- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

HILLTOP, Md.

“Whoa, I don’t know what I’ve got here, but I’ll bet you anything it’s not a yellow perch!” shouted my Charles County neighbor Dale Knupp. His spinning rod doubled over in a sharp arc, and light monofilament line was being stripped at will from the reel by an unseen adversary. Knupp hoped he might have a lunker bass. However, he knew it wasn’t a bass by the way the fish fought and “ran.”

When he saw it, all he said was, “Doggone catfish.” He sneered, brought it close to the boat and slipped a net under it. He then carefully removed a small plastic grub that was impaled on a 1/8-ounce jig hook, which in turn had been tied to 8-pound testline.

Knupp and I were hunting for perch in one of the Potomac River’s feeder creeks in Southern Maryland. My partner already had caught a chubby carp when the catfish inhaled the little fringed plastic lure that reeked of garlic. (It had been dipped into a fish attractant that had all the aroma of an Italian kitchen.)

The catfish beat a path to it; so did the carp and a couple of small male perch.

So what’s there to complain about when a powerful catfish inhales an artificial bait instead of a much smaller critter that fights like a wet dish rag?

The angler should be grateful, but catfish and carp are the Rodney Dangerfields of the fish world — they just can’t seem to get any respect.

Truth be known, channel catfish grow bigger, fight harder and — to most palates — taste better than any old yellow perch.

But most fishermen look down on freshwater or tidal river fish species that traditionally hug the bottom of a river or lake. Catfish usually (but not always) spend their lives on the bottom, as do carp and sturgeon. And what do all three have in common? They’re strong, capable of checking to see how well knots are tied, can break fishing tackle and invariably make anglers wish they had stronger line on the reel.

Despite that, people tend to deride these battlers. In the case of Dale’s recent catfish, which weighed around 3 or 4 pounds, it fought as well or better than a 5-pound bass could, yet bass is the glamour species in these and many other parts of the United States.

In some states, however, a bit of a change has taken place. At the huge Santee Cooper Lakes in South Carolina, I’ve met fishing guides who stopped taking bass fishermen out onto Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion and now accommodate catfish fanciers. Small wonder. Both reservoirs are home to many blue and flathead catfish. Imagine going out with one of the catfish guides, promptly hooking a 30-pound blue catfish and hearing the guide say, “It’s a nice fish, but we’ll do better before the day is done. Want to let this one go?”

It happened to me several years ago, and the guide was right. I hooked several others that were heavier than 30 pounds.

Meanwhile, back in Southern Maryland, my pal Dale reacted true to form when he suddenly caught a fat white perch on the same little plastic, garlic-scented grub. He smiled from ear to ear.

Unlike the yellow perch, which receives only so-so marks as quality table fare, the white perch is considered the best-tasting fish as far as Southern Marylanders and Northern Neck Virginians are concerned.

But any angler who’s looking for a fight and doesn’t care which species takes a liking to the lure or baited hook, go for the catfish. Anglers will feel like they really accomplished something after they have reeled in two or three true heavyweights.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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