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If you follow my post here at Jackson or my blog, you know that I am pretty intense about fishing here in Southeast Virginia. Soon tournament season will start and so will the pressure associated with competitive fishing. I love to fish hard and I look forward to the challenge, but sometimes you just want to kick back, relax and enjoy the simple pleasure of fishing. If you are looking for that type of trip in southeast Virginia, early spring is a great time to chase some kitties. In early April, blue and channel catfish invade the tidal creeks on the James River. These cats are hungry and will readily take a bait. This is a fairly simple fishery that can provide a lot of fun on a lazy afternoon.

Location and Tide: Finding a good spot is not hard, I like to find a shallow area near a deeper cut or hole. If you do not have a depth finder, you can usually find a good spot near a bend in the creek. Put out your anchor so you can work both the flats and the deeper water. Since this is tidal fishing, you need to hit the right tide. I like the last two hours of the ebb and the first two hours of the fall. You want the water moving, but if it is moving too fast you will have a hard time keeping your rigs from fouling.

Tackle and Bait: Tackle for cat fish is pretty basic. I use a simple single hook Carolina rig consisting of a circle hook, mono leader, a swivel and an egg sinker. These fish can vary in size from 12 inches to 20 lbs and you need to match your rod and reel to the size of the fish. I normal use light to medium rods with either spinning or bait casting reels. I always use braid, usually in the 30 lb range. If I hook a big fish, I just drop my anchor and enjoy the ride.

A lot of people think that cats will eat anything, but I have found that fresh bait will always catch more fish. My number one, “go to” bait is fresh shad. If that is not available I’ll look for mullet or menhaden. Cats in brackish water also eat a lot of crustaceans, so if I can’t find any fresh bait I’ll grab some frozen shrimp. If you happen to catch an eel (pretty common here) they make great bait. If you want to increase your odds, you can also set up a chum bag. I use canned cat food, it’s really cheap and a few cans will last a couple of hours (If you freeze the cans the chum will slowly release as it thaws.)
This is a great way to have some fun on the water or to introduce new folks to kayak fishing. In addition to the fun, you can also have an awesome fish fry. We like to ice our fish overnight before we clean them and then my Dad has his own beer batter recipe that is hard to beat. Throw in some hush puppies, fries and sweet tea, it doesn’t get any better.