Catfishing in Maryland
The white catfish is the only species native to the Chesapeake Bay, and it’s the smallest of the large North American catfish species. White catfish lack scales and possess an adipose fin, as well as a single, often serrated spine in the dorsal and pectoral fins. They are bluish-gray on their back and sides and white underneath. Their tail is moderately forked and they have a noticeably broadhead, large mouth and stout body and are smaller in size than channel catfish. While they are primarily a tidal water species, they can also be found in freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, living in mud-bottom pools, open channels, and the backwaters of small and large rivers.
Channel catfish can weigh up to sixty pounds. They are long slender fish with barbels on the chin that look like long black whiskers. There are four pairs of barbels around the mouth, two on the chin, one at the angle of the mouth, and one behind the nostril. They are generally gray to greenish-gray on the upper part of its slender body, silver to white on the lower half and belly and have a deeply forked tail. Small adults and juveniles have black or dusky spots on their body. As a non-native species, channel catfish have become very successful in tidal and non-tidal waters across the state.
Blue catfish are the largest of the North American catfish and can easily exceed 100 pounds. They are generally slate blue on the back to silvery/white on the underside and have a deeply forked tail. The native range of blue catfish extends from Minnesota and Ohio southward into Mexico. They prefer the large river basins of the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri River drainages. However, due to extensive introductions, their current range incorporates several Atlantic drainage systems as well. As an introduced species, blue catfish have become very successful in the Potomac River and in several Virginia tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay.
Flatheads differ greatly in appearance from most other catfish species. They have a squarish tail, sometimes slightly notched. Their backs and sides are often an olive or light brown color with darker mottles or specks, and their bellies are often white or pale in color. Their heads are compressed, or flattened, and they have a protruding lower jaw. Flathead catfish can reach sizes in excess of 100 pounds but much smaller specimens have been encountered in the Chesapeake Bay region. Flathead are an introduced species and are currently found in only a few places in the Chesapeake Bay; the Potomac River, Upper Bay, Elk and Sassafras Rivers.
Baits or Lures?
Oftentimes bass fishermen get a slimy surprise when an aggressive flathead or channel catfish hits the swimbait on chatterbait they are casting. So be prepared because, like most species, they will have a reaction strike towards a lure.
The most common way to target these fish is casting a bait, dead or alive, and waiting for the fish to find you. Anglers often use chunk baits, worms, hot dogs or even chicken livers – they will almost eat anything. Catfish balls seem to do the trick especially well for those who don’t want to get too messy. You can find them at any of your local tackle shops.
Slip sinker rigs are great and simple. Just add an egg weight to your main line, and attach a leader with a swivel. It’s versatile and can be used for all species of cats. The slip sinker rig is the most widely used setup for hardcore catfisherman.
Another great rig is a three-way swivel. Anglers simply attach the three-way swivel to the main line, then attach a leader tied to a weight on one end and a leader with a hook to the other.
The Great Chesapeake Invasives Count
The Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland recently announced The Great Chesapeake Invasives Count. This Citizen Science Campaign uses the fishing experiences of anglers to help provide the data needed to properly manage and conserve our fisheries now, and into the future.
This angler-based effort will provide important data on invasive species to Maryland DNR, USFWS, and other management agencies on what anglers are seeing on the water. Data will be collected throughout the campaign which runs from April through October, 2021.
How to Participate
To encourage support and participation CCA has secured monthly prizes. Drawings are based on the catches you report each month and will occur on the last day of each month from April – Oct 2021. Learn more about this campaign and register for free today at The Coastal Conservation Association Maryland.