You don’t need a boat to enjoy great catfishing. There’s plenty of action to be had from the bank.
Catfish anglers fish from boats significantly less than crappie, bass and walleye anglers. In some areas, 70 percent or more of whiskerfish fans pursue their quarry primarily from shore. If you’re among that majority, the following tips and tactics may help increase your catch.
SETTING UP ON SHORE
Select bank fishing sites near prime catfish holding areas – perhaps a shore clearing near a river’s outside bend, a spot beside a pond levee or a gravel bar adjacent to a deep hole in a small stream. The best sites have flat, brush-free banks for easy casting.
If catching numbers of cats is your goal, it may be best to “leap frog” from one fishing spot to another. Allow 15 to 30 minutes at each place, and if a bite isn’t forthcoming, reel your bait in and try another locale. If hungry cats are nearby, it shouldn’t take them long to find and take your offering.
A good rig for this type of fishing is the simple egg-sinker rig. This consists of an egg sinker sliding on the main line. The main line is tied to a leader consisting of a swivel, line and hook. Or you can tie the main line directly to the hook and use a split shot (instead of the swivel) as your sinker stop. If a proper-size sinker is used, the bait rests on bottom, and a cat picking it up feels no tension. This is an excellent rig for fishing in still waters like ponds and oxbow lakes.
When bank fishing on a river, you can fish different locales simply by drifting your bait beneath a bobber. This allows the bait to move naturally downstream, responding to current, flowing through rapids and settling enticingly in holes. Bobber rigs also provide the best way to thoroughly work the eddies of swirling water behind fallen trees, boulders and other current breaks.
Many bobbers are clipped or pegged in place on the line, but this type of rigging is cumbersome to cast. A sliding-bobber rig works better because the bobber slides freely on the line, allowing you to reel all your terminal tackle up close to the rod tip for easier casting. The bobber style is determined by current and bait size. In heavy current, or when medium or large baits are used, use a larger, rounder, more buoyant bobber. In low or moderate flow, or when small baits are used, a smaller cigar-shaped bobber is okay.
Position the bobber stop so your bait will hang a foot or two above, not on, the stream bottom. Add just enough weight to hold the bait down, then allow the rig to drift naturally in the current, guiding it alongside catfish cover and structure. With a little practice and a long rod to keep your line up off the water, you can become quite adept at steering the rig past holding areas with little worry about hang-ups.
Keep a tight line at all times. If the line is slack, it will bow downstream ahead of the bait. This leaves you in a bad position for setting the hook when a catfish hits. Snatching all the slack line out of the water leaves no force in the rod’s swing to drive the hook home.
Release line as the bait moves downstream. If the rig hangs up, your bobber will tip over or stop. Lift it a bit to get the bait moving again. Then tease the rig around boulders, ease it alongside fallen trees and work it through holes below rapids. Drift by one side of a hole, then down the other and finally right down the middle. If nothing happens after you’ve worked an area thoroughly, move your bobber stop up and drift through deeper. Or move downstream to another spot and try again. If possible, shift sides of the river every now and then to present baits in every likely spot as you move.
Of course, there are occasions when you might want to sit for hours on end while waiting for a bite. After all, half the fun of catfishing is the camaraderie it allows. You and your buddy build a nice campfire on shore, and then you kick back in your lawn chairs and have a few cool ones while you shoot the breeze.
This “sit and fish” tactic may be your best bet if catching trophy-class cats is your objective. Cast to the best-looking spot you can reach, place your fishing combo in a rod holder, put the reel in free-spool, flip on your bait clicker and relax until the action starts. This technique may not produce lots of catfish, but it’s excellent when targeting roaming heavyweights.
ROD HOLDERS FOR ALL OCCASIONS AND SITUATIONS
Rod holders are often used for this type of fishing. You can buy them or make your own. If you’re the do-it-yourself type, you can make an inexpensive version from a 4-foot section of 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 1/8-inch angle iron, a 12-inch piece of PVC pipe (1 1/2″ diameter) and two 2-inch radiator hose clamps. Bevel one end of the angle iron so it can be easily pushed into the soil. Attach the PVC pipe to the other end with the hose clamps, and you’re done.
My favorite manufactured bank fishing model is the innovative Rock-It Pole Holder from M and N Distributing. Its solid two-piece construction (a bottom spike and upper rod holder that push together) makes it small enough to store in a big tackle box. The metal spike fits many boat bracket mounts or can be pushed into the soil. The most fascinating feature, however, is the light-and-sound bite detector. When a cat tugs your line, a small battery-powered device inside beeps and glows. The sensitivity is adjustable.
Fishing from a concrete riverside walkway? No problem. The Bucket Mount Rod Holder balances two fishing rods on a five-gallon bucket you fill with water or rocks for support. The holders’ angle can be changed to fit your needs. It works great on any flat surface.
Good holders to use when bank fishing for smaller cats include the Combination Rod & Bait Holder, which mounts to a lawn chair and has a built-in holder for your worm box or liver tub; and Doug-jo’s Catfish Killer is a no-frills, metal spike rod holder that’s solid, inexpensive and made to last a lifetime.
BANK FISHING HOTSPOTS
A good place to test your new rod holder is the tailwater beneath a big river dam. These sites rank among the best bank fishing areas. State and federal agencies often provide riverside walkways to accommodate anglers. Catfish concentrate here in huge numbers, especially during upstream runs in spring.
Ten- to 14-foot fiberglass rods allow the long casts necessary to reach prime fishing areas. Use a simple bell-sinker rig – a 2- to 4-ounce bell sinker allowed to slide freely on your line above an 8/0 circle or octopus hook. Try shad chunks for bait. Cast toward the dam into a groove of slackened water between open gates. Let the rig sink and remain in one spot for 15 minutes. If no bites follow, raise your rod tip high to lift the weight, let the current wash it downstream a few feet, then let the weight down again, and repeat. This allows you to cover lots of bottom from a single bank fishing spot.
Fishing piers also offer excellent bank fishing prospects. Look for buoys around the pier marking man-made fish shelters where catfish are likely to hold. If there are no buoys, cast a small inexpensive jig a few times to determine where shelters might be. Fish attractors are usually the best fishing spots, but also fish around nearby stumps, trees and other cover. The egg-sinker rig and sliding-bobber rig both work here.
No matter where you bank fish, don’t drop your guard when landing a big cat, even if the fish appears subdued. A long-handled net is best for landing large fish, but beaching the fish may be necessary. If you anticipate this possibility, use heavy line, keep your drag properly set and pull the fish up on shore as far as possible before attempting its capture.
Carry some chairs, drinks and friends on your bank fishing forays. Build a campfire, kick back and chew the fat. The camaraderie and relaxation are what make this form of fishing so much fun. Catching cats is just a bonus.