Channel Catfish vs Blue Catfish: What’s The Difference?

Channel and blue catfish swim in the same waters, look similar and may be difficult to tell apart. For this reason many people ask about their differences. Let’s answer, what is the difference between channel catfish and blue catfish?

Channel catfish and blue catfish are different species although from the same family. A channel anal fin is slightly rounded while a blue’s anal fin has a straight edge. Blue catfish grow longer and weigh more. Blue catfish are slate blue and channel catfish are brown to grayish.

This article will compare everything between the two catfish. I’ll examine their tastes, textures, nutrients, costs, mercury levels and if one can substitute for the other in recipes. In addition, I’ll compare their species, habitats, fishing and appearances.

As a Certified Health Coach many of my clients ask me about seafood including catfish. In addition to coaching clients about them, I’ve purchased, researched and consumed both prior to, during and sometimes after writing this article.

Channel Catfish vs Blue Catfish: Habitats, Size, Weight, Appearance?

Blue catfish on the top and channel catfish on the bottom
Blue catfish on the top and channel catfish on the bottom

When fishing, shopping or out of curiosity, the type of catfish desired may not be easily recognized when compared to others. In many situations this is true with catfish.

Therefore, how can you tell the difference between the two catfish?

The best way to tell the difference between a channel catfish and blue catfish when fishing is to check their anal fins. Channel catfish anal fin have 24 to 29 soft rays and the edge is slightly rounded. Blue catfish anal fin have 30 to 36 soft rays and the edge is straight.

Other ways to tell the difference:

  • Channel catfish have an olive-brown to grayish colored body. Blue catfish have a slate blue body.
  • Younger channel catfish have dark spots which typically disappear as an adult. Blue catfish don’t have any dark spots.

Scientific Classifications, Families and Species

Channel are from:

  • Family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Ictalurus
  • Species: I. punctatus
  • Common nicknames: Channel cats, cats.

Blue cats are from:

  • Family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Ictalurus
  • Species: I. furcatus
  • Common nicknames: Channel cats, cats, hump-back blue.

channel catfish and blue catfish photo comparisonHabitats, Nature and Fishing

Channel Catfish

  • Channel are native to lower Canada, eastern and northern United States including Texas, North Carolina and parts of northern Mexico.
  • While freshwater fishing, you can find in rivers, reservoirs, lakes and ponds.
Blue Catfish
  • Blue catfish are native to the Missouri, Mississippi and Rio Grande river basins. They range from The United States down south to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
  • While freshwater fishing, they can be found in rivers, lakes, ponds and in some brackish water inlets.

Be sure to check out your State park’s education programs to learn about these regulations, fishing and more about nature.

A few of these locations double as a history center. The American Catfish Association Advisory Council is a great website to visit. They are an advisory committee and program serving as an oversight for what is best for the sport of cat fishing.

cFun Fact: In August of 2022, while fishing on the Mississippi River near Natchez, a 104 pound blue catfish was hauled up on a trotline. Earlier in the year a 131-pound blue was caught using a rod and reel. Both were near Natchez.

States in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are working together to encourage recreational fishing for these catfish blue and channel.

Catfish Appearance

Colors

  • Channel cats have a darkened, olive brown to grayish upper body with a light, silvery, white belly.
  • Blue catfish have a slate blue color body fading to a silvery white belly.

When male channels are spawning their color turns more bluish which may confuse some people thinking it’s a blue catfish. When this occurs, check their anal fins.

Dorsal Fins

  • Channel catfish have one dorsal fin.
  • Blue catfish have one dorsal fin.

Anal Fins

  • Channel catfish have one anal fin with 24 to 29 soft rays. The edge of the anal fin is slightly rounded.
  • Blue catfish have one anal fin with 30 to 36 soft rays. The edge of the anal fin is straight.

Tail Fin

  • Channel catfish have a forked tail fin.
  • Blue catfish have a forked tail fin.

Mouth

  • Channel catfish have a wide mouth with the jaws meeting before the eye line. Their mouth has four pairs of barbels or whiskers around the mouth.
  • Blue catfish have a wide mouth with their jaws meeting before the eye line. Their mouth has four pairs of barbels or whiskers around the mouth.

Scales

  • Channel catfish have soft skin with no scales.
  • Blue catfish have soft skin with no scales.
The video shows the difference between a channel and blue catfish.

Size and Weight

  • Channel catfish average 22 inches long and 30 pounds but can grow up to 50 pounds.
  • Blue catfish average less than 24 inches but can grow up to 60 inches and weigh more than 100 pounds.

Lifespan

  • Channel catfish average lifespan is 14 to 16 years.
  • Blue catfish average lifespan is 9 to 10 years.

Diet

Channel consumes the following:

  • Small fish
  • Frogs
  • Small crustaceans
  • Insects
  • Clams
  • Worms
  • Snails

Blue consumes the following:

  • Plants
  • Worms
  • Small crustaceans
  • Crabs
  • Mussels
  • Insects
  • Small fish
  • Frogs
channel catfish and blue catfish photo comparison
top Channel Catfish bottom Blue Catfish

Species Resources 1 2

Disclaimer: The Keto link below and some others in this article are affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Catfish and other seafood are renowned for being a part of many diets like keto or heart healthy.

