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Enemy Of the Potomac River- Blue Catfish

By: Brad Ingalls

Many anglers in the Virginia/Northern Virginia area enjoy trying to take on and catch the blue catfish in the Potomac River. Its peaceful, relaxing, and exciting when you get hooked on a big Virginia blue cat. Just today at work I talked with a man who said he enjoys his weekends by taking his family to the river and casting out lines for them. But little do these anglers know just how much damage they are causing in the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.

Last weekend (6/9/2024) My father, girlfriend and I launched my boat, a 1997 Wellcraft Excel I spent 9 months fixing up and was finally ready to take it out on the river near Colonial Beach and were headed south in hopes to find Atlantic Croaker as we were able to easily when I was younger but were in for a big surprise. We got our rigs tied up and used cut squid and bloodworm flavored fish bites as that is what’s always worked for us. The first catch of the day was a white perch (Morne Americana) which is expected as white perch will stay in the river year-round. The next catch though, and the one right after was the blue catfish (Ictalurus Furcatus).

In 2022 commercial fisherman harvested more than 3.1 million pounds of blue catfish according to the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. Much more weight than any other fish caught in the river that year. To me, someone who spent his childhood fishing right on the banks of the river or taking our old Carolina Skiff not far from Colonial Beach and catching Croaker, Bluefish, Skate, Spot, and other exciting saltwater species on a regular basis. That is quite concerning.

“Dr. Bressman says just to keep the blue catfish population stable, fisherman must remove 15- to 30-million pounds of catfish from the Chesapeake Bay each year, and much more to reduce it” -Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. Now I grew up with a love of late night catfishing the river hoping to get on “The Big One” Little did I know what those blue cats would do to the ecosystem.

Blue catfish are quickly becoming the apex predator of the Potomac River/Chesapeake Bay area. Eating all the blue crab, menhaden, eel, and other ecologically important species. You cannot cast out a line without getting hooked onto a blue. I never realized the abundance of the fish until last weekend when we could not stop catching them. I almost feel a shred of guilt as I threw them back saying “Nah I don’t feel like skinning these today”.

When it comes to conservation and being a part of the health of an ecosystem, there is no room for laziness. These catfish are taking over and if we do nothing about it, they will be the only fish left in the river to catch. Never again will I return a catfish back into the Potomac River or Chesapeake Bay, and I am asking other anglers to do the same. Together we can stop the spread of the invasive blue catfish and bring the ecosystem back to what it was and what we all love.

References: Blue Catfish in the Chesapeake are Gobbling Up Everything in It | Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (

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