Growing with the Sport
by Capt. Big John Garland
I just want to dance with you big girl. I don’t want to take you home!
I was introduced to trophy catfishing back in 1990 by a friend named Gerald Holiday. Back then a big blue catfish earned you a citation from the state of Virginia at twenty pounds. But before that, it was all about channel cats and table fare.
Let me give you a little history of my experiences with catfish in the sixties. We caught channel catfish because they were the predominant species in the James River. A big fish to me as a teenager was 10 pounds. Back then there was no catch and release movement so we brought all our fish home.
Then I started fishing for largemouth bass, bream, and crappie. I enjoyed catching all of these beautiful fish. Then a college basketball career took me to Florida in 1972. I continued to fish for bass during my tenure at school, learning more about fishing by reading Outdoor Life and Field and Stream magazines.
Continuing to look back, the fish and game commission introduced the blue catfish into the James River in 1972. Now there was another species to catch that I was not previously aware of. And they got big. A few years went by and this is where my friend Gerald enters my story.
One evening after a gentle rain, Gerald and I caught two fish that weighed in at 30 and 33 pounds. I was truly excited to catch these citation fish with my buddy and it sparked my interest to continue trophy catfishing. It was the summer of 1990 and I was hooked for life on these marvelous fish. Their size and power truly captivated me.
Now, the boats are bigger and faster, the sonar is incredible, and there are numerous rods and reels to choose from. So, I am giving back to anyone who wants to learn more about this sport by presenting seminars on topics like fishing techniques, tying knots, and throwing a cast net for fresh bait.
Two things you must have in this sport are confidence in your ability to catch fish and the ability to enjoy the journey along the way. Sure, we all struggle from time to time but sooner or later your day on the water will come and you will appreciate your effort and time spent chasing these catfish.
All the while, we have to promote and preserve these trophy fish so our children and grandkids will have the opportunity to dance with a giant in the water. And it is OK to keep some catfish for the table but make it the smaller ones.
In my business, I get paid for catching river monsters, but I practice catch and release. I have a buddy that would catch a big fish and say, “I just want to dance with you big girl. I don’t want to take you home.” I never forgot that and the important message it sends about catch and release fishing.
When I look back from my humble beginnings, from that marvelous evening with Gerald, to where I am now, I consider myself a blessed individual. I have sponsors like Bass Pro Shops and Katfish Clothing, and my guide service has been going for 13 years. I cannot list all the wonderful people who have helped me along the way to this point but I am grateful to each of them.
Add all of my catfishing experiences together and that’s why I catfish! I hope to see some of you on the water.
Tight Lines Captain John Garland.
Editor’s Note: Capt. “Big John” Garland is a licensed USCG Captain and owner/operator of Screaming Reel Charters (804-350-2146). He specializes in trophy catfishing on the James River.