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Imagine an angler picking his way through brush and a rock strewn stream to cast a fly over the water in early morning light.  What species would you think he was pursuing?  Trout comes to mind, as do bass and panfish.  Catfish?  No way, right?  Well an increasing number of anglers are turning to fly rods and even small nymph like flys to catch channel and flathead catfish.

Catfish are available in almost any waterway in the Midwest.  Once released into ponds and lakes they readily reproduce if the fishing pressure is not too great.  In captivity they readily reproduce for stocking in highly pressured park and forest preserve ponds.

Flathead lurk in deep holes and channel catfish like the drop offs where a riffle meets a pool with a sharp drop in water depth.  In the evening, they move up to shallow eddies and flats to feed, making them vulnerable to the angler with a fly rod.

Catfish tend to feed more by smell than by sight.  That is one reason so many anglers seek them with the use of a collection of awful smelling cheese base baits.  But, they also will take fresh and live bait or the imitation of same.  Some of their favorite foods are nightcrawler, shrimp, crayfish and chicken livers cut up forage fish.

Getting back to fly rodding, the use of fly tackle to take species other than trout has increased dramatically in the past decade.  Anglers like to fish for cats in the early hours when they are up feeding in the shallows.  Lower areas of rivers just before entering larger rivers are good location for finding biting fish.  It is an early morning bite that does not last for a long time.  Anglers can try it for a while before moving on to other pursuits.  Use a long stiff fly rod and a nymph or crayfish imitation.

For those interested in trying catfish on a fly rod the following tackle is a starting point a long, rather stiff, rod with a weight forward line to match.  Something with a sinking tip might be good.  For use with more bulky flies, one might choose a Bass Taper Weight Forward line.  A good tackle shop with a fly fishing department can be a great help in choosing this equipment.

The tippet could be some monofilament of about 5 pound test in a length of 3 to 4 feet as opposed to the lighter tippets preferred by trout anglers.  If seeing the line is a problem, the tippet could be made of a colored monofilament.  Fly fishermen sometimes use a float indicator to help identify a light bite. One could also use one of the ultra-light floats like those sold by Thill Floats.

You can purchase extra spools for your fly rod.  Buy extra spools to hold different lines so that you can change line in response to the lure used during changing conditions.

Because this is a relatively new field of fly fishing, the specific choice of flys is up to the angler.  In general, anything that imitates a:  crayfish, leech, or crawler is OK.  Catfish tend to eat almost anything that lives on the bottom of a river or lake.  In rivers with good hellgrammite populations, such an imitation might be a good idea.  In catfishing, matching the hatch means matching what swims or crawls on the bottom.  Enhance lures with some of the commercial scents on the market.  There are crayfish, leech and crawler scents available.  One can even dip the lure in one of the prepared cheese baits.

For those who are not fly rod purists you can drift small spinners with live bait through catfish holes.  A spinning rig is not much to look at, but it does the job.  Here is a word of caution.  If you are going after big cats with light spinning rigs learn to back reel to release the pressure on the line.

You can fly fish for catfish on almost any river, lake, creek or impoundment in the Mississippi drainage.  If wadding, always do so with great care as holes in the bottom can cause serious problems for the unsuspecting anger to steps into them.



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