If you’re eating low-carb or want to give keto a try, many of my clients have followed this 28-Day Keto Challenge with great success. Visit their website and check it out.

Catfish Taste and Texture

The taste and texture of any fish are two main reasons people choose to eat a certain fish. After all, who wants to add a nice fillet to their plate, unless they like the taste of that fish? When comparing the two catfish, let’s examine which one taste better.

Channel catfish and blue catfish have a similar mild to medium taste. Depending on the type of water they were caught in, both fish may taste muddy or slightly fishy. The textures of both catfish are firm. A farm raised catfish will taste milder.

Channel catfish taste mild to sweet if farm raised. A wild caught flavor will be more medium, muddy and slightly fishy. The texture is firm and moist if cooked properly.

Blue catfish have a mild to sweet flavor. If wild caught when fishing, the flavor may be muddy or fishy. The texture is meaty and moist if cooked properly.

To conduct some original research, I polled clients, readers and people from food groups I participate in. The following are the results from the poll of 33 people. I asked which catfish tastes better?

  • 65% preferred the taste of channel.
  • 32% preferred the taste of blue.
  • 3% said they had no preference, or it depended where the fish was caught.

Find out how flathead catfish compared in my article.

Keto Bread Tip: Great News! Did you know, you don’t have to give up your favorite bread, pizza or sandwiches to follow a 100% Keto diet. Find out more in the KetoBreads website by clicking here, Keto Breads.

How to cook a catfish.

Substituting Catfish

Maybe you only have one type of fish in the refrigerator, and you don’t want to run out and shop. In addition, it’s not always possible to locate the type of fish called for in a recipe in the store.

If you have one of the two catfish, you may wonder if you could substitute one for the other.

Channel catfish and blue catfish can substitute for each other in recipes due to their similar mild to medium flavors. Both can be cooked using the same cooking methods due to their firm textures. Both catfish can be cooked by frying, grilling, baking, broiling and searing. 

Channel catfish substitutes include the following:

  • Mackerel
  • Bullhead
  • Tuna
  • Bass
  • Grouper
  • Northern pike
  • Halibut

Blue catfish substitutes include the following:

  • Bass
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Northern pike
  • Bullhead
  • Grouper
  • Walleye

The video below shows how to cook crispy catfish.

How To Cook

Channel Catfish

Some people may find channel catfish a little muddy or fishy therefore the preparation is important. Some people soak the fish in milk or icy water, rinse the fillets and soak the fish again. Keep repeating this process until the water and the flesh of the fish become clearer.

Popular ways to cook include:

  • Frying
  • Searing
  • Baking
  • Broiling
  • Grilling

Flavor pairings:

  • Cajun
  • Dijon mustard
  • Chili powder
  • Smoked paprika
  • Lemon
  • Garlic
  • Buttermilk
  • Yellow cornmeal

Blue Catfish

If the blue catfish is muddy or fishy, try soaking in milk or icy water. Rinse and soak again. People love to coat the catfish with yellow cornmeal before frying or baking.

Popular cooking methods:

  • Frying
  • Grilling
  • Searing
  • Baking
  • Broiling

Flavor pairings:

  • Yellow cornmeal
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Lemon pepper
  • Lemon
  • Cajun
  • Creole seasoning
  • Mustard
  • Chili powder

Find out how flathead catfish compared in my article.

Catfish dinner with fries
Catfish dinner with fries

Cost

The prices for fish will vary depending on where they’re sold and how the fish are caught. Its a good idea to check the label to see if it’s wild caught or farm-raised which affects the price. Therefore, let’s take a close look at which catfish costs more.

Channel catfish and blue catfish have a similar price per pound. Wild caught price ranges from $18.99 to $29.30 per pound.

I conducted a search for the most popular websites selling fish online. Many of the businesses sold catfish but didn’t specify what type of catfish. The following are the prices I was able to find in my search.

I checked online at Amazon and found the following:

  • Wild Blue fillet
    • $18.99 per pound
  • Catfish fillets (doesn’t specify which type)
    • $34.56 per pound

Check out Amazon’s current prices and selection of catfish or any other seafood, Fresh Seafood.

I checked Fulton Fish Market online:

  • Wild Channel fillet
    • $29.30 per pound

I checked Citarella online:

  • Catfish fillet (doesn’t specify type)
    • $16.00 per pound

I checked FreshDirect online:

  • Farm raised Catfish fillets (doesn’t specify the type)
    • $12.99 per pound
Kevin Garce checking prices of catfish and seafood in his local supermarket
Checking prices of catfish and seafood in my local market

Nutrition

The table below is the nutrients contained in 4 ounces of each catfish.

