Trophy Blue Catfishing
The Man-The River-The Catch-The Passion

by Jerry Webb

We all have heard how some people get addicted to certain things. Well the James River will in deed set it's hooks in you if you fish for the trophy size blue catfish.


 78 Lb Blue- Click on photo for full view

The tidal river is nationally known for it's monster cats and the exceptional growth rate of the blues. The new VA state record  for the blue catfish came off the James in May of 2009, and it was also the first VA freshwater fish to break the 100 pound mark. Now the anticipation of breaking the world record has many anglers excited of the possibility. With the news spreading like wildfire more & more anglers from all areas of the country are wanting to experience the thrill and excitement of the trophy size catch.

For Derek Mayhew of Gretna, VA a sleeply little community in the Piedmont, the hook has been set deep. Hook, line, and sinker so to speak. In talking with Derek's wife, she will tell you, "he has it bad". Always that little voice beckoning him to hit the James.

Derek 42, soon to be 43 only has one birthday wish, and that is to catch his


 90 Lb Blue -Click on photo for full view

new personal best blue catfish on the James. Now last year on his birthday(01/09) the wish was granted, boating a 90 pound blue monster cat and challenging the then state record of 95.7 pounds. Ask Derek where he caught the giant and he will be glad to tell you he caught it between those tall things on each side of the river called trees. He does admit the blue giant came from below the Benjamin Harrison Bridge where he spends a good 70-75% of his time when on the James.

Often Derek will start at Jordan Point, which he points out is about mid point of the areas he will fish on the James River. He will go upriver as far as the 895 bridge and downriver to the mouth of the Chick, about a 70 mile stretch of the river. The main channel ledges with any type of structure are his basic targets. Of course like most anglers he has some favorite spots but each trip he makes a point to search for the big boys in areas that could produce. Always looking for that magical piece of structure that keep the cats coming back. After fishing the James for the past 25 years, Derek's biggest problem is deciding where he wants to start. He will be the first to tell you that monster cat can come from anywhere on the river. He's experienced phenomenal catches in both deep water as much as 90 feet and shallow water as little as 3 feet.


 65 Lb Blue -Click on photo for full view

When asking which he preferred he couldn't say and goes on to tell about a very windy, frustrating day on the James. In fact so windy his anchor was having trouble holding the boat. It was lunch time so he pulls up in a creek out of the wind in about 3 feet of water so they can light the grill for a few burgers. They throw out the lines and light the grill, now this was on incoming tide. Lunch was late for his group, it was fish on. Fish after fish for several hours, the largest in the sixties, many in the twenties and thirties. Derek goes on to describe the day was over cast and as soon as the sun popped out the bite was gone, just as if you had turned on a light switch.

Derek's advice, use a guide, one that is noted for good fishing reports. And then don't be shy about booking trips, that is if you really desire to learn the little things that make a big difference in locating and catching the trophy size cats. He talks of countless trips with guides and the 2 names that popped up often was Chris Harris and Chris Eberwein, which of course Chris Harris no longer guides on the James. But the point is, the guides are on the James most days through out the year, and know the river like the back of their hand. Even in the most adverse conditions they can usually pattern the big cats most of the time. Quality time with guides, trip after trip, picking up some of the dos and don'ts of monster cat fishing has been a great help and reduced the learning curve and has paid off big time for Derek.

And as we have heard so many times, big bait equals big fish. Derek will admit to using the smaller shad caught in a cast net if that's his only option on days that the larger 12 to 18 inch shad seem to disappear in the shadows. But on most trips to the James his choice bait will be the 12 to 18 inch shad that are snagged in his trusty gill net. The shad are cut in either 2 or 3 chunks and hooked to leave as much of the hook exposed as possible, making sure no scales are on the point of the hook. These chunks make a nice little mid morning or afternoon snack for one of the many giant blue cats that call the James home. Nothing like a good cat fight!! If not catching anything in a time frame of an hour or less it's time to move on to the next spot.  


 71 Lb Blue -Click on photo for full view

Tackle is another area that Derek doesn't skimp on. He admits to losing a big fish from time to time and does his best to inspect his Berkley Big Game 50 pound test line(clear) and the 80 pound fluorocarbon leader often and especially after catching a good size blue. No knots by this angler, Derek uses a crimp kit with aluminum sleeves. His terminal tackle equates to a 18 -30" fluorocarbon leader a Mustad Circle 10/0 hook, swivel, and up to a 16 ounce sinker and he prefers to make his own sinkers. Derek is sold on the Abu Garcia 10000 Big Game Reels,  along with a 7' Tiger Shakespeare medium rod. On the James he likes the medium heavy but is also fond of flathead fishing in the local Dan and Staunton Rivers. The more flexible tip is needed for the flatheads.

Derek jumps around from hole to hole on the James in his new 24' DLX Carolina Skiff powered by a Suzuki 150 HP. Like so many on the James he prefers the Carolina Skiff. After years of fishing on the mighty James there is no doubt in his boat preference or his passion for fishing the James River in one of the coldest months of the year. January has always paid big dividends for Derek as he caught his personal best blue in January of 09, and many of the larger fish were also caught in January.

The Man, The River, The Catch, The Passion, the James River and it's home grown blues has Derek Mayhew's attention along with so many other anglers, on the local, state, and national catfishing scene.

Click here to take a look at Derek's tattoos...

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