By Richard Hines
It wasn't that long ago when all anglers needed for catfishing was a package of chicken livers or some doughballs, with a rod and reel set up strong enough to pull fish to the bank or boat.
Catfish anglers have come a long way since then, with specialized catfish rods, along with a wide assortment of manufactured catfish baits. All of this makes it easier to latch onto whisker fish.
Catfish are taking front stage in the fishing world and there is little doubt catfish have been a staple of Kentucky anglers for many years. Regardless whether fishing the mighty Mississippi in the west or Greenbo Lake in the east, the Bluegrass State has countless locations where anglers can pursue catfish, both big bragging size monsters those just the right for the fryer.
One favorite in the state is Green River. The Green flows through a large segment in the state starting as a mere trickle in Lincoln County until it meets the Ohio River in Henderson County. There is little doubt the Green remains a favorite for Commonwealth catfish anglers.
Generally, the biggest water produces the biggest catfish, so for blues consider starting at the mouth just above the Ohio River.
"Like any river, bends are the go to spots for catfish and there are local guys routinely catching nice cats in pools above Lock No. 1 at Spotsville and Lock No. 2 at Calhoun," said Rob Rold, Northwest District fisheries biologist.
Rold suggests fishing below either of these dams. Anglers will find limited shoreline access on the opposite bank from the navigation locks. There are boat ramps at each lock providing access both above and below the dams. The Corps of Engineers routinely lock or raise and lower small fishing boats through locks each day. Currently Locks 1 and 2 are the only operational locks on Green River.
When fishing below either of these dams, consider using cutbait from shad, skipjack or some type of oily fish. Commercial baits are also good. When fishing below the dams take along larger gear, and because flows vary daily plan on keeping a selection of weights from 1-ounce to 4-ounce to compensate for the flows.
Click the video link above to get great catfishing tips for your future trip.
Eric Cummins, Southwestern District fisheries biologist indicates that the entire pool from Lock 3 at Rochester to the site of Lock 4 at Woodbury is good for flatheads and channel cats.
"What I have seen over the years that most of this area is fished by trotlining, especially above Woodbury, and noodling is a popular method along this stretch of the Green," Cummins said. "We find good densities of channel catfish all along this section in our normal sampling and population surveys."
When catfish are seen on these surveys that's good news for the overall cat population. According to Cummins, there are some blue cats on the pool above Lock 5, but there seems to be more below the Rochester Dam. In fact, this pool contains all three main species — channel, flathead and blue. Above Lock 5, channel catfish are the most numerous.
Two anglers from Park City, Craig and Jason Martin spend a great deal of time along the Green River from Pool 5 all the way up to Munfordville, using mainly catalpa worms and nightcrawlers. Like most anglers, the Martins fish the bottom with a 2-foot leader off a swivel, with a 1- to 1.5-ounce weight.
"We bounce the bottom and try to stay in the current, unless we see a stream running into the river," said Martin. "In which case we hit those areas, really anywhere a stream runs into the river is a magnet to catfish being attracted to the food and fresh water running."
Sometimes the Green River Reservoir Dam will release a large flow of water, but in most cases during early summer it is a big rain event somewhere upstream that sends muddy water downstream. In this case, the pair looks for clear water running into muddy water.
"The clear water is usually cooler, and catfish will lay up along the edges where the water is coming in," Martin said.
Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers removed Lock and Dam No. 6 at Brownsville. The 100-year-old dam had been deteriorating to the point it needed removal. Because of its removal, boats are now able to go upstream for longer distances for drift fishing.
"We usually troll upstream just fast enough to keep the line tight and then drift back down all the while keeping the bait bouncing on the bottom, which is a good way to pick up both channel and flathead catfish," said Martin.
Look for rises on the river, finding shoals and drop offs just past this shallower water. This is where catfish sit and wait for food. July is especially a good time to be on the water, as they get active after the spawn.
The Mississippi River ranks high for catfish, but it's not called the mighty Mississippi for nothing. According to Paul Rister, fisheries biologist, it remains one of the untapped resources for blue catfish.
Big rivers are home to big blue cats, which is why major catfish tournaments tend to target river fishing and streams like the Mississippi and the Ohio.
There are several boat ramps to access the Mississippi but one at Columbus-Belmont State Park, near Columbus, provides direct access into the river. Of course, the Mississippi is big, with countless locales for pursing catfish. Rister recommends looking for bends in the river, along with the miles of riprap banks.
Downstream from the park boat ramp are several islands. Generally, on the backside of these are secondary channels that hold catfish. Wing dikes extend out into the river and are a magnet for big cats. These wing dikes usually have "notches" somewhere along the top, which allows some flow through them.
"This is dangerous and to do this you better have a good boat and secure yourself," stated Rister.
One of the best and safest ways to fish these wing dikes is going to the lower side of the island and boating back upstream on the back of the island into the calmer water. Find calmer water and anchor off to the side of the swift water. Look for washouts, as the make ideal holes for large blue and channel catfish. Another way is to walk over the dikes and fish into the holes.
There are a few precautions to keep in mind where fishing large rivers, including understanding navigation buoys. The buoys along the channel mark the channel for barge traffic, which are placed by the US Coast Guard. Coast Guard officials are continually reminding boaters to never tie up to instream buoys. Many times, buoys will be in good fishing locations because they mark sandbars or drop offs. Because of this, some anglers tie to buoys, but this may be fatal. While traveling the river it is common for barges to brush or bump buoys. Although the radar is sensitive enough to distinguish fishing boats, radar cannot distinguish boats and buoys if up against it. Also consider that towboats are pushing several thousand tons, making it impossible to stop or turn quickly.
The Mississippi River is big, but knowing the "rules of the road" will make the river a worthwhile catfish trip.
BARREN RIVER LAKE
In addition to the Green River, Cummins claims that the best bet for big cats in the Southwestern fisheries district is Barren River Lake. Blue Catfish were stocked on this lake back in 2010, and anglers are routinely picking up blues in the 10- to 15-pound range. Some of the older blue cats are now over 30-inche long.
A popular way to fish Barren River Lake is using noodles or jugs. Some anglers go early and fish for bluegill in one of the small covers, catching both bait and a few for the skillet. Be sure to try a mix of whole fish, cutbait and commercial baits, until discovering what catfish want that night.
According to Northeastern Fisheries Biologist Tim Timmerman, Greenbo Lake in Greenup County is a hidden gem. The KDWFR stocks several smaller lakes, but Greenbo is one that is doing very well.
Most anglers in the state have heard of Greenbo even if they have not fished it. The lake has held the Kentucky state record for largemouth bass twice since it was constructed in 1955. With around 225 surface acres, Greenbo is stocked with channel catfish every other year. Overall Greenbo has some good fishing plus the park has boat rentals from kayaks and johnboats to large pontoons.
"You will find some nice fish in Greenbo and pretty much any of the tried and true baits work well, including cutbait or commercial stink bait," said Timmerman. "One angler told me that he and some of his friends are spraying a little WD-40 on cutbait. Apparently, the oil helps attract catfish, which are continually on the search for preferred tastes and scents in the water. Anything you can do to put that preferred aroma out will make you more successful in your catfishing."
However, anglers need to know that limblines, jugging and trot lines are not legal at Greenbo.
Overall, Bluegrass catfish are doing well and just about any body of water in Kentucky should yield good catches. Also take advantage of the new gear and technology that catfish anglers now have at their disposal and you might just take home a monster cat this summer.