Some catfishing enthusiasts target trophy-class fish. For them, nothing makes a trip better than landing a huge blue, flathead or channel cat. However, most whiskerfish anglers have a different goal in mind.
On most outings, they want to catch enough eating-size cats to provide the makings for a fish fry. If a huge, tackle-busting cat takes the bait now and then, so much the better, but the main objective is catching fish they can eat, which typically means channel cats.
These freckle-flanked, mid-sized cats are targeted by far more anglers than blues or flatheads, thanks largely to their abundance and extensive range. Most anglers pursue them because channel cats are incredibly delicious but also enjoy their truculent nature, savoring to the utmost the water-churning skirmishes that ensue when a channel cat is on the line.
Zeroing in on frying-pan channel cats is vastly different than fishing for blues or flatheads weighing 20 pounds or more. Patience and persistence rarely are required because channel cats of less than 5 pounds are abundant in a wide range of waters, including ponds, streams and urban lakes.
Also, baits can be bought in a grocery or discount store, and expensive, top-quality tackle isn't a prerequisite; a cane pole or rod/reel combo works great. Fishing for eating-size cats is more hassle free and less expensive than pursuing trophies, and rarely boring.
When channel cats are active (they usually are), anglers might catch a score or more during a few hours of leisurely fishing. And because they are often stocked by fisheries departments, there is no need to feel guilty for keeping a few to eat. In fact, keeping fish usually is encouraged, as populations do best when folks keep the little ones thinned out.
Where to Go
Begin with a call to the freshwater fisheries department of the state wildlife agency. Ask for the names of some waters that receive regular stockings of eating-size cats. State and federal agencies stock millions of 1- to 2-pound catfish every year, and most will gladly point to a stocking list that shows where fish were released. Most agencies also provide a list of good catfishing waters on their websites. Either way, anglers should turn up several potentials, including some small lakes with good bank fishing areas or fishing piers.
Ponds are often well stocked with channel catfish as well. Courteous requests to landowners might provide access to several good ones nearby, particularly if the goal is sharing a fun afternoon of fishing with the kids.
A small spinning or spincast outfit is ideal for catfishing. A good set-up is pairing 6- to 10-pound monofilament with 6- to 8-foot rods, which allow longer casts, better rig control and harder hooksets.
The other needed tackle can be carried in a small tackle box — a few hooks, sinkers and bobbers, some extra line, a stringer and some pliers or a multitool for removing hooks from tough mouths.
Any catfishing rig can be used, but the simplest usually work best. A slip-sinker rig is easily made by placing a 1/4- to 1-ounce egg sinker on the main line above a barrel swivel tied at the line's end. Add an 18-inch leader to the swivel's other eye and tie a hook (1/0 to 3/0 bait-holder, octopus or Kahle) to the end.
Another easy rig that works well is a bobber above a small hook, with a split shot pinched on the line between the two to sink the bait. Or anglers can simply tie a hook to the end of a line and place some bait on it. The bait sinks enticingly in the water without any terminal tackle that might spook wary fish.
Little Red Weiners. Channel cats, smaller than 5 pounds, love hot dogs, especially those jazzed up using this recipe, which is my long-time favorite. To make it you need six to eight hot dogs, 1 package of unsweetened strawberry Kool-Aid and at least 2 to 3 tablespoons of minced garlic.
Use a sharp knife to cut the hot dogs into pieces about 3/4 to 1 inch long. Place these in a plastic container with a lid or in a freezer bag. Then add the minced garlic. A tablespoon or two works fine, but I sometimes add as much as 1/4 cup to really flavor the wieners. Channel cats love the taste and smell of garlic.
Now pour the packet of Kool-Aid powder into the container with the hot dogs and add enough water to cover all. Mix thoroughly. The Kool-Aid isn't added for flavor or scent but for color. That's why the strawberry flavor works so well. It adds a blood color that is very attractive to catfish, which greedily devour anything that looks bloody and injured.
You can use this bait right after you make it, but it works best if you allow everything to marinate a couple of days in the refrigerator.
Unlike heavyweight cats, which rarely eat anything but fresh fish, channel cats aren't finicky eaters. Buy some worms or minnows at the bait shop, or pick up some chicken liver, hot dogs, bacon, cheese or shrimp at the supermarket; options are multple and varied.
Commercial dip baits and dough baits also make great enticements. When using these, consider picking up some of the specialty items often used to fish these soft baits, such as catfish "worms" (ribbed, soft-plastic lures used for fishing dip bait), sponge hooks or spring-wound dough bait treble hooks.
Exposed Hooks Work Better
It is not hard finding eating-size cats, but beginners often are frustrated when they can't hook those that bite. One simple, though often overlooked, solution is fishing with an exposed hook. Many anglers think hiding the point of the hook means more cats, when actually the opposite is true. Burying a hook in the bait means missing fish more than half the time.
If fishing minnows, don't push the hook's barb back into the fish. Slip it once through the lips, back or the narrow part of the tail and leave the point exposed. If using worms or night crawlers, thread the hook through two or three times, but don't hide the point. Do likewise when fishing hot dogs or other "grocery baits."
One popular bait — liver — has a tendency to fly off the hook. However, this can be overcome by wrapping the liver in a small square of nylon stocking, pulling the four corners together, then threading the hook through the corners, leaving the point exposed. A treble hook attached with a swivel also works. Unsnap the swivel, remove the hook, push the eye of the hook through the liver so the liver is impaled on the three barbs, and then reattach the hook to the swivel.
Night or Day
The biggest catfish often prowl more night, but eating-size cats are active day and night, so fishing is good whenever. A good fishing period is around daybreak, from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. There's nothing magic about this time, but on many waters, peak feeding activity occurs just as the sun is coming up over the horizon.
Targeting trophy blue catfish and flatheads is an exciting challenge, no doubt, but sometimes it is just nice to sit under a shade tree on a lake and catch a few catfish for dinner. For many, catfishing is a way to relax or to enjoy a few hours fishing with the kids. If a big cat is caught now and then, so much the better, but catching big fish is secondary to just being there, enjoying the outdoors and tussling with a decent fish now and them.
Zero in on some eating-size channel cats this season. Take the children along or some kids from the neighborhood. It's fun. It's relaxing. It's enjoyable. And as soon as you smell the aroma of those catfish fillets frying up golden delicious, teasing your stomach and taste buds, you'll be ready to do it again.