Why do the Carolinas have Arkansas blue catfish?

Arkansas blue
Capt. Jason Wolfe of Wolfe's Guide Service specializes in catching Arkansas blues right here in the Carolinas.

Is an Arkansas blue cat different than a “regular” blue cat?

Catfish anglers are plentiful throughout the Carolinas. All the freshwater lakes, rivers, creeks, and most farm ponds contain at least one species of catfish. And anglers often catch catfish even in some of our brackish waters.

Some anglers specialize in catching one of the “Big Three” species, which includes channel cats, flatheads, and Arkansas blues. Other anglers aren’t too picky.

Anglers that catch a big blue catfish often brag of their “Arkansas blue.” And both the SCDNR and NCWRC regulations booklets and websites refer to blue catfish as “Arkansas blues” in numerous instances.

One might think an Arkansas blue catfish is a separate species, or at least a variation, of a regular blue catfish. But no, an Arkansas blue is just another name for the same species. And the truth is, it’s a name not heard much at all outside this region.

“It’s really a colloquial name. You’ll not hear it much, if at all, outside the Carolinas and Georgia,” said Ross Self, SCDNR Chief of Freshwater Fisheries.

So how is it that one of the most popular freshwater sport fish in the Carolinas came to be named after, of all places, Arkansas? The Carolinas are full of history and pride. So how is it that we give reverence to a state so far away when talking about one of our most prized fish?

Carolina stripers for Arkansas blues

No hate on Arkansas intended, but come on man, this is the Carolinas! We name things after Native American tribes and Revolutionary War heroes that gave the finger to the King of England. Yet we fish for Arkansas blues?!

It turns out, as popular as blue catfish are in the Carolinas, the species is not native to our states. They were introduced here by fisheries biologists in 1964. The fast-growing fish was known to be good for sport as well as food.

When South Carolina realized (mostly accidentally) that striped bass could live long lives in freshwater without ever touching saltwater, the Palmetto State made a trade with, you guessed it, the state of Arkansas. The swap included striped bass fingerlings from South Carolina for blue cat fingerlings from Arkansas.

Before long, some of South Carolina’s “Arkansas blues” had migrated into North Carolina’s waterways through rivers and lakes that run through both states.

“The name just stuck, and has endured for decades,” said Self. “And it really is kind of a neat way to show homage to how this species first arrived to the Carolinas.”

So that’s how Carolina anglers catch Arkansas blues. I’ve never fished in Arkansas. I wonder if they call striped bass “Carolina stripers.” I sure hope so.

About Brian Cope 2494 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at brianc@sportsmannetwork.com.

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