Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Catfish angler lives up to his nickname

“Flathead Ed” Wilcoxson and his new Arizona record flathead

If you have the nickname “Flathead Ed,” you’d better be able to catch flathead catfish.

Eddie Wilcoxson, an angler from Arizona, has the game to go with the name. His reputation for catching trophy flatheads got enhanced recently when he landed a 76.52 pounder from Arizona’s Bartlett Lake. No one can ever claim Wilcoxson skimps on bait, either; he used a 2-pound carp!

Here’s the full story, from the Arizona Game & Fish Department.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.


A man who loves to be ‘bugged’

In this week’s column, I reveal why the months of April and May are special to me:

Note to self: Hang in there. Bug season begins soon.
When I see the first green leaves appear on weeping willow trees, or see the cheery yellow blossoms of forsythia bushes, I know it’s almost “my” time of year.
Most people call it spring, but I call it bug season.
Deep in the turbulent waters of West Virginia’s trout streams, bugs of all sorts are getting ready to hatch. From mid-April through early June, mayflies and caddis flies and stoneflies make the almost-magical transformation from larvae to adults.
To do so, the larvae float or swim to the water’s surface, where they split their skins and crawl out as fully formed adults. As they float and struggle on the surface, they become sitting ducks for feeding trout.
For fly anglers, catching a full-blown hatch is like hitting the lottery. Catching trout is sometimes as easy as seeing a fish rise to a real fly, casting an artificial fly to that spot, and setting the hook when the imitation disappears.
The bugs go by a dizzying array of Latin scientific names: Epeorus pleuralis, Brachycentrus americanus, Maccafertium vicarium and the like. Only true wonks use the Latin names, though. Most anglers distinguish the species by the names of those artificials used to match the hatch. One can hardly blame them, as names like Quill Gordon, Grannom and March Brown are infinitely easier to pronounce and remember than all that Latin gobbledygook.
Many of the early-season mayfly hatches involve species best imitated with drab flies size 18 and smaller. Several broods of Blue-winged Olives become active in April, as do Blue Quills.
The first sizable mayfly to come along is the size 14 Quill Gordon, also a somber pattern. The famed Hendrickson comes next, followed by the Orange Sulfur, the March Brown, the Gray Fox, the Green Drake and the Leadwing Coachman.
Scattered in among the mayfly emergences are a variety of caddis fly and stonefly hatches. On most Mountain State waters, heavy caddis and stonefly hatches are relatively infrequent, although the little Yellow Sally stonefly sometimes is the exception that proves the rule.
I’ve been a fly fisherman for 35 years, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve exploited a heavy caddis fly or stonefly hatch. I’ll say this, though – they certainly were memorable.
The best big-fish day I ever had came during a hatch of large green-bodied caddis flies on a boulder-strewn central West Virginia stream. I frankly didn’t know a hatch was on, but had on the end of my line a fly that matched the hatching pupae perfectly.
In about half an hour’s time over roughly 100 yards of water, I caught a 19-inch brown trout, a 13-incher, another 19-incher, and hooked and lost a mammoth brown my fishing partner estimated at 24 inches.
The most memorable hatch I ever encountered was one I couldn’t fish. I was vacationing in Yellowstone National Park with my wife, and I had taken her to look at the Yellowstone River’s famed LeHardy Rapids.
The National Park Service has declared the rapids a “study area” and doesn’t allow fishing. Cutthroat trout there are both abundant and large.
When my wife and I were there, a flush hatch of 2-inch long stoneflies known as “salmonflies” happened to be underway. Huge trout were rising everywhere, gobbling the flies as they struggled on the churning surface.
I had a blast catching the big insects, crushing their heads, tossing them into the river and watching 20- to 25-inch cutts rocket to the surface to scarf them up.
I was watching fish and not catching them, but seldom before or since has “bug season” been quite that much fun.


Stephanie and Robert Staley with Stephanie’s 82.05-pound blue cat. (Courtesy photo)

The husband-and-wife angling team of Stephanie and Robert Stanley are now his-and-hers record holders.

Fishing in a catfish tournament on Kansas’ Milford Reservoir, Stephanie hooked and landed an 82.05-pound blue cat, the largest catfish ever taken from a Kansas lake. In doing so, she joined husband Robert in the record books. Last August, he landed a state-record 102.8-pound blue cat from the Missouri River.

Michael Pearce, the Wichita Eagle’s excellent outdoors writer, has the full story here.

