Throughout the Mississippi River drainage, catfish seclude themselves in root wads, submerged brush, deep holes and bayous. Ever since man arrived on the scene, the cat has been a primary source of food and sport.
Catfish are probably the most popular single species of fish for eating and catching. Almost every angler has a theory on what bait to use as well as where to find the big ones. Most towns have favorite locations for a fish fry, be it a restaurant, church social, civic function or someone’s backyard. The catfish is king.
But, what about the angler who wants to catch his own catfish? Williamson county and southern Illinois are the places for him. The large lakes of The Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and Lake of Egypt have excellent populations of catfish. It is not that people do not fish for catfish. It is just that there are just so many fish in these fertile waters.
Of the catfish species mostly anglers pursue mostly channels and flatheads. All area lakes are home to both of these species with Channel catfish readily added to many area ponds.
The channel catfish is probably the most popular with anglers. Channels seek faster flowing and cleaner water with sand, gravel or rock bottoms.
Catfish anglers are usually the most laid back of fishermen. They tend to prefer a leisurely time. Their rigs are simple with a weight and hook on a line that cast into the probable location of some fish. The rod is propped on a forked stick sunk into the bank. There are other variations used from boats and shore. But the basic is the same. Bait used for catfish can be alive or dead and can range from minnows to leeches, crayfish, catalpa worms, leaf worms, red worms, frogs and cut bait.
More sophisticated catfish anglers have other patterns to fish. One of these, popular on small rivers and streams during the summer, an angler wades and fish live bait. This involves fishing live bait below a slip bobber and allowing it to drift downstream over the larger holes, washouts, undercut banks and beneath brush piles or 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 way. The bait is set so that it floats just a few inches off the bottom much the same as any other food source. Popular baits for this kind of fishing are grasshoppers, night crawlers and crayfish.
During periods of overcast or drizzle, catfish cruise flats in search of food much as they would at night. At this time one can employ a three-way rig. You attach the line going to the rod to one of the swivels. The second goes to a drop line of about 8-inches that has a heavy sinker on it. The third swivel attaches to a line of about 3-foot length with a hook at the end. The float keeps the live bait, either minnow or leech, in a natural presentation.
Going back to the more leisurely approach to catfishing, one need only take a look at jug fishing and trot lining. Jug fishing is best in water with slow or no current with little or no snags under the surface. Bait suspends below a plastic milk jug and allowed to float free. A large number of jugs are usually used. The angler sits back to wait for a jug to take off in a direction that is different from the rest.
Trot lines on the other hand are a line with a series of baited hooks tied in at intervals along its length. The snells are at varying lengths and baited with cut bait. Varying lengths of snells cover the water at all levels from the bottom to the surface with baited hooks. Anglers usually tie the line along the shoreline for easy access. Sometimes they will go from shore to midstream. Usually left overnight, or for several hours, then the angler retrieves the line and removes the fish.
Catfish are a marvelous fish for both sport and eating. They can be as finicky as any game fish and yet do not require a lot of expensive tackle or boats to pursue. Catfish are king anywhere they are found.