfish?

Flathead catfish have a similar taste to channel catfish, with a mild, sweet flavor and a firm, flaky texture.

However, some people describe the taste of flathead catfish as slightly sweeter than that of channel catfish.

Which species of catfish is considered the best tasting to eat?

The taste of catfish is subjective, and different people have different preferences. Some people prefer the mild, sweet taste of channel catfish, while others prefer the meatier taste of blue catfish.

Flathead catfish are also a popular choice for eating, with a taste that is similar to that of channel catfish. Ultimately, the best tasting catfish is a matter of personal preference.

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