FAT CATS - Local anglers pull in some big blues

Jeff Chesser holds up one of the huge blue catfish they caught on the Choctawhatchee River this week.

They may have had barbels that resemble a cat’s whiskers, but these cats were not purring.

Jeff Chesser, along with Capt. Kirk Reynolds and his dad Russ, ventured down the Choctawhatchee River earlier this week and pulled in some huge blue catfish.

The threesome hauled in seven big ones, weighing between 10 and 26 pounds, and nine smaller ones that averaged about 4 pounds.

"The smaller ones are the best eating size," Chesser said.

Going down the river in Chesser's 17-foot aluminum boat to an "undisclosed spot," the crew set out their lines.

Basically they would tie an individual leader to a limb with a circle hook using cut bait to lure in the cats.

"Any kind of dead bait will work," Chesser said. He said they've used bonito, mullet and dead pinfish on occasion.

"The branch is our fishing pole," Reynolds said.

They left the lines out over night, then went back in the morning to see what they had hooked.

"The river has to be just right" to catch blue cats, Chesser said. "Not too high and not too low."

"And all the stars have to be lined up and you have to hold your mouth just right," Reynolds chimed in.

After two nights on the river, the guys had pulled in 16 blue catfish.

They iced them down and were on the docks behind Capt. Kirk's SS Enterprise Wednesday afternoon at Fishing Fleet Marina trying to clean the big black blobs.

"This is the first time I've ever cleaned a freshwater catfish," said Reynolds, who has been fishing more than three decades. "I've cleaned almost every fish known … now I can check freshwater catfish off my list."

Reynolds and Chesser were getting the hang of it and the catfish was producing pretty white meat.

When asked if the catfish were good for eating, both replied yes.

Chesser said frying them in really hot peanut oil, real quick, is the best way to cook the big ones.

However, "We didn't go for dinner, we went for the fun of it," Reynold said. "Dinner's a bonus."



•Habitat: Originally found in the Escambia and Yellow rivers in Northwest Florida, they are now also in the Apalachicola and Suwannee. Blues dwell in big rivers and in the lower reaches of major tributaries. They prefer clearer, swifter water than other catfish, and are usually found over sand, gravel or rock bottoms.

•State record: 64.5 pounds caught by James Mitchell, August 4, 2008 in the Choctawhatchee River.

•Fishing tips and facts: One of the strongest freshwater fish, blues are caught on bush hooks or trotlines as well as rod and reel. Most are caught bottom fishing with cut fish, or stink baits rigged on large hooks with heavy lead sinkers.

— the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission