Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Nick Anderson, Rick Anderson and Jeramie Mullis with Nick's monster blue cat (AP Photo)

From the Associated Press:

HENDERSON, N.C. — It took Nick Anderson 45 minutes to reel in the monster catfish he caught at Kerr Lake, a 143-pound prize that will likely notch a new world record.

Wrestling with the whiskered beast left Anderson with a sore back — and it’s no wonder, considering a fish that big weighs as much as a baby giraffe, a moped or a Japanese wrestler named Takuya Sugi.

The record isn’t official, but if Anderson captures the record, he will have shattered the old mark for blue catfish, easily passing the 130-pound whopper pulled out of the Missouri River last year.

Regardless, the 29-year-old football coach from Greenville, N.C., takes bragging rights away from his father and brother, taking this year’s trophy home from the family trip.

“My dad netted him by the head, my brother grabbed the tail and I grabbed his body,” Anderson said. “We were just shocked.”

Anderson hooked his fish just before dusk on Saturday and just over the Virginia line, where the John H. Kerr Reservoir is known as Buggs Island Lake.

It measured 57 inches long, just shy of 5 feet, and 43.5 inches around — a girth that almost matches the average mall Santa.

He won’t reveal his bait choice beyond a “family secret,” nor his tackle beyond a “rod and reel,” but the Virginia weekly Mecklenburg News-Progress listed his gear as an “Ugly Stik” rod with a Shimano reel and 30-pound test line.

For now, the State Record Fish Committee of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is reviewing the application for a new state record, which would beat the 109-pound behemoth caught in the same lake in March.

“Everybody is really excited,” Lee Walker, spokesman with the Virginia department, said. “Blue cats are considered one of the top game fish out there. There’s a huge following. There’s a tournament circle. This will bring national headlines.”

And with the state record hurdled, he said, it should be an easy jump to the world mark, certified by the International Game Fish Association.

“That’s a lot of weight to break a record by,” Walker said. “Normally, when you see new world records, it’s by an ounce or a tenth of an ounce.”

Blue catfish are not a native species, and their growth varies wildly depending on food and temperature, said Wayne Starnes, curator of fishes for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

Fishermen lusting after trophies tend to introduce them on the sly, he said, guessing that a blue cat that large would be about 20 years old.

“They’re known to scavenge when striped bass tear into a school of gizzard shad,” he said. “They hang out like jackals after a lion kill.”

Anderson’s fish drew a small crowd, but it couldn’t be kept alive long enough to find out if it outweighs all its unlucky brothers.

So it sits in a freezer, waiting to be mounted and immortalized in fish stories that will require no exaggeration.

Wow. I wonder if Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries officials will have the cojones to declare blue catfish an invasive species now. They had been considering just such a ruling. My guess is this might change some minds.

Bream angler lands record bass

From the Associated Press:

HOULKA, Miss. (AP) — Although Ronnie Tyler is an avid fisherman, setting a record was not on his mind when he went out to Davis Lake on March 24.
This normal day fishing for the Chickasaw County man turned into a moment he’ll never forget.
“I was actually bream (bluegill) fishing that day,” Tyler said. “I was using a 10-pound-test line and a bream hook with a nightcrawler on an Ugly Stik rod and reel.”
Tyler got a bite and it was a lot more than he expected.
He hooked and landed a 14-pound, 6-ounce, 26-inch largemouth bass.
“I was afraid if I reeled it in, it would break the line, so I just backed up one step at a time until I got it to the bank,” Tyler said.
Tyler dropped the rod, but luckily two boys fishing nearby came to his aid.
“I bet I sat on that bank for 30 minutes, just sitting there. It didn’t give me any fight at all, it was like it was ready to get out. I was glad it was ready to get out.”
It is the largest recorded bass from Davis Lake.
What surprised Tyler the most is that he was simply hoping to reel in smaller fish.
“I mean I was always told there was some real big fish in here, but I never fathomed the thought of me ever catching one like that,” Tyler said.
Tyler has been fishing since he was four and has landed some trophies, but this one took the cake.
“My daddy started teaching me about fishing at an early age and I’ve been fishing for years, but I never got one this big before,” Tyler said.
Rick Dillard with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has confirmed the fish was the biggest largemouth bass taken out of Davis Lake, beating the previous record of 13 pounds, 14 ounces.
While researching records, Tyler discovered two that hurt his feelings.
“That’s what makes me sick,” Tyler said. “Last year I got a shellcracker (sunfish) over 5 pounds and that’s a new state record; and I got a bream almost 5 pounds and that’s a new state record. But I ate both of them.”
This one, however, will soon be a conversation piece on the wall at his home.
Tyler expects to get his fish back from the taxidermist sometime in the next two weeks.
And Tyler said won’t waste any time getting back to the lake.
“I’m still looking for one bigger. There’s another one out there that’s bigger,” he said.


