Riverkeeper report: Spirit of the eagle

Published 12:58 pm Saturday, September 3, 2016

Spirit of Moonpie and I spent the 29th through the 31st on the Nottoway. We launched from the VDGIF ramp at Delaware (Hercules). The water was low, stagnant and a crazy hot 85 degrees. The water still has that odd color to it. Air temps ranged from 70 to 90 degrees.

Once again trash on this trip was non-existent, a very welcome change, though I know the first big rain we have will change that. I saw no other water quality issues other than stagnant conditions due to lack of rain.

Fishing was amazingly good for these water conditions. I caught a few small largemouth and all the bream I needed for catfish bait. The catfishing, however, was REALLY great. The first night I only caught one seven pounder, which I was happy with considering the state of the river. The second day I was underneath a tree passing the heat of the day away and decided to put a rod out for the heck of it. A BIG fish took that and run my rig out to the middle of the river before I could get off of the phone. I put a lot of pressure on it to get it back in check, and I guess I put too much or I had a bad place in the line ‘cause it broke. I could tell it was a big fish because it just about took my gallon milk jug float underwater. That takes at least a 20-plus pounder to do that.

Anyway, I hated I lost the fish, but really hated I did not get to at least see it. It was okay though ‘cause I made up for it later that night. I caught the tide just right that night with the water moving out pretty good at dark. I let the jug out and it took off from the boat at a pretty good clip stopping at about 100 feet out when I engaged the reel. It was not long after that when the jug took off across the water. That yielded a hefty 17 pounder on a piece of cut raccoon perch.

Next up I loaded on a big ol’ bream head and played out the jug once again to about 100 feet out. About an hour went by without a nibble so I got up and was going to change bait. Right then I saw the jug bob once, then totally disappear underwater. I could not see the glow stick I had in the jug or nothing for like 6 seconds! That’s a long time my friends to submerge a gallon jug. Finally, it came up only to go under several more times briefly. When I took the rod out of the holder I could tell it was a really big fish. I had no idea just how big until I got it up beside he boat.

“Holly moly,” hollered Moonpie, “I’ll grab the harpoon and arrest this beast of the depths!”

“Look, Moonpie,” I said (out of breath). “Cut the drama queen crap. We don’t have a harpoon, but maybe you can hand me the gaff we just bought, cause this thing ain’t going in the net.”

It was lucky for us we had put that gaff in the boat because without it I would have never got that fish in the boat. Even with it I had a very difficult time. Even more difficult was the job of weighing the fish. I could not get the scales hook to stick good enough to weigh the unwieldy critter.

After the fourth attempt I finally had to rig a hook from the roof, place the scales on that then use a lip grabber boga device and then hook that to the scales. With the 6 inches of the tail of the fish on the floor it weighed 37 pounds so I added a pound for that to make it 38. I could not measure the fish as the scales tape measure stopped at 39 inches. I figure the fish was at least 45 inches long. In any event it was a huge catfish for the Nottoway and the biggest cat I have ever caught.

The first day of this patrol I wanted to ride downriver to the VDGIF ramp at Route. 258 where, tragically, a teen drowned while swimming there last week. Don’t really know why I wanted to do that, I guess I just wanted to spend a little time there and think about how we could try to keep that from ever happening again.

As I arrived at the location I picked out a spot on the opposite shore to get out of the sun and think. As I wheeled the boat to and headed that way I noticed in the top of that tree was sitting a bald eagle.

“Wow,” I thought, “looks like someone is already here.”

So I picked another spot further downriver. I tied up and sat there thinking about the whole terrible tragedy. And then I thought about the bald eagle being there. “

Pretty wild an eagle being right here directly across from where this happened,” I said out loud.

Moonpie looked at me and said, “No, not really. Today you have witnessed the spirit of the eagle at this place for a reason. I can assure you there are many of us spirits out here on the two rivers we call the Nottoway and Blackwater.”

Follow up. Because of the dangerous underwater hazards that exist at the state ramp at Route 258, I have asked the state to post No Swimming signs there in hopes there will never be another drowning there from recreational swimming.

JEFF TURNER is the Blackwater/Nottoway Riverkeeper. He can be reached at blknotkpr@earthlink.net.