Darren Brooks, brother of The NJ Angler's Brian Brooks, with a flathead catfish caught
in the Delaware River. The 18-pound fish hit an Ima Big Stik.
It was about 7 years ago when I first heard that a flathead catfish had been caught in the Delaware River, long after I had acquired an obsession with catching them. The flathead catfish has since been at the top of New Jersey's list of invasive species. I remember not thinking too much about the ramifications of a sustained population of these voracious predators in the Delaware River, but I was rather enthralled at the prospect of being able to catch "mudcats" on my home turf.
Since that time, I have learned a few things about the Delaware River and a few more things about flathead catfish. Also in that time, more and more flatheads have been caught in the Delaware. This year, it appears as if anglers actually have a decent chance of catching one if they're fishing after dark in the Delaware. Let me be clear, that although it may seem like a novel idea to be able to catch these potentially huge fish close to home, there is simply too much at stake. The Delaware River is a flourishing yet delicate fishery. Shad are just starting to appear in greater numbers again and the herring fishery is teetering on the brink. With a healthy population of flatheads in the Delaware, both of these species could be devastated, in turn affecting striped bass and other native species. Introducing and apex predator such as the brute you see above is, for lack of a better term, "not cool."
Now, that being said, I fully intend to fish for flatheads in the Delaware. In fact, that is exactly what Chris Martalus and I were attempting to do last Saturday when we found drunken Patrick in a deflated tube on the side of the road. However, although I am a staunch supporter of catch-and-release, I would not return a flathead back into the water in New Jersey. All anglers who find one at the end of their line should do the same.
For more info on the invasive flathead catfish in New Jersey, visit http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/news/2009/flathead.htm.