Cold Water “Kitty Cattin’” on the Tidal Potomac
By Captain Keith Barker & Dan Grulke

 As most fishermen relax by the fire, drinking coffee, and enjoying there favorite winter indoor activity Capt. Keith and Dan can be found on the Potomac River pursuing an American redneck pastime: Catfish fishing.  This isn’t your average shrimp, treble hook, and 5 pound wimpy catfish adventure; we’re talking winter-harsh weather and catfish as mean and brutal as a January ice storm. These trips aren’t for the faint of heart however, but the fish and rewards are high.  This is the time of year for a chance at the Maryland State Catfish Record.

 As with any type of fishing bait selection is the most important aspect of a successful monster catfishing trip.  These 30 to 60+ pound blue cat beasts can eat shrimp cocktail snacks by the 100’s count, so big baits are in order.  Since catfish feed by sense of smell and sight, fresh bait is in order.  Fresh, oily, cut-bait is essential and the mud shad (gizzard shad) is hard to beat (not to be confused with the American Shad or Hickory Shad which are illegal to use for bait on the Tidal Potomac).  Other baits we have used include white perch, crappie, and bluegills (make sure fish are of legal size and obey creel limit regulations). Cut-gizzard shad is best in the winter-early spring period and perch, crappie and bluegill (both live and cut) work well during other periods of the year. We cut our bait into square, soft-ball sized chunks and skin hook the bait on a circle hook.

The hooks we use are VMC Nemesis 3x circle hook (8382) in different sizes between 4/0 and 8/0.  We use smaller hooks when cats prefer smaller baits and are taking the bait lightly (usually high pressure, blue bird days) and bigger hooks 95% of the time.  The hooks are strong, sharp, hold their point well, and are “straight-eye” which allows us to either snell the hook (preferred method) or tie a uni or like knot to the eye.  A circle hook allows a monster catfish to run with the bait and set the hook itself.  No hook set is needed; instead once the rod doubles over the angler only gradually increase tension on the rod/line/circle hook system in order to hook the fish.

Choosing the correct line for this type of fishing is imperative. We prefer 25-pound test Sufix, Tritanium Plus, in chartreuse color. This copolymer line is very abrasion resistant, easy to see, and “slippery”. When you are fishing 4-8 rods and three or four go down at once, it is important to be able to see your line. This allows you to “weave” in and around other lines easily and the “slippery” line prevents break-offs in case they do become tangled.  Our preferred rod is the 110170 Ugly Stick Catfish rod.  Your reel must have a good drag system and plenty of line.  The line, rod and reel work as a shock absorber system to exhaust the fish and make it safe to land these brutes.  Trust us, bringing green fish into your boat is a bad idea.  Wear them out so they can be safely handled--or you will wish you had.

Location is key to finding Cold Water Kats. During this time of year check drop-offs adjacent to “deep water” and adjacent to flats.  Usually the bigger catfish will be holding on the deep flat at the bottom of the drop-off behind some current break.  One key hot spot is the entrance to creek mouths where it meets the main channel of the river. If you don’t get a bite in 20-30 minutes, try another spot.

To book Monster Cat fishing trip’s contact Capt. Keith Barker. Remember trophy season is February-March with size and numbers in April-May and back again in the middle of July-November. For specific questions about gear and tactics contact Dan Grulke.

Capt. Keith Barker

Dan Grulke