A combination of warming weather trends and forest greenery are stirring more than the bachelor flocks of wild turkeys. The motivation of gobblers to break up their gatherings and start to stake out their territories for pursing hen turkeys is an indication that spring is upon us. Another harbinger of spring is the cherry blossoms. Any place they are in bloom brings back memories of days gone by when folks would say that colorful cherry blossom petals meant that the big stripers were heading up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries for their annual spawning run. We must hope for the best regarding success for the current striper spawn. The jury on this is out until late next summer when Virginia and Maryland complete their young of the year survey to see how successful the 2020 striped bass was. Meanwhile, those with an itch to wet a line and get in some hook n’ line action can do so with the growing number of blue catfish in the region.
Looking for Blue Cats
Anglers looking to fish during the early months of the 2020 season may want to try some catfishing. The prolific increase of blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay watershed means that these voracious feeders could be residing in waters where they had never been before. This is especially true in the upper brackish reaches of local tributaries of Chesapeake Bay, including those on the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. For creeks and tributaries with significant tidal flows, look for drop-offs near the confluence of smaller creeks or backwaters. Another area where feeding blue cats may congregate in the early spring is the shallower edges of creeks and rivers near mudflats, grass beds or partially submerged trees and obstructions. Blue catfish will congregate in these areas because they often harbor fish that they feed on.
Baits of Choice
While chicken livers were once the traditional catfish bait because of the odor they give off when fished, there are other options to consider. Blue cats are one of the finned alpha predators in our region and often prefer cut fish bait such as mud or gizzard shad, menhaden and perch. Chunks of crab and pieces of shrimp are other bait choices for blue cats. If there are any channel catfish in the area they may also hit these baits. Some anglers are surprised when channel or blue cats hit spoons they are casting for other species. Years ago, I fished with an angler who caught more channel cats than chain pickerel on a red and white Daredevil spoon he favored. Larger blue and channel catfish are predators who feed on smaller fish so any lure that mimics the movement of them could attract their attention.
Fishing for catfish doesn’t require sophisticated fishing tackle or hardware but you should be prepared to vary your rigging given the conditions or bottom topography of where you are fishing. For deeper waters, a two hook top and bottom rig that includes a snap swivel for weight change is a good choice. An added option is using a small float line hook to keep the bait floating just off the bottom and not mired in mud, debris or grass. In fast moving tidal water, catfish anglers may use in-line sinkers in 2 to 4 ounce sizes and about 4 feet of leader for a single hook. Some catfish waters are shallow enough to fish with a hook and bobber, positioning the hook to keep the bait just a few inches from the bottom. At times catfish may prefer one bait over the other so fishing with more than one rod and reel can be a successful tactic. Baiting one rig with mud or gizzard shad and another with chicken livers or shrimp is a useful approach. Another option with fishing more than one rod and reel is to have one rigged for shallow inshore water and the other fished deep.