Increase your catch rate and lengthen your string with these tips for catching more channel, blue and flathead catfish.
By Keith Sutton
Catfishing is extremely varied. We fish night and day year ’round. We target huge fish and little ones, too. We fish from boats and from shore, using natural and artificial baits on everything from ultralight combos to heavy-action baitcasting rigs.
Nevertheless, today’s catfish anglers fall within two basic categories: those targeting smaller catfish to eat and those targeting big catfish for sport.
No matter which category you’re in, learn all you can about your quarry. At times, catfish are obliging and easy to catch. But when they’re not, your knowledge of their behaviors, habitat preferences and fishing strategies can mean the difference between going home disappointed or elated.
Only seven of the world’s thousands of catfish species are targeted by U.S. anglers, but what we lack in quantity, we make up in quality. Our “big three” — channel, blue and flathead catfish — rank among the world’s largest. The following “power tactics” can help you successfully target each species this season.
To catch jumbo channel cats, live frog baits (bullfrogs and leopard frogs work great) are unexcelled if you can obtain them. Run your hook through one of the frog’s forelegs. Hooking it here instead of the nose or thigh keeps the bait swimming freely, making it much more enticing. Generally, you can use a 4/0 to 6/0 wide-gap red octopus hook with a No. 5 split shot pinched on the line 12 inches above the hook.
Want blues? Big rivers provide ideal habitat, and on navigable rivers, eddies at the ends of the long, narrow rock walls, like wing dams, or wing dikes are top targets.
Eddies are the prime feeding sites along wing dams, they tend to harbor bigger, more dominant catfish. Anchor well back from the eddy, then cast a rig baited with shad or herring cutbait to the whirlpool’s edge. It would seem that the bait would swirl.
Flatheads usually are enticed with live fish baits, but today’s anglers have learned these brutes also are suckers for shad-imitation crankbaits trolled along riprap rocks. If local regs allow, troll with four rods, each rigged with a different-colored crankbait until you find what they want.
FIND THE SWEET SPOTS
Channel cats, for example, love the deepest holes in ponds. The only time they’re not there is during the dog days of summer when the water stratifies and loses oxygen at depths.
Fresh chicken liver is an ideal enticement. Place a 1/2-ounce egg sinker on your main line and tie a barrel swivel at the line’s end. Tie a 2-foot-long leader to the swivel’s other eye. To the end of that, tie a snap swivel. Run the eye of a 3/0 treble hook through a piece of liver and snap it on.
A 7- to 8-foot medium-action spinning combo spooled with 8- to 10-pound-test mono works great for lob-casting the liver.
Sweet spots for trophy blue cats include the grooves of slower-moving water between open gates on big-river dams. When water is released, the fastest flow is in the center of the discharge and the slowest water is on the outer edges. All surface water appears to move at the same speed, but the area of water between two discharges — the groove — is actually slower-moving water where blue cats usually hold. Chunks of cutbait are perfect enticements. Slice a shad, herring or sucker into 1-inch cubes. Push the hook once through the bait, leaving the point exposed. Then cast toward the dam and into a groove, letting the rig sink.
Flatheads are solitary cover-lovers. You’ll rarely catch more than one good fish in a single spot, but if you can thoroughly fish multiple spots with dense tangles of woody cover, you can expect multiple hook-ups.
Among the best spots are outside bends in rivers where the eroding action of current has toppled trees into the water. These can be hard to fish without hang-ups, but if you impale a live sunfish, chub or other baitfish on a sturdy hook and drift it near the cover beneath a big float, you can control the position of the rig to tempt hungry flatties with fewer snags.
Work the bait in every nook you can reach, but focus on the upstream side of cover. Flatheads face upstream on the upper side to ambush prey brought near by the current.