A BIG UGLY critter was hauled out of the Occoquan reservoir Saturday. The beast was a flathead catfish that weighed 461/2 pounds, and may be a new state record, according to Tom Gunter, assistant fisheries biologist with the Virginia game commission.
"It was ugly, no doubt about that," said Gunter, who identified the species and witnessed the weigh-in at Davis' General Store near Occoquan.
The giant was caught by Chris Hill of Burke -- on a crankbait, of all things.
"That's very unusual," Gunter said. "He said he was casting to a spot near some brush and at first thought the line was snagged. He was using his electric motor to move over to unhook it when it seemed like the line was heading toward him. Then all of a sudden it took off at a steady pace toward deeper water and he set the hook."
Because Virginia wiped the record books clean in July by designating all previous records as "historic records," this flathead will be the first to hold the new record, if it's accepted by the state record committee.
Gunter said Hill has a good chance at the record, because the proper procedures were followed to certify the fish.
Here's what to do if you catch a fish you think may be one for the book. You might want to keep these in mind because many of the records for various species are still open in Virginia and this is the time of year that a lot of record-breaking fish are caught. The procedures come from John Kauffman, chairman of the record committee:
* First, have an up-to-date fishing license. This is crucial, because your potential record fish "won't even be considered if you don't have a license," Kauffman emphasizes.
* Freeze the fish to preserve it if you can't get it weighed immediately; if you keep it alive, it will probably lose weight. Chances are you won't be able to get it weighed immediately, because the official weigh-in must occur in the presence of an employee of the Virginia game commission -- usually a game warden -- and one may not be around when you catch the fish. The best way to reach a warden, Kauffman says, is to call the sheriff's department, which will dispatch one to the weigh-in site.
* Before you set all this machinery in motion, check the back of the fishing regulations pamphlet you should have received with your license. It lists the minimum weights that will be considered for records.
* The fish must be thawed before the weigh-in. Then re-freeze it, because it still must be examined by a state biologist who will certify the species. Then you'll receive a record application that must be filled out and signed by the warden and biologist. Then it goes to the record committee.
So look, nobody said this was going to be fun. The fun part was catching the fish. WHAT'S THE CATCH? WASHINGTON AND VICINITY
Despite Hurricane Gloria, the report for this week is an echo of last week's.
Last week we reported that catfish were the primary catch and that they were biting well on clam snouts. We also said the crappie, bluegill and smallmouth bass fishing was starting to improve.
"There really hasn't been much change," says Dan Ward of Fletcher's Boat House on Canal Road. "It was muddy for a few days after the storm, but it has cleared up pretty good. The water temperature's about the same, low 70s. The rains that came were warm, about the same as the air temperature, and that didn't cool the river down at all.
"This weekend some catfish in the 9- range were brought in. It shows you that the big ones are starting to get active and go into their pre-winter feeding binge. It is not really here yet, but it is just starting. It should improve steadily. As soon as we get a really cold rain, things should start to jump."
"Joe Fletcher and I caught some really nice crappie the day before the storm hit. We like to go in the fall when things slow down here (at the boat house) and you can fish without feeling guilty. That's the most relaxing kind of fishing there is, I think. It really takes you back to your childhood, just sitting back watching the bobber bounce around. The crappies don't fight much. It's just a lot of fun." MARYLAND
UPPER POTOMAC -- Between the effects of Hurricane Gloria and heavy attendance at a locally sponsored bass tournament at Deep Creek Lake, not too many people were on the river last weekend, according to Rob Gilford of The Rod Rack in Frederick.
"The few reports I heard said it was just so-so. The river is in good condition now, low and clear, and the temperature is holding in the 70s. We could use some rain to bring the level up, and the temperature needs to come down a little to set off the winter-feeding frenzy," Gilford says.
Although he is in the process of relocating his store, Gilford said he took time off to fish his favorite farm pond.
And that's where he lost the biggest fish he ever hooked.
"The bass were hitting very aggressively. I walked around the pond about three times. Each time I used a different lure, and each time I was catching fish. I used plastic ringworms, spinner baits and a Weed Walker lure. They all worked.
"Then the big bass hit and almost tore the pole right out of my hands because I was fooling around and not paying attention. It rolled up right beside me, and it looked like a big green basketball on the end of the line. That was a fat fish. Then it just spit the lure back at me and took off. It was the biggest fish I ever hooked," Gilford laments.
LOWER POTOMAC -- The storm's effect was negligible on the lower Potomac, according to Jack Yates of Capt. John's Crab House and Marina on Cobb Island.
"It didn't hurt the fishing at all. We're still catching white perch and bluefish," Yates says.
The bluefish are biting real well around Herring Bar below St. Clement's Island, on the Cobb Island bar and off Swan Point, according to Bob Muscolino at Newburg Marine.
"The fish here are a little smaller, say from one to three pounds, than the ones they are catching in the Bay. It is a different age group," Muscolino says. "They are not biting the way they were two weeks ago, but it still is real good." VIRGINIA
LAKE ANNA -- The fishing is "doing good," says Phil Norris of Sturgeon Creek Marina, but the bass being caught are "mostly slot fish" -- fish that have to be thrown back because they are within the lake's slot limit of between 12 and 15 inches. Fishermen are catching "eight to 12 or 15 fish a day" in the slot limit, he says.
But some big ones are being caught, Norris says. This week largemouths of 51/2, 6 and 71/2 pounds were caught, and stripers of 6, 8 and 121/4 pounds were landed, he says.
Deep-diving crankbaits and plastic worms are working well, he says, and fish are hitting "anywhere from the shoreline in five feet of water to about 16 to 18 feet of water."
