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Tales from a catfish

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Maybe 35 years ago, my family took a short vacation toward the coast of North Carolina. I was allowed to take one of my friends, who happened to be one who accompanied me on many of these types of trips.

On the way we stopped at Lake Mattamuskeet. It was a long time ago, so I am not sure why we stopped. Maybe to eat lunch. Possibly to use the bathroom somewhere. Truth is, my memory has faded and the reason we stopped is no longer in my cognitive bank.

What I do remember is we stopped just long enough for me and my friend Bobby to throw the lines in the water for a few minutes. When it was time to go, Bobby reeled in his line. I had an issue with my rod and reel, however.

Sure enough, somehow I had hooked onto a log at the bottom. The reel would just spin without bringing line in. I bent the rod double pulling up on it, and it gave a slight budge. I then handed the rod to Bobby while I grabbed the line to pull with my hands. As I gained a little, Bobby would reel a little. We did this for several feet of monofilament trying to get the hook to break loose or bring the log or branch to the surface.

Both Bobby and I felt what happened next at the same time. Bobby handed the rod back to me shouting, “you have a fish!” As we were getting the hook to the top of the water, the line tugged hard back down which let us know it wasn’t the remains of a tree giving way.

I fought the fish for a few minutes, this time gaining the interest of my parents — as they were becoming frustrated since we all thought I was ‘hung’ on something.

When I finally landed the fish, the large catfish ranked as my largest freshwater catch. I remember it being somewhere in the 20-pound range, long and fat. It gave very little fight as described, it seemed more like I was hung on a large branch.

That single experience may be the reason I never really got into fishing for the whiskered creatures. Largemouth bass, bream and crappie were much more fun to fight, and if at the coast, the strength of even the little pinfish, croakers and spot were enough to make you think a giant was on the end of the rig.

Several years ago, my appreciation for cats changed. I was fishing in a tournament in which catfish were the targets. I knew how to catch them, but I never targeted them prior. Therefore, there was a bit of challenge and intrigue in my endeavors.

It also had me thinking outside the box a bit, as I was fishing from the kayak. There would be some nights on the water, and things would be different than the typical fishing expedition.

Many people fish for catfish by tying lines to tree branches overhanging the water’s edge with stink bait or small fish attached to the hook end. Others may use gallon jugs or pool noodles and let them float freely on the lakes overnight and then check the floats the next morning. The key thing is, you just have to put bait in the water and wait.

So I did. And it worked. In fact, it worked just about like that first big catfish from Mattamuskeet. I floated during the night with a couple of rods hanging over the edge. And after many, many hours of sitting there under the darkened but starry sky, I became tired enough to decide it was time to go in. No bites, not tugs, nothing.

Until, I started to reel in. 

The blue cat wasn’t nearly as big as the one three decades prior, but it fought the same way, in that it didn’t fight at all. It swallowed the bait and just laid on the bottom.

My appreciation wasn’t as much for the challenge of the catch; it was more for the lackadaisical attitude the catfish had after it ate. I tend to resemble the catfish in that way during hot summer days.

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.