Don’t forget Free Fishing Days this weekend

Just a reminder that Saturday and Sunday are West Virginia’s annual Free Fishing Days.

Anyone who wants may fish in any of the state’s public waters without having to purchase a fishing license. It’s a terrific opportunity to “give the pastime a test-drive” before deciding whether to take it up.

It’s also a great time for parents to take kids fishing, and a good time for anyone who once enjoyed fishing but “got away from it” to become reacquainted with it.

Looks like trouble’s a-brewin’ in the wilds of Preston County.

The controversy swirls around a fly ash dump on a hillside near Albright. Monongahela Power Company operates a coal-fired power plant there, and environmental groups believe the facility’s fly ash dump was put there without proper permits — and without sufficient concern for the dump’s impact on Daugherty Run, a trout stream, and on the Cheat River downstream from the plant.

Here’s the Associated Press story on the brouhaha:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Two environmental groups are threatening to sue Mon Power and its parent, Ohio-based FirstEnergy, over alleged Clean Water Act violations from a coal-ash dump site at the Albright Power Station in Preston County.
The Sierra Club and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy filed notice of intent to sue Monday and said Tuesday they will follow through if compliance isn’t achieved within 60 days.
They claim the ash dump was built illegally on the mountainside above the Cheat River and are challenging the utility to produce the proper permits.
FirstEnergy issued a brief statement, saying it operates all of its plants in an environmentally responsible manner. The company said it was reviewing the notice and allegations about the Albright but did not comment further.
The environmental groups claim the utility put fill material and pipes into three unnamed streams that flow into Daugherty Run, a trout and recreational stream that flows into the Cheat River.
Had Mon Power sought a permit, they argue, the possible effects on fishing, boating and other recreational activities would have been independently investigated.
“We have to assume that FirstEnergy and Mon Power know the law. Do we then assume they just decided to ignore it?” asked Jim Sconyers of the Sierra Club West Virginia. “What deterioration of the stream’s quality may have been triggered by the company’s action?”
The environmental groups have clashed with FirstEnergy and Mon Power over the plant before.
In February, they threatened to sue over arsenic discharges they claimed were above permitted levels from July 2010 to November 2010. That lawsuit, which also involved the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, was filed in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg in May.
It asks the court to declare FirstEnergy and Mon Power in violation of the Clean Water Act and fine them as much as $37,500 per day for each of the 249 days it was in violation, or a total of nearly $9.4 million.
The plaintiffs say Mon Power proposed two solutions to the arsenic problem — either remove Daugherty Run’s designation as a source of drinking water or pipe effluent from the ash dump to the river.
The first option is “unworkable,” the latest lawsuit notice says, because Mon Power should not be able to stop existing use of the stream for recreation. The second option threatened aquatic life in Daugherty Run.
“The dewatering of a trout stream,” the groups argue, “is both unconscionable and illegal.”
FirstEnergy also did not comment on that lawsuit.

Can fishing change someone’s life?

This week’s column tells how two days in early June can rock someone’s world:

