- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2007


Here’s a tip for every angler who now travels to Virginia’s James River or Kerr Reservoir to find brutish, bottom-feeding blue catfish that can break expensive rods and tear strong line to shreds: Save yourself a tank-full of gasoline. The tidal Potomac River is loaded with so many of these powerful critters that even a novice can catch enough of them to result in sore arm muscles. You’ll have happy but sore arms.

Granted, the tidal James River below Richmond continues to deliver bigger specimens, with 50- and 60-pounders almost common. But the Potomac is coming on strong.

How these fish came into the river no one knows for sure, although they’ve been noticed by a handful of fishermen for a dozen years now. The blue catfish — not to be confused with the more common, smaller channel catfish — most likely traveled up the Chesapeake from the Rappahannock River, where they’re also found.

If it’s true that an adult blue “cat” can grow as many as eight pounds a year, the 20-pounders I latched onto last week, will weigh 44 pounds in three years.

All the credit for enjoying a veritable blue catfish bonanza goes to a new kind of Potomac River fishing guide, Tim Hagan, who eschews the river’s currently more popular largemouth bass and instead offers fun catfish outings. Hagan is the first Potomac fishing guide catering exclusively to a growing blue catfish clientele. To illustrate, he recently drove to a local airport to pick up two Texans who flew north just to sample the river’s “blues,” as Hagan calls the fat catfish.

I’ll say without hesitation that this is some of the most wonderfully satisfying fishing I’ve ever experienced and that’s a mouthful because over the years I’ve been privileged to go after dozens of fish species in nine countries. Hagan’s fish need not take a backseat to any of them.

Our day began as the mercury “climbed” to a mere 27 degrees. Hagan, 46, met me at Fort Washington Marina in a large, comfortable aluminum boat that had padded swivel seats, a color depth locator, a chattering weather radio, a broad assortment of rods and reels and a cooler filled with large gizzard shad that would serve as bait. I also saw the can of well-chilled soda that he’d been sipping on while he ran downstream from an upriver boat ramp. Sissies don’t drink iced colas in 27-degree temperatures.

Hagan is a one-man catfish information bureau. Besides being a guide, he also is a professional catfish tournament angler, and is the president of the Maryland chapter of A.C.A.T.S (American Catfish Anglers Tournament Series), not to mention his own Web site’s Catfish Nation, an online magazine.

After I climbed aboard, he ran less than a mile to the junction of Piscataway Creek and the Potomac’s main stem, shut off the outboard and dropped a bow-line anchor, followed by a drift sock from the back of the boat to hold it steady during a strong outgoing tide.

He quickly scaled and filleted several gizzard shad, then cut them in two. Moments later Hagan pierced the juicy fillets onto 7/0, 8/0, even 10/0 circle or Kaehle hooks that were snelled to 40-pound line. Some three feet above each hook was a flat 8-ounce inline sinker that would hold the bait close to the bottom.

He cast out four baited lines, then set the rods into special rod holders mounted on a broad rig made of PCV pipe, and wiped his hands.

Less than a minute passed when two of the rods went down, bobbing and arcing sharply. The easygoing Hagan was in no hurry to snatch either of them up as I pulled my camera from its bag. “They’ve hooked themselves,” he said, then with two hands slowly lifted one rod from its receptacle and the fight was on. I decided to put the camera down to pick up the second rod that was dancing in its holder.

Holy cow, the fish tried to rip the rod from my hand. Meanwhile, Hagan soon had what appeared to be a slate-gray, finned, bearded hog rolling on the surface.

He netted it himself while I was busy with my catfish, which broke off suddenly. I might have “horsed” it too much, meaning I didn’t play it properly. I made amends shortly thereafter when more fish took the baits.

Hagan’s first catfish weighed 25 pounds. He gently burped it, releasing air from a special bladder that inflated when Hagan brought the fish quickly to the surface. He used a small plastic pipe that he stuck into the fish’s mouth and pushed it down to a passageway of the air bladder. The catfish said “Brrrpppp” and Hagan quickly, gently slipped the blue cat over the side. Had he not done that, the fish might not have been able to get back to the 38 feet of water it came from. It might have floated on top and eventually died.

In 2 hours of blue-nose fishing Hagan and I hooked, landed, or lost more than 20 blue catfish, including ones of 37, 29, 25 and 22 pounds. When I remarked that 20-odd blue cats was a large number, he said, “I’ve had days when I caught 45 of ‘em.”

Was it fabulous? Decidedly so. Would I recommend an outing with this catfish guide? Definitely.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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