Changing Times on the Chesapeake

Capt. Frank Tuma with our trophy-sized blue cat.

By Dennis Doyle  

Ed Robinson and I headed out into the Chesapeake in our usual style, an hour late and totally in doubt as to what to expect. Hitting some promising marks on the fish finder just moments out of the Magothy we hurriedly dropped anchor and set up for some chumming, expecting bad weather to hit us before noon.  

It was one of those last-minute trips with little anticipation for anything special other than getting wet. 

Because of the incipient storms, our neighbor and host, Capt. Frank Tuma, had a last minute cancellation for his charter boat, Down Time, and had invited us along with his buddy, Vic Novowsky, so as not to waste the morning. The horizon was dark with the incoming blow; we just didn’t know how much time we had before it hit. 

Anchoring at the beginning of a drop-off in 25 feet of water and casting out a number of fishing lines baited with cut menhaden, we started up the chum grinder and hoped for some quick luck before the forecasted storms brewed up. 

Surprisingly, a rod tip danced down within 15 minutes and the reel’s drag began to hum with the first run. Disorganization was the immediate reaction as everyone demurred to the person next to him for the honors of engaging in battle. When at last the person closest to the hit stumbled over to assume the task, the fish had tired of the nonsense, and promptly dropped the bait and exited the scene. 

Accusing the unnamed (and totally innocent) angler for the incident, we resumed the wait, and then eventually decided to refresh the baits. It was the right thing to do as within a few more minutes we had another hookup.  

After a spirited tussle, Ed landed a nice, fat 26-inch rockfish, his first of the summer season. Things were looking up. 

Then we had a brutal strike. One of the stouter rods in the stern bent hard over with what was obviously a large fish as line poured off of the reel. The fight lasted some 15 long minutes with much discussion as to the unseen species at the end of the line. With at least three long runs and a distant broach at the surface some 70 yards behind the boat, the votes were tending toward another rockfish, this time perhaps trophy sized. 

Finally coming to net, the culprit turned out to be a pleasingly large, blue catfish, probably 30 pounds from all the trouble we had handling the net aboard. Getting it unhooked and into the fish box took a bit of doing as we were still getting our season’s sea-legs in the light chop. 

The excellent table qualities of the blue cat were thoroughly discussed as we awaited the next fish; we decided the best recipe is catfish fingers and nuggets. This was undoubtedly because all of us apparently consider forks and knives a nuisance to enjoying a good meal.  

The next fish we hooked up was virtually a twin of the last cat, again close to 30 pounds. 

Then the bite changed again. This time the culprit was a small blue and white catfish with a large head of about 20 inches. Since none of us had ever seen this species before it was a topic of much conjecture that wasn’t cleared up until we finally accessed some pictures and data on the DNR website. 

The smallest of the cats cruising our waters, the white catfish is also the sole native of the Chesapeake with the blue, channel and flathead cats being invasive species. We were destined to get about a dozen of these fat and tasty rascals before the rains came.  

Score: 1 rockfish, 4 blue cats, 12 white cats. How times have changed.