Four time “Virginia Angler of the Year”, Stephen Miklandric talks all things catfish and tells us the story of the 102 pound blue catfish he caught in the James River. Having the right heavy duty gear and bait are keys to landing these river monsters. Patience, persistence and some good old fashioned luck help too!
Fishing for Blue Catfish
My favorite destination for trophy Blue Catfish is the tidal James River. Cut chunks of fresh gizzard shad fished on an 8/0 circle hook directly on the bottom of the river is the ticket. The most important key to success is knowing the tides for the particular day you’re fishing. Moving water is critical. Most bites will occur when the tide is coming in or conversely going out. I like to anchor my boat just above a deep hole (preferably one that has structure in it). I anchor the boat off of the bow and let the tide pull the anchor line tight keeping the bow of the boat facing into the moving water. Then I bait up four or five rods and cast them out off of the stern of the boat (in a fan pattern) into the target hole. Once the baits are out and the rods are in the rod holders, the rest is a waiting game. Now it’s up to the big blue cats to smell the bait, hone in on it and then take it. The rest is pure excitement.
Fishing for Flathead Catfish
My top two favorite destinations for Flathead Catfish are the James River around the boulders of the fall line in Richmond and the Dan River in southern Virginia. I fish for Flathead Catfish in the same manner as I do Blue Catfish except the bait used is the major difference. Flathead Catfish prefer live bait much more than cut bait. My bait of choice is live sunfish. Keep in mind when gathering sunfish to be used as bait, they must be caught on reel and rod. Catching them to be used as bait with a throw or gill net is illegal in the State of Virginia. I prefer to hook the live sunfish behind the dorsal fin to allow them to swim freely and draw attention to themselves. Fishing around structure will increase your chances of success. I target areas with large boulders, logs or fallen trees. If there is a Flathead in the area, he will find your bait. I haven’t met a Flathead yet that can resist an easy sunfish meal.
Fishing for Channel Catfish
Out of all of the catfish, I’ve found the Channel Catfish to be the most prolific. I’ve caught them in every river system in Virginia and in quite a few lakes around the state as well. If I had to pick a few of my favorite destinations they would be Lake Western Branch in Suffolk and Lake Anna in Central Virginia. Channel Catfish don’t grow as large as their cousins the Blue and Flathead, so I down size my tackle a bit. I fish for them directly on the bottom or I employ a slip float rig if I’m looking for them in shallower water. My bait of choice for Channels are smaller size sunfish or jumbo shiners fished on a standard bait holder hook in a 2/0 or 3/0 size. They are great fighters for their size and make excellent table fare as well.
Here’s The Story Of That 102 Pound James River Blue Cat
On December 13, 2014 I caught the largest blue catfish of my life. I was fishing the mighty James River with two great friends, Neil Renouf, of Old Domion Outdoors and Gary Harmon of Radford, VA.
At approximately 1:23 p.m., I got hit powerfully hard! I reeled down fast with the rod still in the rod holder and it took less than a second to turn into stalemate between me and the fish. With all of my might, I managed to remove the pinned rod from the rod holder and I started reeling. I got about six or seven turns on the reel with 30 pound test line but I noticed that all of my cranking effort was in vain; the spool was motionless, not even turning, because the reel was governed by the drag and the fish was not budging. I knew I had something really big on, that’s for sure!
I fought the fish by slowly raising the rod tip up and then reeling as I lowered the rod tip back down, keeping tension on the rod at all times. I danced with the fish in this manner for what seemed like an eternity until finally I had the fish about twenty feet below the boat. Try as I may, I could not raise that fish to the surface. I would get him up about five or six feet below the surface then he would bolt towards the bottom, striping line off of the reel with ease. I knew that I would lose this fish for sure if I let it get to the bottom of the river. There is just way to much debris on the bottom that would surely result in a snag and lost fish.
Now this vertical dance went on and on and on. I was very concerned considering 30 pound test line is on the light side for a blue cat such as this and I knew a line breakage would haunt me for the rest of my life. At this point, my forearms were burning so badly I was concerned that I was going to reach a point of failure with the use of my hands. Finally, like a miracle, I started putting more line on the reel than the fish was taking away from me on the downward surges. Then that giant catfish surfaced about thirty feet from the side of the boat!
I saw his massive head and back first, then way behind was his swirling tail. He looked just like a large shark! I went numb from my throat to my feet seeing all of this. My buddy, Gary was holding the net and standing right behind me when the fish surfaced. Gary took a few steps backward, handed the net to Neil and said, “You net it! If I screw this up, Miklandric will surely kill me!”
Trying desperately hard to control my adrenaline, I continued to fight the fish to the side of the boat where Neil netted the fish. It took both Neil and Gary together to lift that netted beast into the boat. I fell back into the seat with my arms hanging uselessly off of my shoulders. I have never, ever, in my wildest dreams been tested by a fish like this before. My fight with the fish seemed like hours but in reality it was only about 20 minutes.
This monster blue catfish measured 54 inches in length with a 43 inch girth. He tipped the scales at 102 pounds 10 ounces, the largest caught on reel and rod out of the James River! There was no way I could hold that fish up for a photo so we rested it across my lap. It took the three of us to hold the fish while reviving it for the release back into the James River. Surely a day I will never ever forget!
~Stephen J. Miklandric