Catching Bluegill and Sunfish in the C&O Canal


I enjoy fishing for carp in the C&O Canal, but one needs to pass the time while waiting for the bell on the rod to ring. Sitting and staring at the carp rod for a half hour or more is a formula for madness.

So, why not cast for bluegill and sunfish, who can be taken on bobbered worms on little hooks (size 6)? These panfish are feisty little fighters, and they can be kept and used for catfish bait.

Fish I Have Caught in the C&O Canal in Washington, DC

It is the simplest of rigs: monofilament line tied to a modest swivel, then attach a trim bobber 6 inches above it and put an Eagle Claw snelled hook (size 6) on. Put a worm on (put the hook through both ends and the middle), and cast and watch.

I have had the following fish strike this rig and bait: bluegill, sunfish, large-mouth bass, channel catfish, and a carp.

The map above shows where I have had success—but don’t feel obliged to try only there. Fish run through the canal, which runs from Pennsylvania to Washington, DC. Wherever one finds a bridge or a fallen tree or brush in the water—those are good places to cast your bait.

One question I sometimes get is, “How can fish be in the canal?” Simple: the canal connects to Rock Creek and the Potomac River—so the fish in the latter two end up in the canal.

Bike/walking/running trails (former towpaths) run along the canal—so if you fish one spot and find it wanting, move along!

Kosar large-mouth bass 04-2017

Photo credit: Craig Furuta.

Shad Fishing at Fletcher’s Cove in Washington, DC on April 13, 2017

What. A. Day. I arrived at 7:30am, just 30 minutes after the tackle shop at Fletcher’s opened. every boat was rented. I was down, and considered going home.

But the sun was shining and the mercury was at maybe 55 degrees and it was a lovely morning. So I walked north past the boat dock to see if I might have some luck from the shore.

My first spot, a rocky outcropping right at the edge of the cove was a disaster. First cast I snagged and lost my two-dart rig. I seriously pondered packing it in. But with so many boats on the Potomac River and shad leaping and splashing, I had to try.

I am very glad I did. VERY.

I caught around two dozen shad from a muddy spot just south of what I call the catfishing peninsula. I had four of them in the first 25 minutes. And the fish were big. The smallest ones were 8″, but I consistently got fish 12 to 16 inches long. Below is a video of one of the whoppers. All the shad fought hard, and my line was busted three times. (I am inclined to switch super light braided line—maybe green—which will not break so easily and is much easier to tie, especially when it is sunny or windy. Or 10-pound clear monofilament will work.)

You can see from the video above that my rig was a small tri-swivel tied to my line (4-pound monofilament) and two darts (one chartreuse and one yellow), with one dart on about 22 inches of line and the other on about 16 inches.

As the video shows, you cast, then begin reeling once the darts hit. Frequently you’ll get hit in 5 seconds or less. You also might find yourself with shad on both darts, which makes reeling all the more an adventure.

Kosar Two Shad at once 04-13-2017

I wear a size 12 shoe, which shows how big these shad were. Photo credit: Kevin R. Kosar.

Oh memo to the novice: shad leap from the water and thrash alot, so keep the line tight and rod bent as you reel them in, otherwise they can pop themselves off the hook. And bring a net to scoop them in—lifting them straight from the water may get you a broken line or allow the fish to leap free.

Update: Additional experiments revealed that casting single darts (chartreuse, yellow, and orange) worked just fine. Switching to orange after working chartreuse heavily got positive results. Also, in slack tide, you cast and start revealing a second or three after the cast. As current builds, you may need to count to 10 or more before you slow reel so as to to let the dart sink down.

Scoring Bluegill, Pumpkin Seeds, Small-mouth Bass, and Channel Catfish Near DuPont Circle

kevin-kosar-dupont-circle-fishing-10-2016Talk about urban fishing!

One can fish Rock Creek under the Lauzun’s Legion Bridge. There’s a slab where one can drop a line into the water about eight feet below. Pumpkinseed are plentiful, and bluegill also can be found. (Both can be used as bait for catfish.) They hit worms very hard, and can be landed with bread or dough balls too. A bobber can scare them away, so consider just dangling your bait in there and watching them come and strike.

Go here when the weather is above 50 degrees, otherwise you may not find fish here—the water is only a few feet deep. (Come winter fish move to deeper water that is less brisk.)

I have frequently seen small-mouth bass and small catfish (maybe 15 inches) in the water, but they have proven very leary to respond to the various lures and baits I have tossed their way.