Most of you who read this probably aren’t aware of an upcoming event, an event that could literally change your lives.
I’m talking about West Virginia’s annual Free Fishing Days, which take place June 11 and 12.
“Whoa there, old feller!” I hear you shout. “Life-changing? Isn’t that gilding the lily just a bit? This is fishing you’re talking about, not money or religion.”
Bear with me on this.
Life can be strange sometimes. The smallest, most seemingly mundane events can end up having profound effects.
So it can be with fishing.
I still remember when a neighbor, Larry Campbell, introduced me to fishing. I was 10 years old at the time, and Larry was in high school. For some odd reason, he took an interest in the geeky kid who lived across the road.
One day, Larry asked me if I wanted to go fishing in Spruce Fork of the Little Coal River, the creek than ran near our houses. We dug some worms and headed for the creek. We walked to a big boulder that overlooked a deep pool, and there I caught my first creek chub and my first bass.
It’s an old, tired cliché, but from that moment I was hooked.
I fished for bass. I fished for trout. I fished for chubs and suckers. I even bent a staple into a tiny hook and, using minuscule dough balls for bait, spent hours catching minnows from the creek’s shallows.
Those early fishing experiences had a profound effect. High-school athletics, college and girls distracted me for a few years, but after I graduated and got married I returned to the pastime.
As my interest grew, so did opportunities to combine my passion for fishing with my training in journalism. I started writing a free-lance outdoors column, and after a few years the newspaper hired me full-time.
Now I have a rewarding, fulfilling career. I’ve been places I never thought I’d go, and I’ve had experiences I never thought I’d have. Almost all of it sprang from that fateful late-spring day when Larry showed me how to bait a hook and cast a line.
Once a year, the state of West Virginia offers its citizens a chance to go fishing for the first time, or to get reacquainted with the pastime, free of charge. For those two days, anyone who fishes any of the state’s public waters may do so without having to purchase a fishing license.
If you’re a parent and you want to introduce your kids to fishing, Free Fishing Days are the perfect time. If you once liked fishing but got away from it, Free Fishing Days are the perfect time to come back. If you’re an adult who is curious about fishing, but not curious enough to buy a license, Free Fishing Days are a way to satisfy that curiosity.
Studies have shown that roughly one in six West Virginians fishes at least 18 days each year. Chances are a neighbor, a friend or an acquaintance is one of those avid anglers. Just ask, and chances are equally good he or she will loan you the necessary tackle and offer some advice. Heck, someone might even offer to take you fishing!
When you do go, you’ll share the optimism all anglers feel as they head off on a fishing trip. You’ll drink in the sounds and the sights. There’s a good chance you’ll feel that telltale tug on your line when a fish takes the bait.
And who knows? The experience might just change your life.

Have the ‘trout vigilantes’ backed off?

Apparently safe for now

A controversial fishing rodeo scheduled for this weekend in West Virginia has been canceled — sort of.

The event, promoted as the “BroundUp,” was supposed to help eliminate brown trout from Laurel Fork, a tributary of the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac. The stream, which heads up in Virginia and flows into West Virginia for roughly two miles before its junction with the North Fork, holds both brown and brook trout. Someone in Trout Unlimited — it isn’t exactly clear who at this point — thought it would be a good idea to invite fishermen to come and kill as many brown trout as each angler could legally take. The goal, ostensibly, was to eliminate brown-trout predation on native brook trout, and to eliminate competition for the insects, crustaceans and minnows both species rely upon for food.

Now the event’s apparent organizers have issued a carefully worded statement that says the event will still be held, but its goal is no longer to provide incentive for the killing of brown trout. Here’s the statement, posted a little while ago on the WVAngler.com message board:

Thanks for your comments regarding the Bround-UP event on the Laurel Fork in Virginia the weekend of June 3-5. What was intended as a small gathering of fisheries professionals and TU grassroots from Virginia and West Virginia to fish in a great place has been misconstrued as a major fish kill event on the Laurel Fork. This event was not intended to be anything other than a fun weekend with an emphasis on catch and release for native species and discussions about protecting Eastern brook trout populations, which are dwindling throughout their range. The event has been reconsidered and there will not be any organized effort to reward or incentivize the taking of any fishes in the watershed. Be assured that no prizes will be awarded during this gathering.
The value of this event has already been met by the incredible response to its announcement—both positive and negative. And, at this point, not a single fish has been caught or killed, and none will be under the proposed event scheme.
What is important—and at the very core of the questions, concerns and implications of those opposed to the event—is the management of native trout resources and the role of Trout Unlimited in the outcomes. In the Laurel Fork, straddling the state line between Virginia and West Virginia, we have an opportunity to engage both the Virginia and West Virginia councils as well as the chapters and membership in each state. This event gives an opportunity to voice opinions and begin a dialogue that builds on the changing science of fisheries management.
To this end, we will continue to provide lodging, kitchen facilities, and fishing opportunities in the Camp Pocahontas venue for the weekend. Our intent to discuss the issues among TU’s grassroots will be continued, and we invite all who want to attend the opportunity. You will be welcomed.
Gary Berti, TU Eastern Home Rivers Initiative Director; Chris Byrd, President, TU Mountaineer Chapter of West Virginia

I have a couple of concerns about the statement.

