Fishing has been a hit-or-miss sport for me, but after a recent outing with “The Catfish Queen,” it might just become my weekend hobby.
I was a whiner and a nag when my dad took me fishing as a child. I wanted to go home — unless I was catching fish.
Of course, all that was before my eye-opening fishing trip with Jaime Hughes, owner of BreakLine Charters, LLC.
The sun was beginning to set over the Susquehanna River by the time we cast our first lines. Hughes’s 5-month-old Sheprador “River” ran excitedly about on the 24-foot customized SeaArk. The rambunctious pup quickly became my fishing partner for the evening. Hughes called the dog her “boatmate” and a popular attraction for clients.
“I am ‘The Catfish Queen,’ and she is ‘The Catfish Pup,’” Hughes said.
Hughes said she received her title when she took angler Bob Clouser on a trip. It did not take very long for me to become a believer that she was, indeed, catfish-catching royalty.
We started the evening by targeting channel catfish in shallow waters. Hughes stopped at a spot after consulting with her depth finder, something she said “pays off” when looking for fish.
Hughes baited the poles with a fiber bait notorious for its strong odor. She said channel cat are quick and frantic biters. The tip of one of the poles jerked and dipped sporadically after about 15 minutes. I was treated to a good fight with my first catch of the evening — a 6-pound catfish. Seeing her clients receive that experience is something Hughes says enjoys about her job.
“It’s like the first time for me every time,” Hughes said. “It’s not that I’ve forgotten, but it’s really fulfilling for me to see that. I love seeing people catch fish because I put them there.”
Then we decided to target both channel and flathead catfish. We moved to deeper waters of about 20 feet, and switched to live and dead bait. Hughes explained that some of the bigger flatheads will actually grab onto the bait and hold it into their mouths.
It didn’t take long before I was battling to reel in my first flathead.
The 8-pound fish fought hard as I reeled him in. As it got closer to the boat, the struggle became even more intense. My heart raced as I saw him slowly emerge from the water. Hughes scooped him up in the net and brought him into the boat — the first of four flatheads I caught that evening.
Flatheads were not always in the Susquehanna River. Hughes said she typically caught channel cats when she was a child, and talk of flatheads were generally thought of as rumors.
“Between 15 and 20 years ago, the flathead catfish, they appeared here,” Hughes said. “How they got here is kind of a mystery. There’s lots of theories.”
Hughes spent years learning the fish’s behavior and how to find them. Clients that catch their first flathead are honored to wear the “Greenhorn Helmet.” I donned the helmet proudly during my trip.
Hughes has been fishing ever since she was a toddler. She fished with her dad, and said she became serious about the sport when she was 7 years old. She later gained fishing know-how any way that she could over the years. She said she would look in her family members’ tackle boxes, read magazines and learn off the Internet. She has fished in Hawaii, Canada and Mexico and has competed in local tournaments.
She took a U.S. Coast Guard boater safety course and is certified in first-aid and CPR.
She shares her passion with her 7-year-old daughter, Ashleigh, who accompanies her on special-occasion charters, but typically does not stay up late enough to be able to go on normal ones. However, she helps her mother catch bait.
When Hughes went to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission for her guide permit, she was told she was the first woman to become a fishing guide. She says it’s a “neat,” honor but said she doesn’t think about it unless it’s brought up in a conversation.
She describes her business as a “one-girl” show — she is the sole proprietor of the business she started three years ago.
Hughes offers charters from May to October. In the off-season, she works at World Cup Ski & Cycle in Camp Hill.
She said her first season was a little shorter, with a start in July, and she had about half-a-dozen trips a month. Now, she said she has as many as 14 charters a month. Those trips can vary from a father-and-son outing to a girls’ night-out adventure. While her business has grown over the last three years, Hughes said she wants to focus on her local, “core” clients.
“I don’t ever want to acquire other boats,” Hughes said. “I don’t want to become an enterprise. I just want to be Jaime and BreakLine Charters. That’s it.”
My trip came to a close at around 12:30 a.m. “River” slept most of the latter part of the evening, and I caught a grand total of eight fish — four channel cats and four flathead cats. My last two catches proved to be the largest and happened within seconds of one another. I reeled in a 8-pound channel, and a 10-pound flathead channel.
Hughes said anyone can enjoy the experience of fishing, but says she’s not happy unless everyone on the trip catches at least one fish.
For more information about BreakLine Charters, LLC, visit www.breaklinecharters.com.