This week’s column explains how West Virginia’s trout fishermen are getting the short end of the budgetary stick:

The shoe has dropped.
West Virginia wildlife officials now know how the recent federal budget sequestration is going to affect them — and you.
It’s not pretty if you’re a trout fisherman.
Division of Natural Resources administrators said the upcoming 5.1 percent cut in federal Sport Fish Restoration funding will give the DNR $186,000 less each year to spend on fish management. Curtis Taylor, the agency’s wildlife chief, said the state’s trout-stocking program will probably take the worst hit.
“It won’t affect [stockings] this year, but in the future we’re talking about stocking fewer trout, smaller trout, and cutting streams that currently receive weekly stockings to one stocking every two weeks.”
The trout program is so vulnerable because nearly three-fourths of its $2.6 million annual budget comes from federal Sport Fish Restoration money. Sportsmen who buy fishing tackle pay an 11 percent federal excise tax, which in turn gets returned to state fish agencies based on the amount of fishable water and the number of fishing license buyers in each state.
West Virginia’s small population and lack of water make it a “minimum state,” one that receives the minimum cut of Sport Fish funding. DNR officials spend $1.8 million of that annual allocation on the trout program.
Why so much? Trout stocking is expensive.
“During our last fiscal year, we spent $478,000 on trout food and $211,000 on vehicle expenses,” Taylor said.
Personnel costs usually eat up most of any agency’s budget, but Taylor said the trout program is a notable exception.
“Most of the money associated with the trout program is in raising and stocking fish,” he explained. “To reduce staff wouldn’t be smart.”
Instead, DNR officials hope to cut costs by raising fewer fish. It currently costs about $1 to raise a trout from an egg to catchable size. Further money could be saved by cutting back on feedings, which would result in smaller trout.
That would remove at least one source of pride from the state’s hatchery workers, because on average West Virginia stocks the largest trout of any eastern state.
Cutting back on the number of stockings would create even bigger savings. Taylor said the state’s stocking list includes 33 streams that receive weekly stockings from March through the end of May.
“If we move all of those to a biweekly schedule, it would save 264 stocking runs,” he added. “With gas at $4 a gallon, that’s a considerable saving.”
The worst thing about the trout-program cuts is that they probably won’t be a one-year thing. The sequester could last as long as 10 years, and even at the end of that time there’s no guarantee  Congress will let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service release the money to the states.
Wildlife funding got cut, too, but because excise-tax receipts from guns and ammo have been running far above average the past two years, the cuts are offset by the higher receipts.
The bottom line is that Congress is doing something it has no legal authority to do — to divert money from the Sport Fish Restoration and Wildlife Restoration funds. Those monies belong to sportsmen. They paid the taxes with the promise they’d get the money back.
And now, here in West Virginia, we who bought fishing rods and reels and lures and lines will not get our full share of what we paid into that system.


From Yahoo! comes one of the strangest videos I’ve ever seen.

Taken by a fisherman on Lake Austin, Tex., the 1 1/2-minute clip shows two bass, roughly the same size, wedged together and struggling on the surface. Apparently one bass had tried to swallow the other bass headfirst and failed.

The angler who took the video pulled the two fish from the water, pulled the partly swallowed one from the mouth of the other, released them and watched them swim away.

The video can be found here.

Strange. Very, very strange. But also way cool…

Trout stockings begin today!


Coming soon to 55 West Virginia trout waters.

Heads up, everyone! West Virginia’s trout stocking season begins today. Trucks were scheduled to begin rolling early this morning from the state’s seven trout hatcheries. Before the month ends, 55 waters — 28 streams and 27 lakes or ponds — will receive a total of 35,000 pounds of trout.

Division of Natural Resources officials don’t divulge which streams were stocked until after the trucks have run. The list of streams stocked each day gets posted here on the DNR’s website every day between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m.

Angler breaks two W.Va. records — on same day!

Alex Foster with his new W.Va. record blue cat (DNR photo)

Alex Foster likes to catch big fish. A good bit of his spare time is spent fishing both freshwater and saltwater for tackle-busting denizens of the deep.

Small wonder, then, that Foster is the proud new owner of the West Virginia record for blue catfish. Fishing with cut bait in the Ohio River about an hour’s drive from his St. Albans home, Foster caught a 43.9-inch, 44.5-pound blue catfish. The big cat shattered the state record for weight, 32.28 pounds, set in 2011 by Foster himself; and it also broke the record for length, 42.25 inches, set in 2009 by Lynn Lange.

Foster uses surfcasting gear and special distance-casting techniques to get his cut bait from the shore out into the middle of the Ohio where the big blue cats lurk.

Apparently other big fish lurk there too, because on the same day Foster caught the big blue cat, he also hooked and landed a longnose gar that tied the state record for length, 52.25 inches. The fish weighed 15 pounds, more than 4 pounds short of the weight record.

Homer Circle, R.I.P.

Homer Circle, 1915-2012

The outdoor world lost a true giant last week when Homer Circle passed away.

“Uncle Homer,” as he was known, was best known as the fishing editor for Sports Afield magazine — a post he held from 1968 through 2002. He authored a slew of books on bass fishing, hosted three outdoor TV shows and starred in Glenn Lau’s iconic bass-fishing films “Bigmouth” and “Bigmouth Forever.”

Despite his fame, Uncle Homer was as nice a fellow as anyone could imagine. I got a chance to chat with him once, at the 1988 Outdoor Writers Association of America conference in Marco Island, Fla.

