The sport of fishing for catfish can certainly be high-tech if one desires it that way. However, in its simplest form, catfishing can be whittled down to a very basic equation. Add a rod, reel, line, bobber, hook, worm, and farm pond together and the sum equals a happy face. Yes, it really can be just that simple.
Catfishing is great for seasoned anglers and the novice alike. While catching true trophies on a consistent basis requires just as much skill as any other serious fishing endeavor, catfishing for fun can be done by most anyone, making it a great choice for newbies and youths. Bait fishing for catfish has the simplicity of fishing for bluegills, but with the added excitement of catching bigger fish. Plus, few people can resist a plate of fried catfish and hush puppies at the end of the day.
Regardless whether fishing just for fun or pursuing catfish that make the reel screech, right now is a perfect time to be after them. Unlike some species of fish that seem to disappear in the hot months of the year, catfish are usually cooperative all summer long. The western end of our state is home to some excellent catfish waters and there is no better time to visit them than right now. But before hitting the road to head west, make sure to load the right gear to do the job.
Kentucky anglers pursue three main types of catfish and all three are in abundance in the western end of our state. Although similar and sometimes found in the same waters, these species have individual traits and targeting each species is a little different. Here’s a quick primer on each.
Channel catfish are the most numerous and most widespread of all our catfish species. They are found all across the state in a wide variety of waters. They are also the easiest to catch as they bite most anything that has good smell. Live bait such as night crawlers and crawfish work, but other anglers prefer chicken liver, shad guts, shrimp, or dip baits. Homemade dough balls and cheese balls work too.
Look for channel cats to be near structure in larger lakes and rivers. Woody debris is a great location, but they also hold near chunk rock, in holes on the bottom, or hang out around the mouths of feeder creeks. In large rivers and reservoirs, they can be caught by fishing on bottom with Carolina rigs, by drift fishing, or by simply anchoring and fishing down rods over good structure. In farm ponds and other small waters, anglers often employ bottom fishing or sometimes with the bait suspended under a bobber.
Blue catfish are the kings of the catfish world and reach very impressive sizes. With today’s tackle and technology, fish caught in excess of 100 pounds is happening more frequently. To target bigger blue cats, anglers need to come prepared with heavy gear and heavier line.
Big rivers have traditionally been the spot at which to seek blue cats, but they are also being stocked in some of our lakes as well. Blue cats are not as solitary as some of the other catfish and often are found in schools. They also are known to suspend and cruise around feeding on pods of baitfish. Therefore they can’t simply be targeted all the time by just chunking a bait to the bottom and waiting for the rod to bend.
Blues bite on a lot of the same baits as channel cats, but they are more prone to be caught on cut bait. Cut shad works great in most lakes and river situations. Many river anglers like to catch skipjack herring and then use them as cut bait. Avid catfish anglers often spend many hours catching a large quantity of skipjacks and they then store them in a freezer for future use.
The loners of the catfish world are the flatheads. These fish hold on the bottom next to a piece of structure for many hours before moving to feed, often at night. When they do move, they are going to feed and they do so voraciously. In lakes they often move to coves or cruise up on top of expansive flats looking for roaming baitfish. They leave their deeper darker haunts in rivers and move to areas holding an ample amount of prey.
Stink baits aren’t going to score a lot of flatheads. These fish are true predators and the bulk of their diet consists of live fish. Try using whole live shad, minnows, bluegills, or green sunfish. Flatheads can also reach tackle-busting size like the blues, so come prepared with heavy gear to do battle with these brutes.
With thoughts of huge catfish making the drags on our reels cry for help, it’s time to pick a place to go. Here are six options in the western end of the state at which to challenge the whiskerfish of choice.
This lake is found in Union County within the Higginson-Henry Wildlife Management Area. It is accessed from State Route 56 about 6 miles east of Morganfield. Mauzy Lake totals approximately 81 acres.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources stocks this lake regularly with channel catfish, so the fishery stays in great shape. The fishery is rated good to excellent in the 2012 KDFWR Fishing Forecast and it states that there are plenty of fish in the 15- to 22-inch range. Most of the fish caught are good eating size or fiddler size as they are often referred to here in Kentucky.
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