You may have to travel to New Orleans to hear the blues, but if you want to catch them, all you have to do is drive to Hoover Reservoir about 10 miles northeast of downtown Columbus.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife initiated the blue catfish stocking program at Hoover in 2011. Longtime Hoover angler Jim Horan had the honor of putting the first blue cat in the lake on that day in 2011, and he’s been catching them ever since.
“I started catching blues the following spring,” says Horan.
He added that he had caught a tagged blue cat every year since 2012 until this year.
Hoover Reservoir is not the first inland Ohio lake to receive a stocking of blue catfish. Dillon Lake met one of the primary criteria for this consideration because of the enormous population of gizzard shad that exists there. Blue cats love to eat shad. They also love to follow the flow of water. With Dillon being a classic flood control lake, all 1,500 blue cats stocked in Dillon quickly escaped through the dam as high water was released.
Rich Carter, the Division of Wildlife’s executive administrator for fish management and research, says the failed Dillon experiment helped create the formula that has made the blue cat stocking a Hoover a success.
“Blue cats are a riverine species so lakes that flood often are not suitable for stocking. Hoover is a water supply lake designed to retain water. It has a small watershed and high flow events at this lake are minimal,” explains Carter.
So far there has been no documentation of blue cats leaving Hoover, according to Carter.
“We continue to receive tag reports from our initial stocking at Hoover,” added Carter.
The wildlife division is in the process of evaluating the blue cat stocking program at Hoover. As of now, the lake will continue to receive about 56,000 advanced fingerlings per year. Blue cats require flowing water to spawn so Carter does not believe natural reproduction will occur at Hoover.
The blue cats are not only staying put in Hoover, they are enjoying rapid growth. Recently, Marc Elwell of Columbus caught a 40-inch, 29-pound blue at Hoover. Carter says this represents a growth of about 4.5 pounds per year, which is exceptional. Elwell’s blue cat was 11 inches long when it was stocked. Carter describes the increase to 29 inches in just six years as “absolutely phenomenal.” Average growth for blue catfish is one to two pounds per year and about two inches in length. By the time they reach the mid-30 to 40-inch range, blue cats quit growing in length but continue to put on weight.
“We would certainly expect fish in the 50-pound range in the next five to seven years,” predicts Carter.
So how does an angler find and catch Hoover’s blue cats? Live or cut shad is classic blue cat bait. Carter says that blue cats tend to be open water feeders that can be found at all levels in the water column.
Horan says that the technique gaining favor for hooking a blue catfish is a slow drift in a boat going 0.5 miles per hour. He recommends using a 7/0 hook octopus circle hook on 30-pound test braided line. Horan tries to keep his sinker dragging the bottom, but a bobber placed four to five inches above the bait keeps his offering slightly off the bottom. He prefers a glass spinning rod with a spinning reel, but he says most anglers utilize casting tackle.
Whatever tackle type you choose, Horan says to be ready for an exciting strike.
“I have fished for northern pike in Canada, but I have never experienced such a savage strike like the one from a blue cat,” Horan said. Horan describes the initial hit from a blue cat as “bone jarring.”
Another Hoover blue cat chaser is Westerville’s Joe Hatfield. He has been fishing the reservoir for 15 years, but the last six years he has really hit it hard. The last two years he has focused on the blue catfish, especially the ones pushing the 10-pound mark. Like Horan, Hatfield prefers to attack blue cats from a boat. If the wind cooperates, he drifts over likely areas. If a gentle breeze is not present, Hatfield will troll along ledges at 0.3 to 0.7 mph with a Santee Cooper rig trailing behind the boat.
“Bass fishermen should think Carolina rig when they hear Santee Cooper rig,” says Hatfield.
The main difference is the attachment of a small bobber four to five inches ahead of the hook on his leader. Hatfield further explained that any angler who has dragged a worm harness for Lake Erie walleyes would feel at home with the Santee Cooper rig.
More important to Hatfield and his blue catfishing contemporaries than their angling techniques is the preservation of this exciting new fishing resource at Hoover Reservoir. For that reason, Hatfield stresses that catch and release for Hoover’s blue cats is imperative for this experiment to fully develop into a world class fishery.
“We have been given a great gift courtesy of the Ohio Division of Wildlife and we need to protect it today to insure its future,” said Hatfield.
The successful blue catfish stocking program at Hoover has the Division of Wildlife expanding its efforts to introduce blue cats to additional Ohio lakes. Clendening is now in its third year and Seneca is in year two for stocking blue cats.
Ohio’s record blue catfish is a 96-pounder that stretched the tape measure to 54½ inches. This whiskered behemoth was caught by Chris Rolph in the Ohio River on June 11, 2009.
Hoover Reservoir is on pace to become the premier blue catfish lake in Ohio. Perhaps the next record blue is already swimming in this 2,884-acre Central Ohio lake, and only needs a little time to tip the scales to 97 pounds.