Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Hebron hatchery growing a generation of blue catfish

Hebron, Ohio – Half way through a project to stock blue catfish
in Dillon Lake, it’s “so far, so good” at the Hebron State Fish
Hatchery.

Blue catfish are among the largest species of freshwater fish in
North America. They can grow to 40 inches long and weigh up to 100
pounds, according to the Ohio DNR.

Hebron staffers began incubating blue cat eggs obtained from
Kentucky in the spring as part of an effort to enhance Ohio’s
angling opportunities and find a good use for the high numbers of
gizzard shad found in some inland reservoirs.

By late August, those eggs had turned into 17,000 fingerling
catfish – each about 6 inches long.

“They’re running well ahead of the channel cats (at Hebron),”
said Elmer Heyob, hatcheries supervisor for the DNR Division of
Wildlife. “They seem to be doing pretty good in our ponds.”

Heyob expects the blue cats to reach 10 inches by September
2010. They’ll be ready for stocking in Dillon’s 1,500 water acres
at the ratio of about 10 fish per acre.

“We’ll be happy with that,” he said.

The project is a first serious attempt by the Ohio DNR to stock
blues in an inland reservoir. Previous attempts in the 1960s and
70s were sporadic and unmonitored, Heyob said.

Dillon was targeted for its high water flow and abundance of
forage fish, specifically gizzard shad.

“Dillon is also in the Ohio River watershed,” Heyob noted. “It
fits the bill.”

Blue catfish are a southern river species that likes
swift-flowing currents. Unlike their channel cat cousins, they
favor open water over shoreline cliffs and rocks. And in case it
wasn’t mentioned before, they like to eat.

Outside of pay lakes, blues are not found in the Buckeye State
north of the Ohio River. But their numbers are growing in that
river between Portsmouth and Cincinnati, along with an interest in
hooking trophy-sized fish.

On June 11, a Williamsburg angler pulled a 96-pound blue from
the river near Cincinnati to take the state record. The fish was
541/2 inches long with a 36-inch girth.

Heyob noted a professional fishing guide business is currently
thriving in the Cincinnati area, catering to anglers who pursue
blue cats.

“Lots of people are anxious to fish for them,” he said.

Many anglers confuse blue and channel catfish. But there are
marked differences beyond the blue-gray cast most visible on a blue
catfish’s head and back. Blues have longer anal fins with
straight-bottom edges. Also, blue cats never have the black spots
on their bodies that are often found on channel cats, according to
the Ohio DNR.

Thus far, there are no plans to stock blue catfish in any lakes
beyond Dillon, Heyob said.

Because blues are long-lived with the potential to reach record
size, it may be awhile before the Ohio DNR can fully savor the
success of its new project.

“It will be years before we know how they turn out,” Heyob
said.

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