A thrashing, powerful, bulldogging fight... that is the lure of a big channel catfish. And I may have found my new hotspot.
Last Friday I participated in a fishing derby at a pond in Hillsborough, NJ. I didn't win, but I learned that the lake contained some nice channel catfish. At the time, I wasn't prepared, but I came back the next day with cut bait.
I had about 3 hrs to fish, ans I set out with a 2-rod setup, one with a slip bobber (1/0 baitholder j-hook), and the other with a bottom rig (3/0 circle hook). The slip bobber one had a baby bass, while the bottom rig had a whole creek chub. My grandpa, who accompanied me, put on a small hook for sunfish. My Grandpa and I found a good looking piece of bank, and set to fishing.
I was a little ways away from my grandpa when the bell on the bottom rig start ringing. My grandpa set the hook, and when I ran over, handed the rod over to me. I got the fish to within a foot of the bank, and it was a big channel kitty!!! It was around 7 lbs, thrashing wildly, but I forgot the net, and the fish popped off right at shore... That was a disappointment.
After that, I took my slip bobber rod to the dam at the pond, 100 yards away from our original spot. I cast the rig out near some brush on shore, and had some taps, but nothing too significant. I had momentarily set down my rod while I was helping some guys fishing for sunfish, when I heard a splash behind me...
I turn and my rod is 10 feet into the lake, quickly being dragged out. At that point, instinct took over. Before my thinking part of my mind realized what was going on, I had jumped into the water and was swimming towards my rod!!! Luckily, the water was only up to my chest and the fish slowed down, allowing me to grab the rod.
And then I remembered the phone in my pocket...
I took it out in a split second and handed it to one of the guys while I was backing out of the water. I was completely soaked, and trying to gain control of an angry beast at the end of my line. My slip bobber rod was much lighter than the other rods, with lighter line as well, one that I usually use for pond bluegills, bullheads, and bass... This fish felt monstrous! My rod was doubled over, thumping under the pressure.
It was definitely one of the hardest fights I have ever fought with a fish. Whatever was on the end of my line even peeled drag on all of its blistering runs! That bzzzzzz sound definitely got my adrenaline pumping! I was able to turn it away from the snags near the bank and fight it out in more open water. After 2 minutes of tug-and-war, I brought the fish to the shore, and saw that it was a nice channel catfish!!!
I gripped it with a death grip and raced over to my grandpa, where all our gear was. We took plenty of pictures...
This was a fat, healthy,perfect specimen, with no fin damage and smooth, sleek lines It was the build of a powerful fish. It differed much from my Millstone River channel kitty, with a much fatter belly and a more lighter and yellower tone. On the scale, it weighed 5.88 lbs, slightly smaller than my first specimen.
Because I was using a j-hook, it either was luck that I hooked it right in the corner of its mouth, or it was my epic swimming hookset. :) The hook came out without too much issue, and I got to watch this beast slowly swim back to the depths.
After that catch, I took some gear and wandered around the pond. There was another dam on the other side of the pond, where water slowly trickled into a tiny creek. Upon walking across, I noticed a nice channel catfish in a pool no more than 8 feet across and 2 feet deep. It had fresh scars and gashes all over its body. My theory is as follows: In a flood, the fish was washed over the concrete ledge and fell over, hitting the rocks and concrete, scraping all over and breaking its jaw. Yes, the fishes jaw was broken.
I decided to try to catch it and release it back in the lake. There was no way the fish could survive in such poor conditions and shallow water for long. I set my cut bait down and waited. After a while, I gave up and decided to head back. The fish clearly was not in the mood to eat. When I lifted my rod to reel in, however, I felt tension and set the hook. The fish fought to its best ability, but it really had nowhere to go and I brought it in with relative ease.
This kitty had quite a personality, though. It bit my hand much harder than any over channel and gave me a cut to show for it. It turns out I had hooked him right on top of the mouth, not in it. I think he was merely looking at my bait when I started to reel in. There is no glory in a fouled fish, but I released him into the pond so he could live.
I took a walk around the lake, looking for good spots, but I found myself returning to where my grandpa was and setting out only one bottom rig. I decided to set down and wait events. We only had about 15 minutes left, when the bells started ringing. I ran to the rod, unclipped the bell, and started to fight the fish. Whatever it was, it felt much smaller and it came in without much issue, but it did put up a nice scrap coming in.
When the fish's head came out of the water, I immediately knew: bullhead, specifically a brown one.
A pretty nice one, too. it weighed at 1.9 lbs on my scale. Beautiful mottling and undamaged fins were found on this one. Combined with the yellow bullhead I caught on the derby day, I had caught all 3 standard sized catfish in NJ from this one pond!
It was a great way to end the day and I'm sure I'll return in the future.