Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Coming soon: 100-pound catfish
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
- Virginia’s hunting totals produce mixed results
- A good trade: Virginia trout for Kentucky elk
- Forget the odds-makers; Salem’s John Crews believes he can win the Bassmaster Classic.
- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
The lower James River has a distinct winter look as it skirts along the edge of Richmond, its slate-colored water shimmering under the weak rays of a February sun. This is catfish country. Big catfish. Big numbers of big catfish.
Does a 100-pound blue catfish lurk in one of the deep, cold holes of the river? Bob Greenlee doesn’t rule that out. He is a fisheries biologist for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
"At this point I think it is likely there are 90-plus pounders out there and we may see one of these caught in 2005," he said. “At some point in the not too distant future it is likely we will see 100-plus pound blue cats caught from the James. I have already had an angler report a blue cat caught with length and girth measurements much higher than the current state record, but that angler did not get a weight on the fish.”
The record is an 92-pound, 4-ounce blue catfish landed last June 29th by William Zost of Roxboro, N.C. Zost caught it in Kerr Lake, where he and his family have a reputation of battling huge catfish.
Even with the record, Kerr takes a back seat to the James River as a monster catfish producer. The James accounted for 986 citations last year, while Kerr had 131. But the record catch by Zost helped put Kerr in the race as top catfish country.
James River anglers would like to return the record to their water. On Dec. 9, Chris Eberwien, a fishing guide, came within less than10 pounds of doing that when he landed a catfish that weighed 83.5pounds, the largest ever reported from the river. It measured 54.5 inches in length.
Eberwien and a friend, Floyd Dormier, battled the fish for 35 minutes then called to have a set of state-inspected scales brought to the Dutch Gap area of the river where Greenlee arrived to officially identified the catch and witnessed its weighing. Afterwards the fish was released.
Many anglers practice catch-and-release, a trend that the river guides strongly support.
"I would say the percentage of catch and release of big blue catfish among the guides is nearly 100 percent," said Capt. Mike Ostrander, who heads a guide service called James River Fishing School.
After all, what else do you do with a fish half your size?
"The blue cat population is expanding," said Greenlee. “Although blue cats were first stocked in the tidal James in the mid-1970s, they did not really take off until the mid-to late-90s. At this point there is an abundance of 50-pound blue cats out there and these fish continue to grow very rapidly.”
Ostrander gets clients from as far away as Kansas. Anglers who once traveled to Santee-Cooper in South Carolina for big cats often now stop off at the James, he said.
The James fishery enjoys two peaks, one that begins in late February or early March and lasts into late April; the other from the end of October to the end of December. The past week, several catfish in the 20- to 30-pound range were landed.
It’s only going to get better, said Greenlee, who believes the number of 60- to 80-pound fish is increasing and, in time, so will 90-to 100-pounders.
The DGIF has increased the minimum-citation size of a blue catfish from 20 pounds or 34 inches to 30 pounds or 38 inches. Citations in 2004 from all water across the state numbered 1,475, the great majority of them from the James River and Kerr Lake. Rounding out the count were the following rivers, Chickahominy, Mattaponia, Pamunkey, Rappahannock, Potomac, Staunton, Dan and Appomattox.