How to Catch Catfish on the Potomac River

35lb Blue Catfish caught in the DC tidal basin.

How to catch catfish on the Potomac river. Catching catfish on the Potomac river is probably easier than you think. In the warmer months during the year they can be found on almost every spot alongside the river. It is important that you know the right rig, bait, time of year, and spot location to catch these fish.

Potomac River Catfish Species

Blue Catfish

16lb Blue Catfish caught in Washington DC

The Potomac river is home to a very healthy population of blue catfish. I mean healthy as in you can see them patrolling the banks in the summer time. People often hand feed them in local areas. They are everywhere! These fish can get well over 100lbs but, in the Potomac the biggest I have seen is in the 60lb range.

The average size of these fish are anywhere from 6-10 pounds, with trophy fish being 30lbs and over. This is the Main species in the Potomac river. They are considered extremely invasive, so it won’t hurt to take a few small eater size fish to the table.

Flathead Catfish

Although not as plentiful as the blue, flathead catfish do populate the Potomac river. They are usually found in rocky areas of the river and do not get nearly as big as the blue catfish. The biggest flathead I have caught out of the Potomac is around 25lbs. This is still a great fish, but finding flathead on the Potomac is not easy. Live bait is a must, and you need to put the time in on the water to get a solid spot.

Channel Catfish

This is probably the next most populated species alongside the blue catfish. The Potomac river has a great channel catfishery. Now due to the overpopulation of blue catfish, it can be hard to narrow down on just channels. The best places I have found channel catfish, and less blues is but in the creeks. When the rivers flood in the warmer months, it can be a great fishery for the channel catfish. Channel catfish seem to be in skinnier water, and usually a bit shallower water. The Potomac river does not hold many big channels, so one over 10lbs would be considered a trophy.

There are also a few native species such as the white catfish, brown bullhead, and yellow bullhead. These species are less common, and are not often sought after.

Rod/Reel

For your rod and reel if you don’t want to spend too much money, a medium heavy rod and reel combo will do the job. I personally use medium heavy to heavy rods. A few common fairly priced reels are, Okuma Avenger, Okuma Coronado CDX, and my favorite, Penn Fierce 3. Some great rods that can easily hold big fish are Penn Squadron 2, Ugly Stik Tiger, and Catfish Pro Tournament Series. For main line if you choose to use braid I would go with no less than 50lb. If you choose to fish with mono than no less than 20lb. Again this is the MINIMUM line you should have on your reel. Don’t be afraid to go higher if you feel you need to.

Basic Catfish Rig

Carolina Rig

Let us not get too complicated here on the rig. A simple Carolina rig is all you need to catch fish year round on the Potomac. Sliding weight, bead, swivel, and leader. For hook size I generally use a bigger hook. This is because the potential of catching a big fish over 20lbs is very high. My go to hook size is 8ot however, if you are targeting mainly small fish with small baits you can get away with a 5ot.

Also circle hooks are a MUST! I have often got fast violent bites especially in the summer months. These fish easily hook themselves on these bites when using circle hooks.

Bait Selection

One of the best baits by far in this river is gizzard shad. It is a common baitfish species that lives in the river, and it is almost always around. Also sunfish/bluegill work great too. These can either be cut or live. Experiment to see what is working for you that day. Other cut baits that have provided me massive success is carp, mackerel, American Eel, mullet, Buffalo, chicken liver, and also chicken breast. There is no shortage of bait around the Potomac river. There are many international markets you can find fresh fish at.

Spring-Summer

29lb Blue Catfish caught in Washington DC

The spring and summer times are great for finding a hot bite. During these times you can literally pick almost ANY SPOT on the river and catch fish. It is that easy, I promise I’m not exaggerating. Whether this is an easy access spot, or you hike to a spot, the warm months on the Potomac river are known for crazy fast action. The size of fish may not be huge but, there is always the chance to hook a trophy. You don’t really need to find deeper water, as most the fish will be in 10-15 feet of water, and some even shallower. It is pretty hard not to catch a blue catfish in the Potomac during this time.

Fall-Winter

Here is where things change a bit. Fall the bite picks up very heavily from around September- end of November. During these times you wanna find some deeper water. I would say anywhere from 20-40 feet is good for the fall. If you are wondering how to find the depth of the river you can research depth charts. This is something I use a lot to find new spots. Also to note during this time your chance of catching a trophy fish goes up drastically. Multiple fish over 20, 30, even 40lbs is not uncommon. So plan adequately.

The beginning of December to around mid March the river slows down. It is a lot more difficult to find fish, as most of them have migrated to the deepest parts of the river. This is when you want to find the holes, 50-80ft deep to find the fish. Also if you can find some warmer water, that might help get on a better bite. The bite is very slow but, you can still catch fish. Just be expecting to wait much longer than usual for a bite. You can move often (every hour) if that is your style but I have had success toughing out one spot.

Common Spots

17lb Blue Catfish release

I don’t want to spot burn, so I am going to give a few recommendations of well known spots. The Washington DC Tidal Basin is a very easy place to catch fish. They are almost always in there, and are biting frequently. Another spot is Hains Point. It is very easy to fish from the bank here. The bite is almost always on, and you can catch some monsters. Another recommendation is Jones Point park in Alexandria, VA. This spot is a bit more snaggy but, if you know where to cast you can get on some nice fish. The last place is Fletchers cove. This spot provides some deep water with easy bank access. People continue to catch monster catfish out of there year after year. It is worth a shot if you want some quality fish.

Don’t limit yourselves to these spots, get out and explore and put the time on the river. You never know until you try.

I also have plenty of Potomac River Catfishing Videos on my youtube channel if you all would like a closer look!

Thanks for reading! I hope this helped you get an idea of how to catch catfish on the Potomac River!

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