"It will take a while because blue cats are pretty slow-growing," he explained. "The fish we've stocked into the Kanawha since 2005 and the Ohio since 2006 are still relatively small. The state-record big blue cats that have been in the Ohio were fish that migrated upstream."
So far, the heaviest blue caught in West Virginia's section of the Ohio weighed 32 pounds, 5 ounces. Alex Foster of St. Albans caught that one in 2011. The longest blue, an Ohio River fish caught in 2009 by Lynn Lange, measured 42 1/4 inches.
O'Bara said catfish tournament anglers are already starting to target blues in much the same manner they target flatheads, another large catfish species.
"I don't have exact numbers for tournaments, but blue cats are starting to become a more substantial portion of the catch," he said. "A lot of those tournaments are 'big-fish' tournaments, and people are going after blue cats to try to win them."
He expects more anglers to go after blues as word gets out about how to fish for them.
"They're different from flatheads and channel cats, which feed close to the bottom. Blue cats are an open-water species. They tend to suspend in the water column and stay away from the bottom. It's best to fish for them in much the same way you'd fish for striped bass or hybrid stripers," he added.
DNR workers currently stock 50,000 to 80,000 blue cats a year, mostly in the Ohio, but also in the Kanawha and in Wyoming County's R.D. Bailey Lake.
"There's a very high population of gizzard shad in R.D. Bailey, and we hope the blue cats will help keep that population under control," O'Bara said.
Both of the state's warm-water hatcheries raise blue cats to a size that can be stocked, but the fish themselves come from Kentucky and Tennessee. O'Bara said that might change in the future when the species becomes well enough established that brood-stock fish would be easy to obtain.
"For the time being, we're going to maintain the [stocking] program at its current pace," he added. "Where we are right now is just where we want to be."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.