Question: Why are snakeheads and channel catfish the most numerous fish caught this year?
Answer: Because they’re the only two species Maryland Department of Natural Resources hasn’t tried to help.
That might unfairly criticize the efforts of our Natural Resources Department on other species. But there’s truth in it, and that’s that neither species needs a fishery management plan to prosper. They’re abundant and, on the plus side, they’re good eating.
Angling for both species is fairly straightforward, and neither is hook-shy or difficult to catch once located. Snakeheads have spread to the fresher areas of just about all of the tributaries. They have a profound fondness for frogs. If you can locate waters with a healthy sprinkling of lily pads, try twitching a Zoom Horny Toad or similar soft-plastic subsurface frog bait along any channel you find in the pads. Pause your retrieve often.
If the vegetation is too thick to swim a bait under the surface, throw a floating weedless frog on top and move it slowly in jerks with long pauses. With either surface or subsurface baits, wait until you feel the pull of the fish on your line before you strike. Explosions of water in the pads or millfoil won’t produce a hookup on their own, and your reaction to the disturbance will pull the lure away from the fish and alert it to your intentions.
Swimming a bull minnow or any small fish under a bobber near the same vegetation or around any type of structure can also produce. Crank-and-jerk baits resembling silverside minnows, peanut bunker or any small fish will also draw attacks. Snakeheads are ambush predators. Their mouthful of pointed teeth is intended for grasping and usually will not sever a mono leader of 10 pounds or more.
When you are fishing near heavy vegetation of this type, using a 30-pound test or over-braid like Power Pro for your main line is a good idea. The snakeheads can often grow above 15 pounds. When hooked, these powerful fish immediately bore into the densest cover available. You’ll need braid’s narrow diameter, vegetation-severing power and high breaking strength to muscle them out.
Baitfishing for channel cats is simple. If you’re throwing spinner baits for perch or casting small soft plastic jerkbaits for shallow-water rockfish, you’ll likely encounter some cruising catfish as well. You can also chum for them just as you would for rockfish.
Or you can just bottom fish with menhaden, cut perch, cut spot, crab, nightcrawlers, bloodworms, razor clams or live minnows. Catfish are not picky and will even ingest chicken livers, chicken pieces, cut eel, doughball and most any commercial catfish bait.
Keep a net handy, for both these species are extra slippery. Snakeheads are armed with sharp teeth and can swim backwards as well as forwards. Remember that fact when you try to lead them into your net. The catfish have sharp dorsal, pectoral and anal fins that hold some painful toxins, so be careful getting them out of the net.
Both species will need to be skinned before cleaning. After that has been accomplished, it’s a simple job to cut out the fillets as they have few bones.
My favorite recipe for both is to render the meat into bite sized pieces, dip them in a sticky mixture of flour and beer, roll them in Panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and fry them in a heavy skillet with about a half-inch of hot, almost smoking, peanut oil.
Beer is also an excellent adult beverage for this fry up. I particularly enjoy a craft-brewed ale such as Fordham’s Copperhead or Devil’s Backbone Striped Bass, though in this case the latter has just the slightest aftertaste of irony.
Rockfish are beginning to turn on, though results are modest. Fish in the low 20-inch sizes are taking assassins and BKDs around the usual structures, sometimes even in shallow water, and occasionally to chumming anglers.
For shoreside anglers, bloodworms, soft crabs and fresh alewife are the superior baits. Anglers at the Bill Burton Fishing Pier on the Choptank are doing a bit better sizewise.
DNR is organizing some snakehead tournaments with lucrative prizes to encourage participation. The fish usually have to be weighed in as caught.
Fishing Creek is allegedly the first crabbing hotspot to bloom. As temperatures rise so should the jimmies.