- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

Of all the bass fishermen we've met over the decades, only one, Gil Dukes, has professed a dislike for catfish channel "cats" in particular. Gil twists his face into one big sour appearance when he hears the word catfish. His contortions get even worse when he hooks one and sees the broad-faced beauty try its best to escape, with Dukes hoping it succeeds quickly. He absolutely hates to remove the hook from one of the slick-skinned battlers.

But for the rest of us, from television fishing stars Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston to my neighbor, Doc Malnati, a catfish on the hook is a lovely interruption to what, lately, has been a steady string of ho-hum bass outings.

So let us sing a rousing stanza of "Thanks for the Memory" in honor of all the catfish that have saved our day during steamy summer days and nights.

For starters, we are not talking about the whiskered critters for which some fishermen will sit on a river or lake shoreline surf rods waiting in stout holders and cut fish baits spreading odoriferous messages across the water column. No, although there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that, our catfish come along differently.

We prefer to use artificial lures and sometimes get so cocky that we are willing to bet real money that catfish will fall for them.

Take my friend Dale Knupp, a professional guide who spends a fair amount of time convincing clients that a day in his company on a bass boat is worth $250. But when Knupp isn't busy with bass fanatics, he rather enjoys chasing after catfish, especially in early summer when the Potomac River's white catfish population is in the mood for love.

The white catfish sort of looks like its cousin, the blue catfish only it is more on the light gray side, but certainly not white in any shape or form. (Who names these fish, anyway?)

As far as bass boaters are concerned, one quality the "white" has over the usually bigger blue variety is its preference for artificial lures. Friends, this barb-led wonder actually outdoes a largemouth bass when it comes to snatching up a plastic worm. Should you ever find yourself along a tidal marsh bank in less than three feet of water in June and your partner tells you that a bass has just whacked his plastic bait but got away, chances are it was a white catfish. White "cats" love scent-laden Berkley Pulse Worms in a variety of colors and Knupp knows how to go after these fighting rascals with this artificial food.

Now go and ask any number of bass fishing freaks how often they have hooked channel catfish while retrieving a spinnerbait or a lipped, baitfish-imitating lure such as a Bomber Model "A" in a firetiger color, or a lipless Rat-L-Trap lure in any number of shades and colors.

Along the Potomac River shoreline in King George County, Va., somewhat of a straight shot across from the mouth of Maryland's Nanjemoy Creek, the summer months bring with them assorted patches of milfoil and wild celery water grasses. With a little practice a body can sling a quarter- or half-ounce spinnerbait into narrow openings between the vegetation, slowly retrieve the whirling thingamajig and soon feel the strike of one of three fish species: a striped bass, a fat white perch or a channel catfish that will do its utmost to discover whether you went the cheap route when you bought fishing line. If you did bang the fish is gone and so is the $5 lure.

Another bass guide, Andy Andrzejewski, has had days when spinnerbaits and plastic worms brought so many strikes from catfish, it nearly makes a man wonder why anybody would ever use anything but artificial lures.

All the same, if you are into channel catfish and you want a mess of them in a hurry, try my pal Dick Fox's method. His favorite places include the many winding, deep-water bends in the upper Mattawoman Creek. He'll take a standard bottom-fishing rig of the kind croaker and spot fishermen use, then bait it with a whole clam neck and cast it into 10, maybe 12 feet of water. The necks can be bought in most bait shops.

Depending on the pulling of the tide, a 2- or 3-ounce sinker might be necessary. Fox normally sets out two lines one on each side of his bass boat and his waiting for a nibble rarely exceeds five minutes. Soon a channel catfish attaches itself to the hook.

It's done as easy as that, and every lake, creek and river around the Middle Atlantic states will deliver these fish that can make for tasty dinners.

What are you waiting for? Artificial or real bait, the catfish always take up the slack when other species play hard to get.


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