Best New Catfish Gear of 2016
July 13, 2016
If you want to improve your odds of catching more catfish — and who doesn't — it's important to realize that while catfishing is not a complicated sport, neither should it be oversimplified.
You really need to study catfish behavior and learn how to present the right bait in the right place at the right time to entice the fish you hope to catch. That goes for an eating-size channel cat or a trophy-class blue or flathead.
TARGET THE BIG 3
Each of our "big three" catfish — blues, flatheads and channel cats — exhibits behaviors particular to that species.
Flatheads love cover. They often hide in brush, log piles and cavities to ambush prey. Channel cats and blues sometimes do this, but not as often as their big brown cousins. Flatheads almost always are caught in, or near, some type of dense cover, while blues and channel cats most often are not — facts every catfish angler needs to know.
Trophy-class blue cats behave much like striped bass. They feed primarily on shad, herring and other schooling, highly mobile baitfish. Consequently, big blues are more migratory than channel cats and flatheads and more frequently found in open-water habitat.
So, let's say we're fishing a reservoir well-populated with flatheads but few or no blue cats. If we fish offshore structures, such as river channels and humps, we might fish a very long time without catching a trophy catfish because the more abundant flatheads rarely use these habitats. If we focused our efforts on near-shore cover, such as laydowns and drift piles, however, we might quickly find success because big flatheads love these spots.
Knowledgeable anglers catch more fish.
KEY IN ON FORAGE
To maximize your catch rate, you also need to know where to find actively feeding catfish.
Channel cats are amazingly adaptable, inhabiting nearly any body of water that's not too cold, too polluted or too salty. Anglers catch them in everything from clear creeks to fertile farm ponds to huge man-made reservoirs and slow-moving, bottomland rivers. Channel cats thrive best in clean, warm, well-oxygenated water with slow to moderate current and abundant cover such as logs, boulders, cavities and debris.
They often hold in flooded timber, along stream channel drop-offs, near riprap, on brushy points, near tributary mouths and on underwater humps. Other top fishing spots include dam tailwaters, undercut banks, deep timber-filled pools in outside stream bends, big log drifts, inundated ponds and eddy water around fallen trees in streams.
Blue catfish spend much of their time following schools of shad, herring and other baitfish, so they tend to be found in open-water environs. In rivers, look for them in dam tailwaters or around deep, open-water structures like edges of channel drop-offs, deep holes at the confluence of two streams, the deep edges of sand and gravel bars, scour holes near wing dikes and deep holes on outside bends.
Good fishing spots in lakes include creek and river channel drop-offs, underwater humps, drops and ledges near tributary mouths, the perimeters of inundated lakes and ponds, deep riprap around bridges and causeways, and in cool months, warm-water discharge areas near power-plant facilities. If you're in a boat, watch your fish-finder for schools of baitfish with big fish nearby. That's where you should fish.
Flathead catfish seldom exist in large numbers in small bodies of water like ponds and creeks. But they are well adapted to life in rivers, larger man-made reservoirs and many natural lakes. In rivers, they generally avoid heavy current, but sometimes feed in swift water at the ends of dikes and in tailraces below dams. Outside bends with toppled trees attract them, too.
In lakes, focus your attention on areas with dense woody cover during daylight hours. These predators often hide around or within submerged logs, piles of driftwood, toppled trees, snags and cavities in mid-depths, waiting to ambush passing prey.
At night, they leave these sanctuaries and move into more open, shallower waters to feed.
TOUGH BITE? GET TOUGHER
Even the best catfish anglers have days when they feel catfish are finning their noses at them. Don't take it. Fight back! Anyone can catch catfish when they're schooled up and in a feeding frenzy. But when they're scattered, finicky, full-bellied or disinterested, remember these suggestions to improve success and turn a dismal day into a great one.
'¢Fish clean. Cats have an extraordinary sense of taste and smell, so it's extremely important to avoid touching your bait with anything that will cause negative reactions. Dr. John Caprio, who has studied catfish senses at Louisiana State University for decades, says four things to avoid are insect repellent, sunscreen, tobacco and gasoline.
'¢Keep moving. Many fishermen believe catfishing should be a sit-and-wait game, with an immobile angler and stationary bait. But in most situations, you'll catch more fish if you and your bait keep moving. