A monster of sorts is pulling Rick Nail back into fishing.
A hunter for years, the New Castle man hasn't fished since he was a child. He expects to get back on the water again starting this summer, however.
Credit for that goes to a hefty 30-inch, 14-pound channel catfish his now 10-year-old son Rick caught at Lake Arthur last June. The fish was the fourth largest channel cat recorded caught in the state in 2007.
"He was out with a neighbor; his first time fishing on a boat, and the neighbor said he caught it all by himself. It was very special for him," Nail said of his son. "Now, he wants me to get back into it."
He won't have to go far to find fish. Channel cats not only thrive naturally in the Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio, Yough and Beaver rivers, but are stocked in 22 impoundments locally. No other species save trout gets stocked as heavily and in as many lakes locally by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
"Channel cats in the rivers have always been top notch, and I think when you have a lake that can support them, they're a good combination to have with bullhead catfish," said Rick Lorson, the commission's fisheries biologist for area 8, which takes in most of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
"Plus, I think they're more popular with anglers than they were, say, 15 years ago."
That's probably true, said Bob Lorantas, warmwater unit leader for the Fish and Boat Commission. Channel cats have always been an "old reliable" kind of species, especially in western Pennsylvania, he said.
"When you think of Pennsylvaia, you think of big rivers, and one of the species that's ubiquitous throughout those rivers is the channel catfish. If you grew up fishing in Western Pennsylvania, you probably grew up wetting a line for channel cats," he said.
But the fish seem to be getting some additional respect as a game fish here in Pennsylvania and nationally, he added. Sport shows and the outdoor press, for example, are increasingly focusing attention on how to find and catch them.
They may not have risen to rival bass and trout in popularity, but some survey work shows they're not far behind walleyes and panfish either, he said. …