First, saying that the event “was not intended to be anything other than a fun weekend with an emphasis on catch and release for native species” only tells part of the story. Certainly the participants would have released any native (brook) trout. But the event, as proposed in the original annoucement (which, by the way, has since been removed from the Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited’s Facebook page),  would unequivocally have awarded prizes to anglers who caught and killed the biggest brown trout, the most pounds within a limit, etc.

Second, I have doubts about the passage that says, “The event has been reconsidered and there will not be any organized effort to reward or incentivize the taking of any fishes in the watershed. Be assured that no prizes will be awarded during this gathering.” So now there won’t be any “organized” effort to kill browns. Great. But will there be an unorganized, informal, wink-wink, nudge-nudge effort?

The announcement also contains a promise that “not a single fish has been caught or killed, and none will be under the proposed event scheme.” What exactly is that “proposed event scheme?” Catch-and-release for all trout, both brown and brook? If so, great. If not…well…

What is encouraging about the announcement is that the organizers have invited anglers of all points of view to attend so that the whole “native vs. non-native species” question can be debated. I sincerely hope some good comes from the debate, and that controversies such as this one cease to divide the angling public.

Vigilantes take aim at W.Va. trout stream

Piscatorial Enemy No. 1?

Trout Unlimited, the nationwide conservation organization whose stated goal is to “restore, enhance and protect” trout and salmon fisheries, has declared war on brown trout in one of West Virginia’s finest streams.

Members of the Virginia Council of TU (and at least some West Virginia Council members) plan to hold a brown-trout rodeo June 3-5 on Laurel Fork of the North Fork of the South Branch in Pendleton County. They’re calling the event the “BroundUp,” because the goal is to catch and kill as many brown trout as legally possible.

Some background: Laurel Fork heads up in Virginia and flows through West Virginia for a couple of miles before it dumps into the North Fork. It contains both brook and brown trout, some of them sizable. Up until 2006, the West Virginia DNR supplemented the native brookies in the stream’s lower reaches with stockings of fingerling brown trout. Now all the browns there are wild.

The browns’ presence apparently bothered some influential members of the Virginia Council, who organized the BroundUp to rid the stream of a perceived nuisance.

Further background: Brown trout are native to Europe, not to the United States. They are considered an exotic species. According to the Virginia TU Facebook page advertising the BroundUp, browns are “invasive.”

Says who? I haven’t seen a declaration by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to that effect. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources doesn’t consider browns invasive, either. Many West Virginia streams that harbor wild, reproducing trout populations are brown-trout streams because browns can tolerate warmer waters and more pollution than brookies can.

Still, from June 3 through June 5, a group of fishermen will converge on Laurel Fork and do their darnedest to catch their limits of brown trout — and to kill every last one they catch. I suppose they think they’re “enhancing” Laurel Fork by removing the browns, and thus are helping TU to meet one of its objectives. But what does this say about their stated goal to “protect wild trout,” let alone their informal credo, “Limit your kill, don’t kill your limit?”

Whatever ideas these guys are sellin’, I ain’t buyin’.

In my opinion, this is the modern-day equivalent of frontier vigilantes getting up a posse to weed out an element they — and possibly they alone — consider undesirable.

Vigilante trout fishing. What a concept.

Doubly troubling is that TU’s national staff appears to be backing the event. The news release on the Facebook page listed TU’s Eastern Conservation Assistant as a source for directions and for information.

Full disclosure: Before I became a full-time outdoors writer in the mid 1980s, I was a Trout Unlimited officer at both the chapter and council levels. I backpacked literally hundreds of brown-trout fingerlings into streams throughout southern, central and east-central West Virginia. Back then we were interested in creating fisheries. Maybe the people behind the BroundUp are, too. They just have a funny way of showing it.

