River monsters prowl Virginia waterway!

Outdoors Bound

JAMES CITY COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Do you believe in sea monsters?

Some people do, and they hunt for them in the James River in Virginia.

Ok, so they’re not really monsters, but they are giants.  We’re talking about blue catfish — a species known for growing huge — with some specimens measuring more than five feet long and weighing in at more than 100 pounds.

The tidal portion of the James River is prime blue catfish habitat and is considered the top trophy blue cat fishery in the country.  The big fish love the current and the abundant forage. While they eat practically anything, what they really want is gizzard shad and the James is full of them.

“You find the food, you’re going to find the fish,” said veteran blue catfish guide Adam Cook as he explained how he tracks and catches trophy fish.

Cook, who runs Nautical Pride Sport Fishing, fishes the James almost every day.

“These big trophy fish, they didn’t get big overnight.  They’re smart and they have a very selective diet,” said Cook.

Guide Adam Cook talks about bait for blue catfish

Making the correct presentation can be the difference between catching giants or just taking a boat ride. Baits have to be cut to match the size of the forage the fish are feeding on that day, and they have to be presented at just the right depth.  Blue cats feed throughout the water column, so finding active fish means fishing at various depths and being flexible in your approach.

“They’re pretty elusive, they can be hard to catch,” said veteran tournament angler Leonard Trout. “But, my god, they are fun to catch, for sure.”

A 50-pound fish is routine on the James and 70- and 80-pound fish are often in the mix.  While fishing from a boat is optimal, many large blue cats are taken by shore anglers fishing from public access points.  There are several from Richmond to the tidewater. 

Trout, who owns Honey Hole Bait and Tackle in Blue Ridge, has been fishing for catfish for decades and says there is no other fishery like the James.

“It’s rare. It’s good for big fish and it’s good for numbers of fish,” said Trout.

That is a sentiment echoed by Cook.

“They were originally stocked in the 70s from the Mississippi River, but with the amount of forage, the water quality that we have here, they just exploded, now I mean it’s a total world-class fishery,” said Cook. “I mean there isn’t a place in the country that has the quality and the quantity that we have in this river, right here. If you want to catch big blue catfish, this is the best place in the country to do it.”

A big blue cat from the James River

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