Most Midwestern and southeastern anglers begin their fishing careers by catching one of the catfish species from the lowly bullhead to the larger flathead, channel or blue cats. It is truly America’s fish. Catfish inhabit large rivers, impoundments, creeks, salt water or fresh. They are everywhere!
I began with bullheads in a creek near my home in northern Iowa. It has become a life long love affair with the whiskered wonders.
Channel catfish are probably the most popular single species of fish for eating and catching. Almost every angler with whom one speaks has a theory on how to fix catfish bait and where to find the big ones.
Catfish anglers are probably the most laid back and comfortable anglers. They tend to like a leisurely time. The rigs are simple with a weight and hook on a line cast into the probable location.
A long slender fish, the channel catfish is a pale blue or greenish above and whitish or silver below. Although similar in size and shape to other catfish, the forked tail and black spots on the side identifies the channel cat. Popular with aqua culturists, they are very suitable for fish farming operations.
Channel catfish reach a keeper size of 12 to 14 inches by their third or fourth years. This age class is generally the best eating fish. The largest fish reach at length of 40 inches and a weight of 30 pounds. Larger ones do exist but they are rare and usually constitute record class.
Channel catfish tend to seek out clean water with sand, gravel or rock bottom. A nocturnal feeder, channel catfish spend most of the year hidden in cavities or lying in deeper pools during the day. They move to shallower water to feed during the nighttime.
The external taste buds of the catfish are located in the four pairs of barbels or whiskers of the animal. These bottom-feeding senses of taste and touch are more important than its sight. While moving across the bottom, they feed on fish, insects, crawfish, mollusks and some plant material.
Cast the line, and then prop the rod up on a forked stick sunk into the bank. Other variations on this theme work from boats or on shore. The basic technique is common to all fishing for channel catfish.
Bait used for catfish is either live or dead and can range from minnows to leeches, crayfish, catalpa worms, leaf worms, red worms, frogs and cut bait. Some people will use chicken or turkey livers.
For the most sophisticated catfish angler there are patterns to fish. One of these is especially popular on small rivers and streams during summer.
Ground pounders wade and fishes live bait. The pattern involves fishing the bait below a slip float and allowing it to drift downstream over the larger holes, washouts, undercut banks, beneath brush piles and other dark hideouts.
The idea is to present a natural presentation of the bait by allowing the current to drift the bait in a natural manner. The bait is set so that it floats just a few inches off the bottom. Good baits for this kind of fishing include minnows, grasshoppers, crayfish and nightcrawlers. These are natural forage for the catfish usually swept away into the current during rain or flooding.
During periods of overcast or drizzle, channel cats cruise the flats in search of food much as they do at night. Fishing in such conditions calls for a 3-way rig. One of the swivels attaches to the line that goes to the rod. The second swivel attaches to a drop line of about 8 inches that has a heavy sinker on it. The third swivel goes to a line of about three-feet in length and has a hook on the end. The bait on the hook floats off the bottom and present either a minnow or leech in a natural looking presentation.
Cast upstream, allowing the bait to wash along the bottom and fall off the edge into any holes. Catfish will often be waiting in ambush.
Another pattern for the ground pounder is looking for a point of land or a large tree that has fallen into the water and is blocking current. Often fish are in the eddy hole behind the current break.
It is a good idea to remember that catfish love cover. They will hold around rocks and stumps in rough areas. Once one sets the hook, the fish will do his best to break the line. It is a good idea to use a tough line of at least 12-pound test and the same color as the water. If seeking larger fish, try one of the braided lines with more strength.
Tough line helps prevent the sandpaper-like teeth of the catfish from wearing or weakening the line. That can cause a beak at the most inopportune time. A high quality tough line will allow the angler to fish around rocky, stumpy underwater terrain.
Catfishing is a great way to spend the day or to introduce someone new to the sport. It provides action and good chance of success with a great dinner in the evening. With some of these tips, anglers can fish more rivers and streams closer to home. It will increase quality time on the water for young and old.