Anglers with long poles and smelly baits prowl the banks of southern Illinois rivers, lakes and ponds to find Mr. Whiskers. Found throughout the Mississippi River drainage, catfish are a favorite with southern Illinois anglers. The forked-tailed channel is the most commonly found, but blue and flathead catfish can also be located.

Along the shorelines of most bodies of water, catfishermen can be seen carefully watching their long poles or rods. Catfish rods vary from a cane pole to more sophisticated graphite or fiberglass rods.

Rods must be sensitive enough to detect a bite, yet stout enough to horse in those big ones. Most are 7 feet or more in length. They usually have stiff center sections with flexible tip. The attached reels must cast well; have a smooth drag, and a clicker mode.

The strong odor of catfish baits are a staple of the sport. The basic theory is to entice the catfish to seek out, mouth and then eat the bait.

Topping the strong odor category are the dip baits. These cheese based mixtures are sold commercially at local bait shops. They are often called “stink bait” for a reason. Many shops stock several different flavors and brands. Water current helps spread the news of easy meals to fish well down steam. The system is composed of a plastic “dip” worm that is submerged in the mixture until a glob is formed. The worm and mix is cast upstream of a likely catfish haunt and the odor spreads downstream with the current. Fish follow the scent back to the bait and hopefully gobble it down.

A little more pleasant to work with are the natural baits used in catfishing. Nightcrawlers, crayfish and minnows yield good catches. These baits do produce an odor that attracts catfish but it is more subtle than the dip baits.

Cut baits are often used by the catfish angler. Bait fish such as suckers, chubs, or shad are steaked and the pieces are threaded on a hook. Some anglers will fillet the bait fish and thread it on the hook.

Rigs for catfishing are uncomplicated. Regardless of the bait being used, catfish rigs come in four styles. The first is a swivel tied to the line and a 12 inch leader down to the bait. Second is a variation of that with a snap that is attached to a short leader of 6 inches or less. These are popular with dip bait anglers who like to frequently change dip bait worms.

The third rig is composed of a three way swivel tied to the main line. A six inch drop line holds a heavy lead sinker. The third part of the swivel is tied to a 12 inch leader holding the bait.

The final rig is composed of a slip float that is held in place by a bead and stop knot. The moveable stop knot allows the float to be adjusted allowing the bait to be suspended at a desired depth. The line continues to a swivel, weight and bait is held near the bottom of slow water areas.

In all of these cases the swivel is used to prevent a twisting catfish from tangling the line in an attempt to get away.

Finding good catfish water is not difficult. The most popular are the tailwaters below a dam. The astute angler fishes the grooves. As water flows over a dam the slower current areas are called grooves. A heavy weight on a three way swivel gets the bait down deep. The bait suspends as the weight sits right on the bottom.

Once the weight is reaches the bottom anglers lift the rod tip slightly. The current moves the weight down stream. Allowing the current to carry the bait and weight along a little and then bringing it back presents it to catfish holding in the grove.

Catfish like current blocks. Shore anglers look for a point of land or a large tree that has fallen into the water and is blocking current. Often fish will be found behind that current break. The water washes will out a hole that attracts catfish.

Another tactic for tailwaters is to cast upstream using enough lead to allow the bait to wash along the bottom. As the bait moves in front of a wing dam or other rock obstruction it is pulled into the eddy behind where fish hold.

Early in the day it is a good idea to fish any water where fast moving water meets still water. Catfish feed along slack water borders.

Down stream, rocks that break the current in fast moving water are good locations for finding fish. Behind them can be an eddy where fish stack up. The angler casts upstream and lets the bait wash around the rock and into the hole. Actively feeding fish are usually found on the upstream edge.

Regardless of the water being fished it is a good idea to remember that channel catfish prefer cover. They are bottom feeders that hold around rocks and stumps.

A hooked catfish it will do its best to break off the line. For that reason it is a good idea to use line exceeding 12 pound test. The heavier line helps prevent the sand paper like teeth of the catfish from weakening the line. Weak lines lead to break offs. With a high quality tough line the catfish angler can fish around rocky or stumpy underwater terrain.

Catfishing small lakes and ponds also requires moving around. Catfish cruise these small currentless bodies of water. Fish need to move as they cannot rely on the current to bring food to them.

Catfish will stay in the deepest part of the water near some structure leaving only to feed. During warm water periods they do not usually feed actively. They will move up to feed in shallow flats late in the day and during the night. In the morning they move under any existing vegetation.

Catfish remain there until the water warms and they become uncomfortable. Then it is back to the depths.



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  1. Pingback: Fishing for Trophy Channel Catfish in Virginia | River Catfishing Tips

  2. What an all ’round amazingly written piece

  3. I don’t disagree with this blog!

  4. Pingback: Fishing And Fun With JFick Pond Bass Fishing 2 | Bass Fishing Tips Today

  5. excellent information!!!

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