Catch Cats Now!
October 05, 2010
Has Oklahoma's typically hot August weather got you down? Well, there's no need to quit fishing for catfish when you catch them the way these experts do.
By Bryan Hendricks
On a blistering August afternoon on the Verdigris River, Alan McGuckin was demonstrating how to catch largemouth bass in the searing summer heat. We were in a backwater near Newt Graham Lock and Dam, and McGuckin was pitching a tube jig to the bases of various stickups.
On one cast, his tube had barely sunk beneath the surface when the line began to slice toward open water. With a mighty grunt, McGuckin set the hook on a fish that surged away with surprising speed and strength.
"It ain't a bass," he said as the fish stripped line from McGuckin's bait-caster. After a spirited battle, McGuckin reached down and hoisted up a 7-pound blue cat.
Now, I won't go so far as to recommend using tube baits for catching catfish, but this little story does prove that, in Oklahoma at least, catfish will bite almost anything and you can catch them without even trying.
If you're actually targeting catfish, there are more dependable methods, such as those used by these experts.
Grand Lake is one of the Sooner State's best catfish waters. It supports excellent numbers of both blue and channel cats - and flatheads, too. While other game fish go on vacation in late summer, catfish don't seem to be bothered by hot, still water and low levels of oxygen.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
To the contrary, they thrive in these conditions, as does Jeff Williams of Grand Guide Service. While bass guides are struggling to find fish this month, Williams is catching fish all over this 60,000-acre impoundment of the Grand River.
In August, all three species of catfish are in their post-spawn patterns, Williams said. At that time, they move shallow to take advantage of whatever current is moving through the river. Some of the best areas are above the Spring and Neosho rivers at Twin Bridges State Park.
"In August, they move into shallow flats, and you can catch them really good in water that's less than 10 feet deep, especially if you get in an area where the wind is pushing you," Williams said. "You can anchor on those flats and catch these fish on the windy sides of windblown points."
If you want to catch a lot of cats for a good fish fry, then channel cats can fill that bill in August. The best thing about them, Williams said, is that they are easy to catch. You can find them virtually anywhere, and you can catch them with virtually anything.
"They're not picky," he explained. "Channels like stinkbait, but they also like live bait. People catch them on hotdogs and worms. They'll eat just about anything."
The best time to catch a mess of channels, he added, is just before sunset or just before sunrise. If you're in the right place at the right time, it's fairly easy to catch a limit of 15 fish weighing between 2 and 6 pounds, with an occasional bigger fish.
"It doesn't matter if it's cloudy or sunny - the bait goes where the wind is creating some current," Williams said. "Also, that wind creates a little chop on the surface, and that makes fish feel more secure to move into shallower water. When the surface is slick, fish move away from the boat."
If you're after big fish, you'll want to step up to blue cats. It's nothing to catch them in the 30-pound range on Grand, but there's always a chance of catching them even bigger.
"To catch blues in August during the day, I drift in water between 20 and 35 feet deep," Williams said. "It doesn't matter what time of day or what kind of day. If I can find schools of shad, blues will be somewhere around close.
"If I can ever get in 30 to 40 feet of water and get close to a school of white bass tearing up the surface, blues will be down below feeding on whatever the white bass don't pick up," he added.
Williams prefers to concentrate on main-lake humps for catching daytime blues. An optimal situation would be a hump in 40 feet of water that tops off at about 25 feet. Those are common in Oklahoma lakes, and when he finds one, Williams anchors over the hump and puts out either live shad or cut bait. If blues are feeding on the hump, you'll know it quickly.
"It's not a sit-and-wait," Williams said. "It's a 20-minute deal, and if it ain't happening, you move to the next spot. If they're there, they'll find you. It's possible to catch blues up to 25 pounds doing that, but the average fish is about 10 pounds."
For the really big ones, you might try fish at night, Williams said.
"I like to fish with big live shad or medium-sized perch or sunfish and find a ledge that's parallel with the old river channel," he explained. "I'll anchor on the ledge, pitch out the live bait and wait for big blues to move out of deep water and onto the ledge to feed. You seldom have to wait more than 30 minutes. The biggest I ever caught doing that was 47 pounds."
Unlike blues and channels, which are open-water predators, flatheads like to hide in thick wood or rock cover, preferably in heavily stained water. It's gritty fishing, but it's well worth the effort.
"For them, I like to go into the rivers and fish laydowns, old logs, logjams and brushpiles that have been pushed in by floods," Williams said. "I like to get up where there's a little bit of current. I'll anchor the front of my boat with a grab anchor and let the back of the boat swing around. I have a rod rack on back of my jet boat so I can fish six rods off the back of the boat where it hangs straight in the current.
"I like to use live shad, 6 to 8 inches long on flatheads, or medium-sized sunfish or creek chubs," he added. "I'll throw four rods as close as I can to a laydown or some other piece of structure. I throw it right into that structure. A lot of times, I take one or two rods. If my locator shows 6 feet, I'll float a live perch or shad under a balloon behind the boat halfway between the boat and the structure for any flatheads cruising away from that structure."
Regardless of the cat you're after, you can find these types of habitat in almost any Oklahoma lake or river. When you do, these methods will work anywhere.
Even though Grand has a lot of big catfish, the supply is finite. For that reason, Williams encourages releasing any fish larger than 10 pounds.
On our sou
thern border, Lake Texoma is famous for all kinds of fishing, including catfish. It has turned out some huge blues over the years, but it's also a great place in which to catch a lot of channel cats.
As they are anywhere, channels are easy to find at Texoma, but Charlie Coder stacks the deck. He has several special holes between 25 and 32 feet deep that he baits with sour wheat and sour corn. He does this every trip, and it brings in the cats the way a can opener does with the kitties at home.
"For bait, I use something called punch bait," Coder said. "An elderly man in Oklahoma makes it. I don't know what he puts in it, and I don't care. It's got cattails in it - I know that much. All I know is it catches the fire out of those catfish."
Coder uses a No. 4 or No. 3 three-way hook. With a stick, he pokes the hook down into the bait and then pulls it out sideways.
"I let it down with a 3/8-ounce weight on a 13- to 14-inch fluorocarbon leader," he said. "I let it down to the bottom, then reel it up to where the bait is seven to eight inches off the bottom. If you feel any resistance, set the hook."
If a fish doesn't bite on the rise, Coder lets the bait down and then raises it again. Bites are usually very light and subtle. Coder says it's quite an art to master this style of fishing.
He also says women are better at it then men because "they'll listen to you when you tell 'em how to do it."
"The weather doesn't matter," he continued. "I've caught them out there when it was 110 degrees. After they spawn, they bunch up, and they'll be there when you get rigged up after you throw that sour chum in. I like those channel cats. They're some mighty fine eating!"
FOR YOUR INFORMATION To book a trip with Jeff Williams, call 866-HOOKSET.
To book a trip with Charlie Coder, call (903) 463-5035.
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