Sides square off in catfish controversy

Blue catfish can grow to weigh more than 100 pounds

Let’s get ready to rrrrummmmmble!

Trouble’s a-brewin’ in the tidewater area of Virginia, where catfish anglers hope to fend off efforts by federal and state agencies to eradicate — or at least greatly reduce — blue catfish populations in the state’s tidewater rivers.

For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, let me summarize. Since being stocked in the James and other eastern Virginia rivers, blue catfish have thrived beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Catches of 60-pound-plus blues have become almost commonplace. To get that big, of course, catfish have to eat. Blue cats are being blamed for declines in largemouth bass, striped bass and blue crab populations.

Members of the Chesapeake Bay Program Sustainable Goal Implementation Team, or GIT, want to have blue catfish declared an invasive species. If the effort succeeds, blue cats would become a prime target for eradication.

Catfish anglers are understandably furious. They’ve grown rather fond of their trophy fishery, and plan to resist any proposed eradication effort.

The controversy has created quite a bit of chatter on Mastercatters 2 and other catfish angler message boards. Expect the back-and-forth to grow more intense as the summer progresses. Government agencies hope to have something decided by fall.

Good news, fresh off the PR Newswire. I’ll bet it won’t take fishing-line manufacturers long to make hay from this development:


If the new, thinner Spectra fiber indeed allows manufacturers to produce thinner, stronger, smoother-casting lines, all us anglers stand to benefit. The main knock on previous Spectra lines has been their roughness.

A rant about argumentative anglers

This week’s column is a bit of a rant. So sue me…

Rodney King said it best: “Can’t we all just get along?”
“We,” in this case, refers to people who fish. We enjoy a common pastime, but we spend far too much time criticizing each other.
Spend five minutes examining the posts on just about any Internet fishing forum, and chances are you’ll come across at least one flame war.
A common example: Fellow catches a nice trout on a spinner, photographs his catch and posts a photo online. Within minutes – sometimes within seconds – someone puts up a post that reads, “What?!! You used a treble hook? Don’t you know that treble hooks can cause fish mortality? Have you no decency, man? No care for the resource?!!”
And that’s an example of a tame response. The flames really get intense if someone (horrors!) uses live bait or (cardiac arrest!) keeps a bass or a trout for the dinner table.
For crying out loud, people, it’s only a pastime.
Fishing is supposed to be recreation – a way for us to leave the workaday world behind. When I grab a rod and head for the water, my goals are simple: To spend some time away from cameras and computers and telephones, to get some fresh air and maybe to catch a fish or two.
I fish with the tackle best suited to the task. For trout, that usually means a fly rod – but I’d happily grab a spinning rod and sling PowerBait if I thought that would work better. When I fish for bass, it’s almost always with spinning or bait casting gear. My preferred bait for channel catfish is chicken liver.
Crappies go bonkers for live minnows. By the way, so do trout and bass. Yes, you read right; the man who owns 14 fly rods deliberately uses minnows to catch trout or bass when the spirit moves him to do so.
If this horrifies anyone, let me offer some timeless advice from Sgt. Hulka, the drill sergeant in “Stripes”:
Lighten up, Francis.
Life’s too darned short to get bent out of shape because someone caught a fish using a method that offends your delicate sensibilities.
There was a time when stuffy British fly fishermen lived by a strict code of conduct, and looked steeply down their noses at anyone who didn’t comply with it. Trout were to be caught only on dry flies, and specifically only when those dry flies were cast upstream to visibly rising fish.
The high priest of this cult was a stuffy chap named Frederic Halford. One day, he found out that a young upstart named George Edward MacKenzie Skues had fished England’s River Itchen with a sunken nymph.
Halford confronted Skues at the local angler’s club. “Young man!” Halford exclaimed. “One simply cannot fish the Itchen with the methods you describe!”
“But I’ve done it,” Skues replied.
I’m with Skues. If a fishing method is legal, and if the person who uses the method obeys any regulations that govern the body of water being fished, far be it from us to criticize.
We anglers face ongoing challenges from those who would pollute the waters we fish, or those who seek to close off prime destinations by putting up no-trespassing signs. Only through unity can we ensure our fishing future. Yet here we sit, Balkanizing ourselves over such trivial matters as barbed versus barbless hooks.
Can’t we all just get along?