Barbed Wire and Blue Cats

Large rivers have always been intimidating to me. Their churning depths, everchanging current, and copious amount of underwater snags always felt out of reach to my angling ability. So, for the longest time, I kept my fishing to smaller creeks and backwaters and avoided the larger rivers in my area. That was until today, when I swallowed my fear and took to the Dan River (my largest local river) in hopes of accomplishing two goals: my first ever flathead and a big blue cat. 

The day began in probably the worst way imaginable. Not five minutes into the walk to what we thought would be a good fishing spot, my Dad stepped in discarded barbed wire. Luckily, the fabric of his pants took most of the damage, leaving just a small scratch behind in his shin. After more walking through underbrush that came up to our waists, we found the river bank.... the unfishable river bank. Plumetting twenty feet down to the river, it was a mess of mud and sand that gave way whenever weight was put on it. Fishing it would have been asking for a one way ticket straight into the river. So we cut our losses and regrouped back at the car. 

After a short rest, our plan was to head to a bridge that crossed the river and try and find a spot underneath it. Ten minutes later we had lines in the water and our butts in camping chairs waiting for a bite. Three hours passed without any notable takes, so we packed up and got lunch. Returning afterwards, it was approaching 12:30 and we still had not had anything close to a good run on any of our rods. Retracing our steps, we made it back to the bridge and continued onwards, finding a sandy embankment that was more fishable than the first, but still a little bit sketchy. 

Casting our lines into an eddy caused by a log in the river, our baits hit the bottom and the 1 1/2 ounce weights held their position. Twenty minutes went by and the middle rod in front of me began to twitch. Whatever it was hadn't commited to taking the cut bluegill, but it was thinking about it. A minute went by and the fish went from toying with the bait to running with it out of the eddy and into the main current of the river. Picking up the rod, I began to reel and let the 6/0 circle hook work its magic. Almost immediately I felt weight, and it was fairly strong. Guiding it from the main current, the fish went from running out to running down, and it headed straight for a bundle of snags to my left. Pulling right, I changed the angle of the fish's head and it was back into the slack eddy and away from logs and the flowing water. One precise scoop of the net later and my Dad and I were looking at my first Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis olivaris).

Taking out the barbless hook, a few photos were taken quickly. Holding the fish in the water for a brief moment, I felt it flex and in return loosened my grip, letting the fish power off back into the river it called home. Rerigging the rod, I cast back out into the eddy and sat down to wait some more, the adrenaline of the catch slowly wearing off. It would be two hours until another take came, this time on the far rod to my left. Whatever it was didn't play with the bait like the last fish, opting to run immediately and double the rod over in the rod holder we had placed in the sand. It felt enormous upon picking up the rod, its runs powerful as I felt its tail slap the 20lb monofilament. The rod was 7ft long, but the angle of the bank I was on made it difficult to pull against the fish. After that realization, I made another. The line was grating along a log in the river, scraping against the bark. The fish was trying to get into the snags and was so far succeeding. tightening the drag, I walked down closer to the log to get more pulling power, and managed to turn it away from the snags. In doing so, it decided its next best option was to make a powerful run across the eddy, tangling my line in the line of our other rod. The fish then doubled back, and I handed the rod to my dad and grabbed the net. The first attempt was a complete failure, as I missed the head and the fish simply rolled over the net. Gaining another chance at running, it went for the snags again. I then made the decision to balance beam my way onto the log it was trying to get under in order to be right on top of it if it surfaced. My plan worked, as it came up again and right into my awaiting net. The fish, an approximately 23lb Blue Catfish (Ictalurus furcatus), left the two of us speechless.

We took photos after regaining our senses, unhooked the fish, and watched as it strongly swam off back into the water after letting it recooperate for a few moments. The day had turned from one of my worst days of fishing ever to one of my best in a matter of a few hours, and all it took was patience and perservance. I guess what I am trying to say with this expedition is to not be afraid to try a new spot, or a new type of fishing. Big rivers went from being something I swore I'd never fish to something I want to fish every chance I get. 




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andy's picture

Thanks for sharing this Roughfishing adventure!  Nice cats.

SDfisher's picture

Sounds like a great adventure and it was a great read!  Thanks for sharing the story and keep on fishing!  

Marc Ohms