Saturday, August 8, 2015


It may seem strange, coming from a kid who grew up fishing in rural central Virginia within minutes of the Rivanna River and the almighty James, but catfishing is a discipline that evaded my interests and feeble efforts throughout my childhood. It isn’t a family tradition, as is trout fishing or deer hunting; I had no teacher.  And though I had countless trout and bass to my name by the time I achieved adulthood, the number of whiskered fish remained grounded in the single digits, many of which were caught by accident.

Kyle with a small channel cat taken from the Rivanna River
    For that reason, good friend, Brian Bodine, owner of Razorback Guide Service based out of Scottsville, Virginia, offered to facilitate my formal introduction to the cats that fin the James River. A heavy rain swelled the river the day before to a light brown.  Debris was running thick.  The creeks were being flushed of baitfish.

    Marginal action colored the daytime hours, but as the sun set, we found ourselves positioned downstream from a creek mouth, four bait-casting rods fanned behind the boat.  As the last bit of light faded from the sky, talk of coyote hunting, shooting, trail camera pictures, and family took over.  The sound of a clicking drag was an anticipated interruption. 

    Unfortunately, that sound didn’t surface.  Instead, a raucous splashing broke us off in mid-sentence.  A head lamp shined behind the boat revealed a surge of whitewater, and so I sprung to grab a bent rod.  Several cranks on the reel handle confirmed that the fish had taken the bait and swam towards the boat and to the surface.  Luckily, he had hooked himself.

    Brian’s net job brought into the boat a small channel catfish of about three pounds.  Nevertheless, such a tasty morsel was relegated to the cooler.

Kayak Kitties

    Just a week later, Kyle Jenkins, a childhood friend of mine of more than 15 years, and I got together to explore a spot on my home river, the Rivanna, that I had long suspected to sport a thriving catfish population. After work, we loaded two kayaks into the back of Kyle’s Tacoma and headed for the river, which was, like the James, slightly inflated in flow. 

    Spending many summer days on this river with my kayak and no one to shuttle me taught me to paddle upstream.  It provides a workout and a fun way of fishing.  Moreover, water just a few miles upstream from public landings are often much less-pressured than water downstream, and the paddling is usually not too difficult, save for the initial takeoff from the landing.

    Our target was a major creek mouth about two miles upstream where I knew there to be large schools of baitfish holding, as well as some large carp and smallmouth—a place I had visited a hundred times.  However, due to the temporarily high flows, paddling was a bit harder than usual.  

    We paddled and pushed and sweated for a half hour before reaching the slow water that is the tailout of the creek junction. 

    There, I optimistically tied on a small yellow Beetle-Spin to begin my bait-catching efforts.  We didn’t need much.  A small bluegill would do. 

    In just a few casts, a small bluegill answered my call, and blindsided the lure in heavy current, forged downstream, and soon was captured in my hand. 

    Kyle had fallen behind a bit in the upstream paddle, and came up on me as I was landing the fish.  We beached our kayaks on the sandbar at the creek mouth, and I utilized an old, washed-up tire as a cutting board, scaling, filleting, and cutting the bluegill flesh into strips.

    A single strip was used to tip our Carolina rigs, and we once again took position in our crafts, this time pointing downstream.

    A logjam caps the tailout of the run on one side of the river, and we wedged our kayaks against the bank there, making casts straight out and across the current. Feeding slack line, I felt my egg sinker hit bottom, and flipped the bail closed.  Kyle followed suit, and we were set up.

    Catfishing is a change of pace in that it is very social.  In fact, waiting for a fish to present itself in a bouncing rod tip is perhaps the best venue for conversation I’ve encountered.  And often, such conversations don’t last long.

    Kyle’s rod tip was the first to direct attention away from the topic at hand.  Small vibrations turned to a steady pull, and as the line straightened out towards the center of the river, a sweep of his rod secured the fate of a small channel cat of about a pound and a half—his first “on-purpose” cat.

    Just minutes later, my own rod dropped, and we finished the night out with a double.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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