As anglers awaiting the 2018 Philly Fun Fishing Fest were dreaming of landing their very own Schuylkill River trophy fish, the wee hours of Saturday, September 8, delivered a most unpleasant surprise: the weather gods had made a dastardly update in the forecast, one that was decidedly towards the damp.
In other words, it rained. Big time.
It was always supposed to rain that morning; at least it would move on by mid-morning, the computer models told us.
And so it was that the organizers—rising before dawn to see animated swirls of thick storm clouds stubbornly hovering over Philadelphia in the displays of every weather app—wondered what the day would bring. Would anyone come now?
Come they did, with plastic ponchos and hip-waders and rubber raincoats and umbrellas, some so spacious that they bordered on small dome pop-up tents.
The surprisingly robust crowd stretching along the trail and greenery of Center City’s Schuylkill Banks park made for a colorful string of rain-proofed figures snaking some two hundred yards down the river.
Roll on, Muddy River
Unsurprisingly, what with the on-and-off rain that peppered the days leading up to the weekend and persisted that morning, the water was muddy-brown and high, lapping persistently on the banks below Walnut Street Bridge.
This, it seemed, spurred two types of fish to feed (or perhaps simply discouraged all other fish from doing so): of the more than two-dozen recorded fish caught on Sept. 8, only eels and catfish were in attendance. That stands in contrast to a cornucopia of catches anglers have recorded during past, sunnier, years: white perch, a rainbow of sunfish species, striped and largemouth bass, suckerfish, and even the odd fingerling shad, to name a handful.
A Tale of Two Bojkos
Indeed, all three of the largest fish caught at this year’s Philly Fun Fishing Fest were channel catfish. Alex Bojko of Haddonfield, N.J. notched the No. 1 fish for both his age group and overall, with a 24-inch channel cat.
He wasn’t the only Bojko from Haddonfield on the leaderboard either: his dad, George, just missed a first-place tie with his 23-inch cat, which earned him the biggest fish for seniors. The Bojkos each took home a tackle box and $50 gift card from Philly Fun Fishing Fest sponsor Dick’s Sporting Goods.
John McCann, who, like the Bojkos, has attended a number of fests over the event’s 14-year history, won the award for largest fish in the adult category with the No. 3 fish overall – a 21.5-inch catfish.
In a twist, the Lafferty family – another father and son duo, Jamie and Jamie Jr. – got skunked amid the soggy conditions. Having never missed a fest, they are often among the top fish-getters and familiar faces to organizers and fellow Schuylkill veterans.
That dedication paid off, too. The Jamies each went home with gift cards and some nice Schuylkill swag: tackle kits from Flambeau Outdoors (also a sponsor!) and Dick’s.
Though the Bojko family’s three-straight September appearances at the Schuylkill Banks do not yet stack up to the Laffertys’, it’s worth noting that Alex, our 2018 champ, is hardly as old as the Philly Fun Fishing Fest itself.
East Coast Tour de Fish
Their appearance at the soaked Schuylkill Banks capped what was a spectacular summer of fishing up and down the East Coast:
The Bojkos caught black sea bass and flounder in Ocean City, Maryland and Ocean City, New Jersey; shad and stingrays were hooked at the Oceanic Fishing Pier; exploring Rhode Island’s Block Island offered sea bass, flounder, and porgy; a similar haul came via Montauk’s “phenomenal” fishing; Jennette's Pier in Nags Head, N.C., produced an assortment of small saltwater fish; 10 days on a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. pier and deep sea fishing with a headboat saw them land snappers, grunts, yellowtail and assortment of exotic species, like French Angelfish.
“In all of our travels, Alex researched what fish species we might catch and, whenever possible, created the rigs, on his own, that we needed to catch those fish,” his (quite proud) father relayed. “Was the fishing great everywhere? No, but we spent the summer together.”
Storybook Finish on the Schuylkill
That optimism and appreciation for the subtler qualities of spending time on the water were what got them out onto the Schuylkill in spite of the rain, and being rewarded with the biggest and second biggest fish of 2018 furnished their magical summer with a true story-book finish.
“From everything he learned from reading up before our trips, Alex knew that we probably weren’t going to catch perch, sunfish and other species that hunt by sight because of the fast, muddy water,” George said after the prizes were awarded. “He told me we had no choice but to switch to catfish rigs because catfish rely mostly on smell to catch prey. Clearly, he was right, and I couldn’t be prouder. It seems I’m raising a budding fishing guide.”
And it’s stories like that – stories that’ll be easier to make as our rivers get cleaner and cleaner, opening up more recreation opportunities - which bring families and friends back, year after year.
“I know it was a summer we will never forget,” said George. “This was a special way to bring it to a close.”
Thank you to all who came out, to our partners at Parks and Recreation and the Pa. Fish and Boat Commission, and to our sponsors.
Until next year, tight lines!