http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/news/local/article/FISH18_20090817-220008/286668/ By Rex Springston Published: August 18, 2009 MORE James River Journal - See the river and its wildlife from the shore, from a boat, and from an underwater camera. REPORT POACHERS If you see someone fishing illegally, call the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries at (800) 237-5712 When the James River gets low this time of year, big catfish get caught in isolated pools, where waders and snorkelers like to watch them. In recent weeks, however, this river version of fish in a barrel has drawn people who illegally catch them with spear guns, homemade spears, nets and gear resembling small grappling hooks, witnesses say. "I imagine this is how the whalers treated the Galapagos Islands," said Ralph White, manager of Richmond's James River Park. The big catfish are almost tame, White said. You can walk up to them, and some will let you touch them briefly. Chris Hull, a Henrico County engineer, led a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter and photographer last month to Catfish Alley, a roughly 3-foot-deep pool near Shockoe Slip containing about two dozen catfish the size of fire hydrants. Hull said he returned to the pool Saturday and could find just three fish alive. Someone had sliced meat from about 10 and left their stinking remains beside the water. "There are an awful lot of catfish in that river, but I still don't think this is right," Hull said. "It's a unique experience to swim around with big catfish." Greg Velzy, a river aficionado from Chesterfield County, said he recently saw two men at Catfish Alley casting with gear resembling fist-sized grappling hooks. Another time he saw men herding the fish into nets. Yet another time, he saw several men headed to Catfish Alley with spears made from sharpened bamboo. "There are huge carcasses all through the area now," Velzy said. Jarred VandeMark, an account executive with an online job-posting company, said he was snorkeling near Pony Pasture Rapids in South Richmond about two weeks ago when he found a metal, arrowhead-shaped spear-gun tip in the river near a deep hole that big catfish frequent. "I could not believe that people were actually using spear guns to kill these catfish," VandeMark said. "If this gets out of hand, it will be a disaster for the catfish population in these holes." Col. Dabney Watts, law-enforcement chief for the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said spearing catfish, snagging them with hooks or leaving their carcasses behind are illegal. Punishments can reach as high as six months in jail and a $1,250 fine for the spearing and snagging, Watts said. Netting, depending on the type of net, also can be illegal. Illegal fishing appears to be growing across Virginia, but Watts said he's not sure why. "Some people doing it may not even be aware it is illegal until we run across them." Contact Rex Springston at (804) 649-6453 or I certainly hope the DGIF folks put a stop to this.