Catching up with blue catfish
The Southern Maryland Recreational Fishing Organization hosted a webinar featuring Mary Groves who is currently serving as the Southern Region Manager of Freshwater Fisheries Program at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who highlighted regional efforts to study and manage invasive blue catfish populations. Groves began by noting the very strong growth of the species since its introduction through stocking in Virginia in the 1970s. The species was found in the Potomac in the late 1990s, growing slowly at first. The fish are now in the tidal Potomac in force, and have spread into the nontidal Potomac, which they share with the invasive flathead catfish and the native channel cat and bullhead.
Groves noted that these fish are a problem in that they get very large (60-pound fish are not unusual in the tidal river), are prolific breeders, and will feed off a wide variety of fish and shellfish. The blue catfish has become very popular with a segment of anglers, which likely also is a reason that they are being found in new areas. There aren’t strong estimates of their numbers, but they are increasing rapidly, with fisheries managers encouraging anglers to eat them or at least not return them to the water. Managers also have encouraged their use as a commercial species, and in 2020 commercial landings reported to the Potomac River Fisheries Commission totalled more than 2.2 million pounds. This fishery is not really making a dent in the population.
Groves discussed ongoing research involving the states and federal agencies to learn more about the species’ feeding, mobility, and spawning habits, and how it may reveal some management options, which are few. For example, knowledge about where and when the catfish spawn could help in targeted efforts to reduce the population by targeting culling of adult and juvenile fish. But limited options mean the fish are likely to continue to grow in numbers. She noted the hard work done by managers to reduce regulations that interfere with successful marketing of the fish as table fare.
Along the River
In the Shenandoah basin, improved water levels and decreased temperatures have improved the smallmouth bass bite. Anglers also are finding channel catfish and sunfish. Mountain streams are giving up some nice trout for fly fishers.
The South Branch Potomac is fishing better from the higher water levels, where anglers are spinning and fly fishing for smallmouth bass. The North Branch Potomac is giving up some nice rainbow and brown trout for the segment downstream of Jennings Randolph Reservoir. Trout management and put-and-take areas remain productive.
The upper Potomac is still stained but is fishing well. Early morning and evening finds smallmouth along shorelines. Rock gardens and ledges mid stream and in shade are targets during the day. The earlier rains and cooler temperatures have spread the fish out a bit. have reported some nice smallmouth around Paw Paw. Lander, Point of Rocks, and White’s Ferry are productive access points. Fish are still slurping on cicadas, and baits colored in black and orange can be very productive, along with baiting a hook with cicadas. Anglers are using tube baits, long with spinners and chatterbaits, whose noise helps attract fish in the low-visibility waters. Channel catfish, flatheads, carp and sunfish are active. Some anglers are taking large musky upstream of dams.
In the metropolitan Potomac, the Key Bridge and Roosevelt Island areas are giving u smallmouth and largemouth bass. Fletchers Boathouse is a good access point for some striped bass and catfish. Downstream, anglers are targeting bridge pilings for bass and catfish. The grass beds and seawall in Washington Channel are always worth the effort. Smoots Bay and the Spoils area are holding some nice largemouth bass despite being fished by tournament anglers.
Downstream, the tidal Potomac is fishing well with temperatures in the mid 70s and fair visibility. Bass are in their summertime behavior. Grass beds are a primary target where available. Docks and wood structure are holding some nice fish. Bass are near to shorelines early and late, and hiding under cover in the sun. Floating mats of dead grass and debris are good hiding places for fish. Snakeheads are post spawn and guarding their fry in nearshore grass beds in the tidal creeks. Lures placed into these areas will yield defensive strikes. Grass beds become more prominent downstream of Piscataway.
Belle Haven Marina provides good access to some nice fishing grounds, and the aquatic grass beds in the mouth of Mattawoman Creek are worth some time. Tidal creeks on the Virginia side are productive with some nice reports in the Pohick Bay area. Anglers are using stick worms, chatterbaits, and crankbaits to lure the fish. Blue catfish can be found along the channel edges at Fort Washington areas downstream.
Anglers are finding some nice striped bass in Nanjemoy and at Colonial Beach.
Near the river’s mouth, anglers are finding some nice striped bass in the shallows in the morning and evening. Trolling, jigging, and live lining for striped bass is successful along the channel edges around St. Georges and Piney Point. Spot and white perch are available for live lining using circle hooks. Red drum, speckled trout, and croaker are being caught as well. Crabbing continues to slowly improve.
We are grateful to the many river watchers who contribute to this effort. Particular thanks go to the state departments of natural resources, Potomac River Fisheries Commission, National Bass Guides, Shallow Water Fishing Adventures, and Eagle Aquatics.