Story by Tom Pagliaroli
And kitties in the cities.
It’s the summertime angling season, and no species better fits the game during hot cloudy days and warm, shirt-sticking nights than the catfish.
More specifically, the channel catfish.
Found from Sussex County to lower Cape May county, and all counties east and west, this bewhiskered over-achiever grows to big sizes, tolerates a wide variety of environments (from cool, flowing rivers to inner city park ponds), eats live, cut and prepared baits and also hits lures, and is good in the frying pan.
Pretty much an “common angler” kind of species, if you will. Unlike its brown bullhead brethren, the channel catfish is not native to Garden State waters. It was introduced in the early part of the 20th century, along with the white catfish. A true heavyweight cat, the flathead, is classified as an invasive species and is found in lengthening areas of the Delaware River. These eating machines can attain weights of 50 pounds or more and the Division of Fish and Wildlife mandates that they be killed upon capture and not released.
Distinguishing a channel from all other Garden State kitties is simple: its tail is deeply forked and until about 20 or so inches, has a bevy of black speckles and spots on its flanks.
So adaptive, feisty and palate-pleasing is the channel catfish that it’s a mainstay with the New Jersey Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries which stocks tens of thousands annually in excess of 100 venues statewide on a rotating basis every summer and again in the fall. These will range from 5.5-inch fingerlings to heavyweight 30-plus inch adults, with the average falling somewhere in the 11.5 to 17.2 inch average.
The existing state record is a whopping 33-lbs. 3-oz. and was dragged from Lake Hopatcong in ‘78. That makes this year the 40th anniversary of what may be the longest standing record New Jersey freshwater fish now that the landlocked salmon record set in 1951 was shattered earlier this month and recently verified.
With the minimum length at 12-inches, the majority of the channels stocked can be immediately harvested, making them more or less a warm water version of the rainbow trout which are stocked April-May and again in October and November.
The barbels (whiskers) are dotted with hundred s of taste receptors that enable the channel, and all other members of the catfish clan, to actually taste a prospective meal before it is inhaled...and these is little a channel kitty won’t ingest.
Hands down, a fresh slimy chicken liver fresh is the best subsurface catnip, but channels will also greedily chomp hot dog chunks, nightcrawlers, raw or cooked shrimp, partially fried bacon seasoned with a sprinkle of garlic powder, cut or live shiners and/or sunfish, crayfish, whole crayfish or tails...even bunker chunks. Prepared baits such as the Berkley Gulp! Catfish chunks in blood or liver flavors, or the Gulp! Power Punch Paste Bait, also put channels on the stringer.
Cats are creatures of the night, and they do bite best under the cover of darkness. However, an overcast day or better yet, one with a misting drizzle, is a prime time.
In The Hawk listening area, channel cats can be caught in Lake Carasaljo, Turn Mill Pond, Topenemus Lake, Turkey Swamp Pond, Manasquan Reservoir, Shenandoah Lake, Lake Assunpink and Heritage Park Pond. One spot worth investigating is the Bass River below Route 9 in New Gretna. In this stretch, hot dogs pull the whiskers!
The daily limit is five,
Visit www.njfishandwildlife.com and click on the Hackettstown Hatchery link for the full list or waters stocked with channel cats as well as the numbers and sizes.
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