When Farrah Reidt and her husband Matt set out on a Saturday night fishing trip on April 23, they were hoping to catch something special. They were locked in a friendly year-long, big-fish competition with family members and needed a catfish bigger than 50 pounds to regain the lead. What they caught was something even harder to find: An albino blue catfish that Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) officials say is extremely rare.
Fishing the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, the Reidts started catching blues and flatheads just before dark. At about 9:15 p.m., one of their rods bent and Farrah took it out of the holder and set the hook. “I was actually kind of disappointed,” she told Field & Stream. “I could tell it wasn’t a 50-pounder.”
The Reidts have an ongoing contest with Farrah’s parents, Ann and Dean Matthews, that they’ve dubbed “The Battle of the Boats.” The rules are simple: Whoever catches the biggest catfish by the end of the year wins the trophy. Matt and Farrah run a Tracker Grizzly jon boat on the Tennessee River. The Matthews have a Carolina Skiff and usually fish the Yadkin River back home in North Carolina but caught a 50.2-pound blue cat on the Tennessee on a recent trip while fishing about 100 yards away from their daughter and son-in-law. On Saturday night, the Reidts had returned to the same spot to try their luck.
The Reidts Were in for a Shock
“As soon as the fish got to the surface, I said, ‘What the heck is that?’” Farrah recalls. “It was bright white. Matt immediately said, ‘That’s an albino catfish.’ We were kind of in shock. Neither of us had seen an albino catfish before.”
According to Mike Jolley, Region 3 reservoir fisheries manager and biologist for the TWRA, not many Tennesseans have. The Reidts contacted the state wildlife agency while still on the water and were advised to measure and photograph the fish for biologists.
“An albino catfish is not something you see every day for sure,” Jolley says. “I have only witnessed a couple of albino catfish through anglers sharing their catch over the past 29 years as a reservoir fisheries biologist working on nine reservoirs in both the Cumberland and Tennessee River systems. I have never witnessed an albino being collected in any of our field data collections.”
Jolley notes that albino catfish are not a distinct species. Albinism is a genetic condition that results from an absence of melanin, the pigment that gives skin, fur, feathers, and eyes their color. Their lack of coloration probably puts them at a disadvantage when hiding from predators as juveniles or when stalking prey as adults. An albino creature’s eyes will often take on a pink tint caused by the blood vessels showing through. The catfish Farrah Reidt caught is blazing white with a vivid pink tail and a rosy tint to its fins and mouth. “It didn’t look real,” Matt says. “It’s strange.”
Farrah says they’re typically catch-and-release anglers. After weighing and measuring their unusual catch—which was 33 inches long and weighed 12.54 pounds—they released it too.
“We really wanted to make sure this fish stayed alive, especially since it’s so rare,” Farrah says. “We took video of the release, and it was so wild because we could see his tail swimming down into the depths of the Tennessee River. It was like, Can you see him glowing like that? It just solidified how special and rare that fish really is.”
“I’ve always been fascinated by pictures of albino deer, but never in a million years did I think albino catfish exist,” Matt adds. “To reel in something like that is just absolutely mind-blowing.”
The catch didn’t help the couple in their Battle of the Boats competition, but they consider it a good omen, regardless. “I think we should get an extra points for rarity, but my parents didn’t go for it,” Farrah says. “But I think they’re going down. They’ve got the bigger boat, but we’ve got the bigger river.”