Nutrient Blue Catfish, raw (4 Ounces) Channel Catfish, raw (4 Ounces)
Calories 110 108
Fat 3.0 g 3.2 g
Saturated Fat 1.0 g 0.8 g
Cholesterol 66 mg 66 mg
Protein 19 g 19 g
Sodium 50 mg 49 mg
Omega-3 0.53 g 0.53 g
B-6 0.1 mg 0.1 mg
B-12 2.4 mcg 2.5 mcg
Thiamin 0.22 mg 0.23 mg
Riboflavin 0.11 mg 0.08 mg
B5 0.9 mg 0.8 mg
Iron 0.3 mg 0.3 mg
Niacin 2.1 mg 2.1 mg
Folate 11.2 mcg 11.3 mcg
Potassium 404 mg 405 mg
Magnesium 26 mg 26 mg
Phosphorus 236 mg 237 mg
Calcium 20.3 mg 15.8 mg
Zinc 0.5 mg 0.5 mg
Selenium 14.2 mcg 14.2 mcg

Nutrient Sources 3 4 5 6 7

Examining the nutrients above, both catfish are healthy and contain a good amount of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and minerals. The numbers for each one are similar. Therefore, it’s difficult to say if channel or blue catfish is better than the other.

Both provide a similar amount of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium. Keep reading the section below to find out how each of these nutrients is beneficial for health.

Find out how bullhead compared in my article.

Mercury Levels

The FDA and EPA have issued suggestions and warnings regarding mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed 8. This is especially important for:

  • Young infants
  • Developing children
  • Pregnant women

They established a list of the following:

  • Best fish
  • Good choices
  • Fish to avoid

Let’s examine which catfish is higher in mercury.

Channel and blue catfish have similar levels of mercury and are listed on the FDA’s best choices of fish regarding mercury levels. 

If you’re pregnant, breast feeding or has a young child, Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits.

Mercury warnings can change over time or affect only a particular area or state. Please check, especially when fishing, with your local EPA and FDA for the current recommendations 9.

Find out how flathead catfish compared in my article.

Health Benefits

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are heart healthy. They have been determined in scientific studies to help with the following:

  • Lowering bad cholesterol.
  • Increasing good cholesterol.
  • Maintaining healthy blood pressure.
  • Keeping the arteries healthy and functioning properly.
  • Lowering inflammation.
  • Reducing triglycerides.
  • Regulating heart rhythms.

For this reason, omega-3s are sold as a supplement. They are extracted from the flesh of fatty fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies, tuna, cod livers and herring. The best way to obtain omega-3 is consuming fresh fish, low in mercury twice per week.

Two of the fatty acids, EPA and DHA, have been shown in studies to lower blood pressure and improve the function of blood vessels 10.

Other studies have shown them to reduce joint stiffness and pain in people with arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids have also increased the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.

B Vitamins

The B vitamins provided include the following:

  1. B1 (thiamin)
  2. B2 (riboflavin)
  3. B3 (niacin)
  4. B5
  5. B6
  6. B9 (folate)
  7. B12

B vitamins help support the following:

  • Nerve function.
  • Digestion.
  • Red blood cells.
  • Brain function.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Energy levels.

Potassium

Both fish provide approximately 405 mg of potassium per four ounces. It helps the body get rid of excess sodium reducing fluid build-up. This helps keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 11.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between high blood pressure and low potassium levels 12.

The more potassium, the more sodium your body will lose. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 13.

Catfish dinner with corn
Catfish dinner with corn

Phosphorus

Phosphorus has been shown in scientific studies to help with the following:

  • Help the body store and manage energy.
  • Promote bone and teeth strength.
  • Muscle recovery.
  • Muscle contraction.
  • Promote healthy nerve conduction.
  • Help the kidneys remove waste.

Selenium

Selenium is a nutrient provided by fish which doesn’t receive much attention in health related articles. Many scientific studies 14 show selenium may help to protect the following:

  • Heart disease
  • Thyroid
  • The immune system
  • Cognitive issues

Calcium

The calcium contained in both catfish is important for the heart and blood pressure. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure by helping in the controlling of the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 15.

Calcium also helps the following:

  • Build and maintain strong bones.
  • Improve nerve function.
  • Helps muscles function properly.

Magnesium

Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. A recent study researched previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 16.

Magnesium helps control the following:

  • Blood sugar
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle
  • Nerve function
  • Blood pressure

One reason many people supplement with magnesium in the evening is because it helps calm the whole body including blood vessels.

In the heart and muscles, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat 17.

Read Next: More Fish Articles!

Bass vs Catfish – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Channel catfish[]
  2. NOAA Fisheries: Blue Catfish[]
  3. Nutrition Value: Fish, raw, wild, channel, catfish[]
  4. Nutrition Value: Wild caught blue catfish fillets[]
  5. Nutritiondata: Fish, catfish, channel, wild, raw[]
  6. USDA: Fish, catfish, channel, farmed, raw[]
  7. USDA: Catfish[]
  8. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake[]
  10. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  11. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
  12. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[]
  13. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[]
  14. National Institutes of Health: Selenium[]
  15. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]
  16. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  17. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]

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