Friday, April 1, 2016

Easter Sunday Blues

Last weekend happened to be a long weekend, so my family made some last-minute plans to go to Alexandria, VA for a day trip. Easter weekend in DC was packed to the point of immobility, so we opted for the nearby town still steeped in American history. Of course I wanted to get some fishing involved, as a result, I looked up some spots, packed up my gear, and we were off. 

The first day, we arrived in Alexandria in the morning, and decided to walk around the old town. It was sunny and beautiful, and we saw lots of interesting things. No bait stores were in the immediate vicinity, and I didn't have time to fish for bait, so I opted to go to Wholefoods, where I bought a whole croaker for bait. 

After lunch, I went to Jones Point Park to soak some bait in hopes of my first Blue Catfish. It was my goal to catch one new species of fish on this trip, which, given my relatively short time to fish and my lack of knowledge and planning, was something I was not sure I could accomplish. 

It turns out, the spot was a bust. The river looked massive and intimidating there, and I had a relatively small casting area. There were many other anglers, but I didn't see any one catch a single fish, albeit for one who caught a bluegill. I soaked cut bait for several hours without so much as a nibble. 

Disappointed, I called it a day and headed back to the hotel. I did some more research and found a promising spot on Dogue Creek. It was much smaller than the vast Potomac, much, much smaller. I opted to fish near the mouth of the creek, where it flowed into the Potomac, because the creek was very small in its more upstream reaches. The spot looked good, I had watched videos online of people catching plenty of blue catfish from the exact location I planned to fish. 

The next morning I headed out at sunrise. It was Easter Sunday, and while most people were getting dressed, preparing to go to church, or getting ready for an Easter egg hunt, I was going fishing for blue catfish!

I knew the odds were more in my favor because I was fishing an incoming tide and before a front moved in. However, I was still not confident in my chances. Hopes were not high when we pulled up to a restricted access point. I had not realized that my destination was inside the Fort Belvoir US Army Reservation, and the gate we had planned to pass through was completely barred. I knew there were multiple gates to the fort, so I suggested to my mom that we go through another gate. When we arrived at the next gate, the security guard told us to go to the last gate to do a background check and vehicle inspection. What I was surprised about was that the guards were completely fine when I told them I was here to go fishing. I thought there was no way in hell that I was going to get through. 

With all this effort, I could only hope that the spot held fish, and more importantly, my target species. My fishing time was limited to about 2 and a half hours now, because we planned to go to Mt. Vernon later in the morning, and I didn't want to interfere with the family vacation schedule. 

After driving throughout the fort, we arrived at the location and I walked to the creek (at this part more like a river), while my mom went back to the hotel to get some sleep. There was a general fishy ambiance, but my expectations were still low. Luckily the temperature was comfortable, so out the rods went with a chunk of croaker on 3/0 circle hook on a fish finder rig. I didn't expect to catch anything too large, so my rods and gear were relatively light for what most anglers use for blue catfish.

Now it was just a matter of waiting for a bite. About 45 minutes in, the bell on my larger rod goes off and I see the rod arcing over. Racing over, I grabbed it and slowly tightened the line, making sure the circle hook was set properly.

The fight was short, but every second felt like years to me. Was this the blue catfish I was waiting for? I strained to catch a glimpse of the fish in the murky water, repeating in my head, please don't be a channel, please don't be a channel... The fish thrashed on the surface and I saw a silver flank, and my heart quickened. I pulled the fish on shore, and I knew I had my blue catfish. 

 It may have been small, but it was a blue catfish!

A bit of messing around with my self timer produced these blurry pictures:

My guess for this fish would be 3-5 lbs.

It then proceeded to be given the most attention a small blue catfish has ever gotten. I tend to be really excessive with my photos...

After that fish, the action died down for a bit. As the water got warmer, however, I began to notice shad or herring jumping out of the water. I tied a small spoon on to try to entice these fish, but my spoon was vastly ignored. I'm led to believe that these were gizzard shad, probably what the catfish were feeding on.

About an hour later I hear a very tentative jingle of the bell on my larger rod. Then the rod quickly doubled over. Picking it up quickly, I leaned into what was clearly a larger fish. I played it slowly, not wanting any trouble to occur, and it took off on several runs. But the hardest part was when it came time to land the fish. Not having a net, I had to grab the fish by its mouth. This blue catfish was terribly uncooperative, doing "death rolls" and kicking all over the place when I tried to grab it. But soon, it relented and I had a bigger blue cat in my hands.

Fish flop!

 After considerable calculations, I have determined this fish to be ~12 lbs.

 The fish's stomach was massive, you can really see it in the photo on the right, probably from gorging on the shad stacked in the creek.

Circle hook doing its thing


After the bigger fish kicked away, I set back up and awaited more bites. And they came, but no hook ups, most likely they were small eels or catfish pecking at the bait. After a while, my family came and I headed off to Mount Vernon.

I would like to say that this trip was a success in terms of fishing, despite a lack of time and planning, I was able to catch a blue catfish. No monsters were caught, but there's always next time.

Weight Conversion:

First Fish: 22 inches= 3-5 lbs

Second Fish: 30 inches= 9-14 lbs

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