Riverkeeper report: Blue catfish top predator in rivers

Published 9:48 am Monday, March 6, 2017

Spirit of Moonpie and I spent the 23rd through the 25th on the Nottoway below the Bronco Club. The water was clear and 53 degrees, air temps ranged from 46 to 80 degrees. It was hot in the woods.

The main mission on this trip was to just basically clean up that part of the river since I had not been there in so long. Sadly, the trash was pretty bad, which is unusual on this stretch of river.

So anyway we got the river cleaned up and then got down to the fun stuff … fishing. We rode all the way back upriver to the Narrows to try the shad. Only caught one big 3-pound American White, which was it for the shad. So then we decided we would go back downriver and try for rockfish. It had warmed up so much by then I had to change into summer clothes.

Moonpie commented on the ride about all the turtles on the logs. No kidding, on every log there was not a square inch of available space, and in fact some turtles were on the backs of others … just for the purpose of sunning I think. Haaahaaa!

Along the way back downriver we stopped at Monroe Bridge, and I started jigging the half-ounce blade bait. Caught a couple of blackfish, but that was ‘bout it, and I was thinking of moving on. (Note: the next day I did catch three rockfish, but they were all less than 18 inches long.)

The boat had worked its way over the deep hole there and we were in like 27 feet of water. Suddenly I hooked something, for a second I thought I was hung, and then the day changed. The next thing I knew line was screaming out of my 1974 Johnson 710 spin cast reel, and screaming and screaming. I have never seen a fish take so much line. Worried that I was going to run out of line I had to chase the fish down with the trolling motor to get line back on the reel. I had to do this three times.

I thought I had hooked a really big rockfish, but after a long 20-minute tussle I finally got the fish to the boat, and when I saw what it was and how big it was I knew our troubles had just begun. It was a huge blue catfish. I had a hand gaff in the boat, tried that but could not lift the fish over the side of the boat; even with the fish in the net it broke the gaff point. So I towed it to shore in hopes I could get better control. I finally managed to roll it over the side of the boat like they do those gators on “Swamp People.”

I could not believe how big this thing was. It measured 48 inches long and I had a hard time with the metal tape measure doing girth, but I’m calling it at about 30 inches. The fish was too heavy for me to lift to weigh. I even tried pulling it up into a tree with a rope through its mouth, but the rope just cut into the tree like a chainsaw.

Every time I tried weighing it (I could never get the entire fish off the floor of the boat) that bottomed out my 50-pound scales and put 20 pounds on the screen. So I figured it weighed about 70 pounds, 50 plus 20. But I was not sure a digital scale worked like that, so I had some folks look up what it should weigh at those measurements. I took all those mathematical formulas, averaged them and came up with 56.34 pounds. That’s what I will have to go with. However, when I got home I looked around and did find documentation of a 48-inch blue cat 35-inch girth that weighed 72 pounds. So it’s possible the fish was heavier. I’ll never know unless I catch it again, which even though I put it back, that will never happen I’m sure.

I know this, I’m putting a larger non-digital scale in the boat and a come-along for that next monster blue I catch on the two rivers we call the Nottoway and Blackwater.

Note: Blue catfish in the Blackwater and Nottoway are a non-native species. They are now the top predator fish in the river. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries considers them a threat to other native species in the Blackwater and Nottoway. VDGIF highly encourages all blue catfish caught, be removed from the river.

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