OCCOQUAN -- If you fish here this week, think crappie. It's really picked up, and they're ranging from three- quarters of a pound to a pound, says Jeff Mahoney of The Lynn Co. in Occoquan.
He says a hot spot for crappie is right behind the store. Three trees were sunk there, and the crappie like to hide in them for cover. He advises fishing small minnows and small crappie jigs at the same time. Both baits are equally productive, he says.
As for the bass, "they're starting," but they're not hot yet, Mahoney says. "They're not as in the past -- real strong, hard hitting," he says. But some big ones are being caught. For example, a 61/2-pounder was hauled in this week.
RAPPAHANNOCK -- Big smallmouth are being caught, reports Karl Gentry of Chesley's Tackle Shop in Fredericksburg. This week at least four citation smallmouth of more than four pounds were recorded at the shop and several three-pounders were brought in, too, Gentry says.
"The smallmouth fishing has been excellent," he says, and the best place to fish right now is only two to three miles upriver from town. CHESAPEAKE BAY
ANNAPOLIS -- "There was hardly a big effect at all" from the hurricane, says Marv Walls of Angler's in Annapolis. "It scattered the fish around a little," he says, but adds that, "if anything," the fishing is better now than before the storm.
"There are all kinds of blues," Walls says, "and all over the place" -- at the mouth of the Magothy River, up the Severn River, off Hackett Point, "just all over."
At Gum Thickets, the trout are biting, Walls says. An 8-pounder was caught there this week, he says.
Two-pound flounder also are being caught, he reports.
"This has been one of the best falls ever," Walls says. For trollers, spoons and fluorescent surgical hose are working equally well right now, he says. "One time spoons are tearing them up, and then the next time it's hose," he says. Use small surface lures "when they're breaking" on the surface, he says.
SOLOMONS ISLAND -- "The storm scattered the fish for a couple of days, but they are getting back together now," says Jack Johnson of H.M. Woodburn's Fishing Parties.
"We're still catching some bluefish and some trout. The blues seem a little smaller now, about two to four pounds.
"As far as the trout go, the main problem is getting peeler crabs to use as bait," Johnson says. "Most of the crabbers have stopped now and they are hard to find.
"People who fish the ocean for trout come over and want to use squid for bait, but I've never caught a fish around here on squid. The fish in the Bay have a taste for crab, not squid."
POINT LOOKOUT -- Hurricane Gloria "was hardly any worse than a strong thunderstorm here, but we were lucky, I can tell you that," says Norm Bishop of the Lucky Lady and El Toro II headboats.
The fishing was unaffected, too. "We're still catching plenty of bluefish," Bishop reports. He says one of his boats went out Saturday, "got away late, at about 10, and by 11 they were releasing fish. They got over a hundred by then."
The blues, Bishop says, are running three to six pounds, "and occasionally a bigger one is caught, 14 pounds, but there are not many of them -- yet."
Bishop adds that sea bass and flounder are being caught at Cornfield Harbor and at the mouth of the Potomac.
Bishop plans to run his headboats on Saturdays and Sundays until the end of the month, so there's still a chance for you to get out on the Bay if you don't have a boat. Fr more information, call Bishop at 301/872-5815.
On the causeway at Point Lookout, surfcasters are catching small flounder, sea bass and small blues, using alewives and bloodworms as bait, reports Pat Raley of Sister's Place. ATLANTIC OCEAN
OCEAN CITY -- Good catches of sea trout have been common close in to shore since the storm, according to Martha Bunting of Capt. Bill Bunting's charter boat Angler.
And from the piers, which suffered little damage from the storm, fishermen (and women) are catching flounder, Bunting says. "I just saw a woman catch two flounder off the end of the pier while I'm standing here talking to you."
VIRGINIA BEACH -- The piers here also weathered the storm in fine shape, according to Ann Wright of the Virginia Beach Fishing Center. She says the headboats are doing well on sea bass, tautog and bluefish, and the fishing close to shore was not affected by the storm.
WACHAPREAGUE -- "The storm slowed us down for a couple of days, but fishing popped right back the day after," says Bob Fate of the Wachapreague Marina. "The trout fishing is very good from the bell buoy on out to 7 or 8 miles."
"There are still schools of bluefish, but the trout are the main thing," Fate says. "There are also some channel bass (red drum) being caught. They are the smaller ones, ranging from 10 to 20 pounds. There are not a lot, but a few every day. And there are a few king mackerel; one weighed 261/4 pounds this weekend.
"But the trout fishing is the best. The whole month of October is the peak. The highest boat yesterday brought back 463 trout. They are averaging between 1 and 13/4 pounds. I'd say the boats are averaging a couple of hundred a day. It fluctuates." NORTH CAROLINA
BUXTON -- Here at the site of Hurricane Gloria's first landfall, the damage was slight, according to Greg Compher of The Red Drum Tackle Shop.
"All the piers around here are still standing. The park service has them all closed for inspection, but they should be open by this weekend," Compher says. "We're getting ready for the fall run now. The bluefish are going two to five pounds and a few puppy drum from six to eight pounds are being caught. And some nice pompano are being taken right in front of the Hatteras Light House.
"The fishing just bounced right back after the storm."
NAGS HEAD -- The Nags Head Fishing Pier lost one piling, but it hasn't affected the pier at all, according to Monica Cremia. "The pier has been open since Friday and the fishing has been great," she says.
Her list of what they've been catching at the pier is certainly impressive -- "speckled trout, spot, croaker, flounder, pompano, spanish mackerel and a lot of puppy drum.'
Cremia says other piers that are open are the Kitty Hawk pier, the Avalon pier, the Gennettes pier and the Outer Banks pier.
"We were very lucky. In fact, the storm built up the beach in some places. We gained two to three feet of sand right here," she says.