I had won a fly casting-for-distance event on Breakout Day that year, and was told to show up at 3M/Scientific Anglers’ hospitality suite that evening to pick up my prize. After I was announced as the winner, Uncle Homer walked up to me and introduced himself.

My jaw almost hit the floor. There I was, shaking the hand of the famous Homer Circle while he congratulated me and praised my fly casting prowess.

“You know who you remind me of?” he asked. “Ted Williams — the way you cast and the way you carry yourself remind me of him.”

I could not possibly have felt more honored. Williams was an idol of mine, both for his ability to hit a baseball and for his ability to catch fish.

“You know, Ted and I used to fish a lot together,” Homer said. “I remember once when we were out in a boat, fishing off the [Florida] Keys. We were paying too much attention to the fishing and not enough attention to where we were. We looked up and saw a storm building and figured we’d better get back to the dock.

“Problem was, we couldn’t see land from where we were. Ted stood up on one of the seats and, with his height and his amazing eyesight, was just able to see the tip of a smokestack on one of the Keys. We made it back in just before the storm hit.”

We chatted for several minutes before he got called away to talk to someone else. I still remember sitting there, dumbstruck that someone of Homer Circle’s reputation and caliber had taken the time to sit and share fishing stories with me.

When Uncle Homer died last Friday, he had graced the lives of others for 97 years. He will be missed.


There’s probably no better time than right now to wet a line at park ponds throughout West Virginia. Division of Natural Resources workers have just finished stocking adult channel catfish in a slew of those ponds.

For details, here’s the DNR news release:

           SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) has stocked more than 8,000 catchable-size channel catfish during the week of May 14, according to WVDNR Director Frank Jezioro.  This popular stocking program provides fishing opportunities at popular and accessible lakes across the state.
            Lakes stocked are: Anawalt Lake (McDowell Co.), Barboursville Lake (Cabell Co.), Berwind Lake (McDowell  Co.), Cacapon State Park Lake (Morgan Co.), Cedar Creek State Park Lake (Gilmer Co.), Chief Logan State Park Lake (Logan Co.),  Conaway Run Lake (Tyler Co.), Coopers Rock Lake (Monongalia Co.), Edwards Run Pond (Hampshire Co.), French Creek Pond (Upshur Co.),  Handley Pond (Pocahontas Co.), Hurricane Lake (Putnam Co.), Indian Rock Lake (Nicholas Co.), Krodel Lake (Mason Co.), Laurel Lake (Mingo Co.), Little Beaver State Park Lake (Raleigh Co.), Mason Lake (Monongalia Co.), Mountwood Lake (Wood Co.), North Bend State Park Pond (Ritchie Co.), Pendleton Lake (Tucker Co.), Pipestem State Park Lake (Summers Co.), Tomlinson Run State Park Lake (Hancock Co.), Wallback Lake (Clay Co.), and Wirt County Farm Pond (Wirt Co.).
            As part of a cooperative effort with West Virginia State Parks, a total of 400 tagged channel catfish have been stocked into eight state park lakes, including: Cacapon State Park Lake; Cedar Creek State Park Lake; Chief Logan State Park Lake; Little Beaver State Park Lake; North Bend State Park Pond; Pipestem State Park Lake; Tomlinson Run State Park Lake; and Pendleton Lake at Blackwater Falls State Park.
            Anglers catching a tagged catfish and following the tag instructions for reporting the catch will receive a “tagged fish reward.”  The reward is a choice of a ride to Whittaker Station at Cass Scenic Railroad or a ride to Blennerhassett Island on the sternwheeler, The Island Belle.
            Anglers who catch a tagged fish are asked to return the tag or tag number along with information on the date of capture, if the fish was kept or released, and the name and address of the angler to WVDNR, 2311 Ohio Ave, Parkersburg, WV 26101.  Anglers also can call in the information (304-420-4550) or provide the information via e-mail dnrfishtags@wv.gov.

Teen gets stripped of striper record

What is it about record-breaking fish that makes anglers want to lie, cheat, break the law and do all manner of unscrupulous things?

That was a rhetorical question, of course.

Latest case in point: A Colorado teenager who caught a state-record striped bass — oops. From the Associated Press:

LONGMONT, Colo. — A Longmont teenager has been stripped of his record for a 31-pound, 8-ounce striped bass after he admitted he lied about where he caught it.
Isaac Sprecher says he was immature for contending he caught the fish at northwest Longmont’s McIntosh Lake, when he’d actually reeled it in from a pond at Pella Crossing, a Boulder County Open Space area with catch-and-release rules.
According to the Longmont Times-Call, state wildlife managers verify all claims for fish records and they smelled something fishy about Sprecher’s claim.
The state’s official striped bass record-holder remains a 15-pound, 11-ounce fish caught in 2009 in Pueblo County.

The full story can be found here, in the Longmont Times-Call.