Catch cats year round with no limit in Patuxent south of Rt. 214 Bridge
By Cap’n Larry Jarboe
BENEDICT — One of the most cooperative fish to catch that swims in tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay is the catfish. The Patuxent River divides Calvert County from Charles and St. Mary’s Counties.
From Golden Beach cruising north past the Chalk Point power plant, there is some very fine fishing to be had for tidal catfish. The two main species usually caught are the channel catfish and the native white catfish. Small channel cats are a bronze olive color with distinctive small black spots on the sides. Larger channel cats over five or six pounds often become more bluish grey in color though the spots remain.
The white catfish is the native catfish in the Chesapeake watershed. White catfish are smaller fish. They seldom exceed six pounds. The white catfish is dark blue with a marble white belly. They have a much larger head than the more sleek channel cats.
The white catfish, according to my taste, is a much finer fish to eat though proper preparation makes both species provide a fine meal. Catching these good eating fish is easy. The season on them is open year round. There is no limit in the tidal waters below the Rt. 214 bridge. The size limit is 10 inches, but let those little ones go as there are plenty of big ones waiting to grab your bait.
Good bait is the key to catching a big mess of channel catfish.
Right now, local seafood dealers like Thompsons Seafood in Mechanicsville save scarce herring and common mud shad for anglers to use for bait. Herring is the best cut bait but mud shad soaked in menhaden oil is pretty good, too.
Till the end of April, soft shell clams a.k.a. manoes are a darned good catfish bait. Also, fresh peeled shrimp cut into a plug that will not spin in the current are fine bait. Keep those manoes and fresh shrimp on ice through the trip. If the fishing isn’t so good, you can eat your bait. Shore fishing involves rigging up a surf rod with around twenty pound test line.
The traditional double hook bottom rig with 2/0 or 3/0 hooks works very well to present a couple different baits to check for the cats dining preference of the day. I like to also rig another rod with a sliding egg sinker on the main line tied to a swivel, 4′ leader, and single 5/0 hook imbedded through the lips of a herring or spot head and trailing entrails for the bigger cats. When that big cat bumps the bait, you can drop the bail and feed a few feet of line freely through the sinker prior to setting the hook. Then hang on.
It will take a little scouting to find a good spot along the shore around Benedict and up the river. Much of the access is private property so permission is necessary. There is a nice public community park just north of Eagle Harbor where I have watched anglers catch good stringers of fish. A little scouting ahead of time is a good idea. If you are fortunate to have a boat, the DNR launch ramp on the Calvert County side of Rt. 231 will put you close to the heart of Pax River catfish country. The Chalk Point outfall canal just south of Eagle Harbor is one of the finest places to fill up a cooler of catfish.
The same rigs and bait should be used, but shorter rods equipped with spinning or bait-casting reels are better tackle. I have had good luck in different parts of the power plant channel depending upon the season. The water is slightly warmer most times of the year and too warm in July, August, and most of September.
Watch your fish recorder for single large fish near the bottom to mid-depth. Those are most likely catfish. I’ve yet to see a fish finder that shows whiskers. Find an area where they show most frequently and anchor up current.
One of my tricks prior to leaving the dock is to mix up a mess of thawed chum and clam or oyster shells in a bucket. After the boat has settled on the anchor, I take a big ladle and chuck large globs of shell and chum mix behind the boat.
The commotion that sounds like breaking fish and the chum stuck to oyster shells pretty much guarantees the cats will be beating a path to the bottom acreage behind your stern.
Next, methodically put out a spread of four or five rods with a smorgasbord of baits spread from one side of the creek to the other. It won’t be long before a rod tip will start twitching. Let the fish take the bait deep before setting the hook. If you would like to find some of the menhaden oil I mentioned earlier to spice up your bait, readers of the CHESAPEAKE are welcome to call my number on the front page.
A free sample of the stinky stuff is my gift to the serious catfisherman or woman.
This year in the peaceful waters of the Chalk Point outfall canal, I caught seven nice channel cats on New Year’s Day in a couple hours to celebrate my separation from my past job. Two weeks later, I came back and caught seven more bigger channel cats some of which topped ten pounds. Now that this long cold winter is behind us, there are big fish that we can catch prior to the trophy striped bass season that opens up April 17.
Next week, I plan to make another trip up the Patuxent in my 20′ Shamrock to stock up on a nice mess of catfish filets for the smoker.
I hope to see you there.