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Maryland Catfish Tournaments Offer Invasive Species Angling

Photo of four people holding large fish next to a river

Blue catfish caught at the 2022 Sharptown Catfish Tournament on the Nanticoke River and Marshyhope Creek. Photo by Stephen Badger, Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

With record catches around the country tipping the scales at more than a hundred pounds, blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) have become quite the draw for anglers in the Chesapeake Bay. Introduced in the 1970s as a recreational fishing target species in Virginia, invasive blue catfish populations have grown rapidly in Maryland waters.

As commercial harvests of blue catfish have risen exponentially, recreational fishing for the species is becoming more popular as a way to enjoy a day angling as well as bring plenty of fish home for dinner. Commercial landings of blue catfish have grown from 609,525 pounds in 2013 to 4.2 million pounds in 2023, more than a 500% increase in the past decade. The fish is increasingly showing up on menus and in grocery stores, helping it to become more appealing as table fare.

This year, avid anglers can fill their calendars with tournaments to try to catch the biggest and most blue catfish. There are no fishing restrictions on the species. In fact, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is urging anglers to catch as many blue catfish as possible and remove them from the water. Blue catfish stomach studies have determined the invasive fish are eating large quantities of native species such as white perch and blue crabs and harming the overall ecosystem.

“Maryland’s recreational anglers have done a great job of drawing attention to fishing for invasive species,” said Branson Williams, invasive fishes program manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “Targeting these fish in a tournament-based setting can incentivize anglers, remove large quantities of blue catfish at once, and support researchers as they study the health of the ecosystem. Maryland anglers are lucky to have these competitive fishing opportunities, which have low barriers to entry and can even educate new anglers on tactics and methods for catching catfish and northern snakehead.”

Below is a partial list of upcoming Maryland tournaments and other events that feature blue catfish and other invasive species targeting. Whether anglers are looking to stuff their cooler with Maryland fresh seafood or compete for prize money, angling for blue catfish can be rewarding. Competitive angling for invasive species also helps promote a healthier ecosystem in Maryland waters.

Mid-Shore Fishing Club Invasive Species Tournament (March 1 – December 1, 2024)

Sponsored by the Mid-Shore Fishing Club of Maryland, anglers target blue catfish and northern snakehead inside the boundaries of the Eastern Shore. Payouts are awarded for most fish and largest fish. 

Environmental Justice Journalism Initiative Reel Rewards Program (April 1 – October 31, 2024)

The Environmental Justice Journalism Initiative is a Baltimore-based nonprofit offering this new program that offers incentives for the catch of snakehead, blue catfish, and flathead catfish in the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. 

Great Chesapeake Invasive Count (April 1, 2024 – March 31, 2025)

Coastal Conservation Association Maryland hosts this research-backed tournament which is free to enter and runs from April 1 to March 31, 2025. Anglers compete for monthly prizes and log catches through a mobile app where you can input total length, weight, and even stomach contents.

Sharptown Catfish Tournament (April 13, 2024)

Weighing thousands of pounds in blue catfish in recent years, the annual Sharptown Catfish Tournament returns this April. For $100 per boat (or kayak) with a four person limit, anglers depart from Cherry Beach before sunrise to compete for cash prizes. 

Benedict Volunteer Fire Department Outdoor Extravaganza (April 13, 2024)

The Benedict Volunteer Fire Department out of Charles County hosts their inaugural Catfish Tournament on April 13. BVFD will host weigh-ins at the firehouse, where fishing, hunting, and outdoor equipment vendors will also be set up. Cash prizes will be available for the heaviest five-fish total and single fish for boat, kayak, and shore categories.

Wicomico Invasive Fishing Tournament (April 20, 2024) 

Wicomico Environmental Trust is a nonprofit working towards the environmental health of Wicomico County and the Chesapeake Bay. Their tournament – which is free for children – also features live music and a food truck on site at the Riverside Boat Ramp in Salisbury.

Eric Altemus Memorial Catfish Tournament (June 8, 2024)

Supporting a great cause, awarding cash prizes and benefitting multiple local organizations, the Eric Altemus Memorial Catfish Tournament in Chesapeake City will be a great event fun for all ages. It will be held on June 8 at Safe Harbor Bohemia Vista. 

Nanticoke River Invasive Fishing Derby (Date TBD)

Salisbury University’s Dr. Noah Bressman has organized a research-based tournament of his own, now in its third year. The tournament in Cherry Beach Park in Sharptown features over $2,000 in prizes, while a portion of all blue catfish and northern snakeheads caught will be analyzed in Bressman’s lab to study their effects on the local ecosystem. Weigh-ins are followed by awards and a free catfish cookout, where anglers can reap the rewards of their catch. A date has not yet been set for the Nanticoke River Tournament.

Back River Restoration Committee Larry Farinetti Fishing Tournament (September 7, 2024)

Formerly a wildly successful striped bass tournament, this tournament is shifting gears to a catfish tournament in its 17th year. Hosted at the West Shore Yacht Center in Essex, 60 boats compete for thousands of dollars in guaranteed prize money, while the remaining proceeds go toward the committee’s future projects and cleanups of the Back River watershed. 

Madness on the Marshyhope Catfish Tournament & Food Festival (Date TBD)

Coastal Conservation Association Maryland’s annual catfish tournament returns for its third year out of Federalsburg Marina Park. Last year’s tournament featured over 50 anglers and 198 catfish caught, totaling 436 pounds. After awards distribution, the daily catch gets served up fish-fry style, highlighting one of the blue catfish’s best traits – its flavor. Fishing equipment and bait is provided free of charge for youth anglers, but all ages are encouraged to participate.

Fish For A Cure (November 9, 2024)

This fishing tournament and fundraising challenge makes waves to fund local initiatives in cancer care, including the annual fishing tournament on the Chesapeake Bay followed by a Shore Party in Annapolis, Maryland. The tournament includes an invasive species category.


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