Catfishing on the Potomac River Near the Watergate, January 29, 2017

catfishing-near-the-watergate-01-29-2017Metropolitan Angler, who posts videos on YouTube, fishes here. He brought in at least two blue catfish that were 24 inches or more on January 20, 2017. (The temperature that day was about 45 degrees.)

So I decided to give it a try on January 29, 2017. I am very glad I went.

It was 45 degrees and overcast, and the tide was very low. One can park at Thompson’s boathouse (there are meters) or on Virginia Ave NW. One walks on the sidewalk through the intersection of Rock Creek Parkway and Virginia Ave NW toward the Watergate and Kennedy Center—the spot is only a couple hundred feet past the intersection.

My expectations were low, but I had a good hour of fishing. I rigged four rods: 2 steel helicopter rigs that each had two 4/0 circle hooks baited with thawed cut sunfish and a 3-ounce pyramid sinker. The other two rods had my standard catfish rig with an 8/0 circle hook rig baited with Surgitube bag jammed with chicken liver and a 3-ounce flat sinker.

In short, both rigs and baits proved attractive to catfish. We were there only one hour but caught an approximately 12-pound blue catfish (on the sunfish) and had bites (on the sunfish and the chicken livers twice).

Be careful—there is no rail and the drop to the water is at least 10 feet if not more (when the tide is out). This is no place for toddlers or young kids.

And forget bringing a net, unless it has an unbelievably long handle. The water is way beneath your feet, so best to use very heavy line (25-pound or more) because hauling a thrashing catfish up through the air puts huge strain on your line.

How to Catch Catfish at the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC

kosar-channel-catfish-tidal-basinPreviously, I wrote about fishing the Tidal Basin. The more I fish there, the more I am impressed.

There are so many fish. One can catch four types of catfish (blue, channel, flathead, and black bull), along with needlenose gar, bass (small-mouth and large-mouth), bluegill, crappie, golden redhorse, shad, perch, and stripers.

kosar-tidal-basin-fishing

Catfish Tips (including recommended bait and gear):

  1. The bite waned during the scorching temperatures in August. All I can guess is that the catfish fell into a heat-induced stupor. Conversely, the bite improved on the mornings when the temperature had suddenly dropped 10 degrees or more relative to the previous morning. (E.g., On Monday September 12, 2016 it was in the mid 60s whereas the morning before it was 75.)
  2. Once autumn’s chill hit, the catfish bit less often. Were they chilling far out in the center and deeper parts of the Basin? Beats me. Days when it was gray, breezy, and in the 50s the catfish were few. But, the catfish awoke on days when the thermometer rose above the mid-60s. Windy weather has been tough for fishing—the water flows faster, which disperses the scent of your bait and making it difficult for catfish to detect.
  3. In terms of bait, chicken livers have proven consistently successful. (Yes, cut bluegill also gets hits—but not as consistently in my Basin experience.) To keep the livers on a circle hook (size 8/0), wrap it with Atlas Mike’s Miracle Fishing Thread. Or, slip liver into Surgitube gauze before popping it on a hook. (Instructions on how to use Surgitube are in this short video.)
  4. A simple catfish rig uses 30-pound monofilament line, an 8/0 circle hook, a 3-ounce sinker, two plastic beads, and is topped with a double surgeon’s knot/loop. Here is my video showing how to make that kind of rig.
  5. The best spots I’ve found for catfishing the Basin are marked on this map with X’s.kosar-tidal-basin-catfishing-spots
  6. Parking: You can easily find free spots on Ohio Drive SW early in the morning—both before the little bridge at the southern end of the basin and past the bridge (just under the first big bridge across the Potomac).
  7. Cast a medium distance (50 feet). if you get no hits within 10 minutes, reel in and cast farther out. After 30 minutes, if you’ve not had any solid hits, then move to another spot and put out fresh bait.
  8. After you cast out and let the put your fishing pole in a hole and/or use a prop rod.
  9. Clip a bell on the end of the rod, and wait and watch. When a hit comes, the bell will jingle. Don’t touch the rod until it is bent over for a few seconds—this signals that the circle hook has penetrated the fish’s cheek.
  10. Use a long-handled net to help lift the fish out—catfish can snap your line by thrashing as you lift them out of the water. Having a net around the fish reduces the strain on your fishing line and ensures the fish does not escape even if it does break your line. (Short-handled nets, by the way, are better to use when catfishing in a boat)

As a closer, here’s a video by a great catfisherman that shows you Tidal Basin catfishing.