Buzzing mosquitoes are deafening in still morning air. A river flows along slowly to some unknown destination. Watching a float disappear beneath its surface jolts a fisherman back to the present.
In the many years I wrote for the now defunct Dakota Outdoors Magazine, I traveled extensively in South Dakota and enjoyed myself immensely. Had it not been for the brutal winters, I might have settled there. It was not just the deer, pheasant and other hunting that attracted me, but also the fishing.
On this trip it was not just any fish that took that float under, it was a channel catfish. The forked-tailed channel and his sluggish flathead cousin are the most frequently encountered fish in South Dakota. But, mostly one hears of the walleye, panfish and smallmouth. Maybe they are just prettier.
Fishermen with long poles and smelly baits prowl the banks of the rivers though out the state. Mostly they concentrate on the large rivers systems like the Red River in the north and the Missouri to the south. However, there are some big fish to be found in the smaller waterways.
Large catfish move from larger rivers into the feeder waters to spawn. Many find areas to their liking and remain as king of the waterway. The competition for forage is not great and they tend to grow old and fat in these smaller waters.
Channel catfish will seek out areas where fast water turns into slow flowing water. Cats like current breaks. Shore anglers look for a point of land or a large tree that has fallen into the water and blocks the current. Often the flowing water will wash out a hole and the big cats move into it.
Cats take up residence on the down stream side of the hole and move up to the edge on the upstream side to feed. Then they return to the slack water to rest in peace. The angler who casts to the upstream areas from these holes can allow their bait to float into the fish’s feeding area.
Early in the day, it s a good idea to fish any water were fast moving current meets slower current. Catfish feed along slack water borders.
Downstream, rocks that break the speed of the water current are good locations for finding fish. An eddy forms behind them and fish stack up waiting for food to be washed to them. By casting upstream of these areas, anglers can allow their bait to float right to the waiting fish. As with the holes, the fish feed on the upstream side and rest downstream.
Regardless of the water, it is a good idea to remember that catfish prefer cover. They feed near the bottom and around rocks and stumps. Often they will stay in the deep water near structure except when feeding. During warm water periods they move up to feed in shallow flats late in the day and during the night. In the morning they move under any existing vegetation such as weed cover or submerged logs. Once the water warms to the point they are uncomfortable, they will return to the deeper water.
Tackle for catfishing is simple. It usually involves along pole or rod. It can vary from a simple cane pole to the more sophisticated graphite or fiberglass rod. The rod must be sensitive enough to detect a bite, yet stout enough to horse in the big ones. Most are 7 feet or more in length. Ideally it will have a stiff center section and flexible tip.
The reel must cast well; have a smooth drag and preferably a clicker mode.
Nightcrawlers, crayfish and minnows make good baits. For those who do not mind a mess, cheese baits and cut pieces of bait fish are effective. Sucker, shad and chubs are good bait fish.
Rigs for catfish fishing are uncomplicated regardless of the bait used. There are four basic styles. The first is a swivel tied to the line and a 12-inch leader down to the bait. The second rig is a variation of that with a snap that is attached to a short leader of 6-inhes or less. These two rigs are popular with dip bait anglers as they permit the quick change of dip bait worms.
The third rig is a three-way swivel tied to the main line. A 6-inch drop line holds a heavy lead sinker. The third part of the swivel is tied to a 12-inch leader holding the bait.
A fourth rig involves a slip float that is held in place by a bead and stop knot. The movable stop allows for the adjustment of the float to control the depth at which the bait is presented. The line continues to a swivel, weight and bait that are held near the bottom in slow water areas.
In all of these cases the swivel is used to prevent a twisting catfish from tangling the line as it attempts to get off the hook. Speaking of hooks, Kale and circle hooks seem the best bet as they aid the fish in hooking himself as he grabs the bait.
Summertime is catfish time and Dakota anglers enjoy a banquet of fishing opportunities. Catfish are not to be neglected.