Just the other week my good friend Alvie Sickle invited me for a top-notch bottom feeding excursion on Old Muddy (code for Monocacy River).
I hesitated on the first invite, and he made me pay for it with a quartet of big fish that included three 15- to 20-pound carp and a 30-inch channel catfish. I don’t know about anybody else out there, but for late August with 90-plus degree temperatures that’s a pretty good haul, even if it is for what some anglers would consider “low lifes.”
So, with that, I quickly accepted his next gig and got the kayak ready and went for it. Since we were targeting both carp and channel catfish, I went to a local pond and caught some bluegills for some fresh cut bait for the kitties and Alvie made his secret dough bait for the carp. Although carp are found throughout the river and adjoining tributaries, the channel cats are less in overall numbers, but appear to be on the increase from previous years and decades. Both species are found in longer, slow-moving and deeper stretches of the river and are often overlooked as game fish due to their bottom feeding characteristics. Carp indeed do feed primarily on bottom substrate for smaller morsels.
However, the channels cats tend to feed primarily on smaller panfish species, crayfish and minnows — the exact same food items that “proper” gamefish like bass and trout feed on.
It took a bit of an effort, but us oldsters managed to launch and paddle to just such a spot. Alvie setup for carp and I tried most of the time for the cats. Action was never fast during any of our four trips, but we did manage to land quality fish of both species in three of the four outings. You can present baits two ways — on the bottom with little or no weight or drifting slowly about 4 feet below a bobber.
Both methods caught fish, but the cats would take a cut bluegill below a bobber, where as, the carp wanted the bait on the bottom. We used 10 to 15-pound braided lines or 15-pound test monofilament for these fish. No. 1 and 2 bait-holder hooks and 2/0 circle hooks performed well. The area we fished had a host of rocks, brush and logs and we would lose hooks and rigs frequently.
Yes, catfish and carp are indeed structure oriented.
Having fished much of Old Muddy over the past 40 years I was aware of the carp and catfish picture in the river. I had heard rumors of giant channel cats with the largest being 17 to 18 pounds — trophy cats in just about any ones book.
Carp up to 30 pounds have been talked about with even larger fish thrown in during regional conversations among older “river rats.”
Although Alvie and I weren’t quite up to river rat status, we had seen and collectively fished enough of the river that we could probably claim such a title with our combined experience. Maybe an honorable mention among local, card-carrying heavies.
On my first three trips I managed to up my PB on small river channel cats with fish that went 9.58, 10.38, and 11.84 pounds.
The 11.84 fish went 30.5 inches and the other two were close to that catch and release benchmark for angler awards at both the local and national levels. Needless to say, I was quite tickled with these top-end bottom feeders and made a cool little video of them fighting and swimming away for my YouTube channel (Fishin’ With Jim Gronaw).
Meanwhile, Alvie was content to target carp and caught and released several, including a long-winded fight with a 35.25-incher that actually took a bluegill head intended for a brawny channel cat. Another pair of 30-inch plus carp found his dough baits the bomb and the three fish totaled not quite 48 pounds.
My top four channel cats went 38.70 pounds and we released several other 4 to 5 pounders during our trips. No not high numbers, but big fish in my book.
Numerous small river systems throughout our region hold cats and carp in high, fishable numbers. The Patuxent, Upper Potomac, Susquehanna tributaries, and the river systems of the Upper Chesapeake like Bush and Middle rivers. We release all cats and carp from the Monocacy to help maintain a quality fishery and as I reported earlier it is good to see high-end cats currently in the system.
Carp are everywhere and those big cats fight like absolute demons, even on larger tackle. It took a little effort, but catching bait, making dough balls, paddling a bit and getting on the water early all resulted in some memorable trips and some big fish adventures.
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If you want to take a break from the standard-issue “bass-panfish-trout” routines that dominate the freshwater scene then cipher on an effort for some top-end bottom feeders — adventure awaits!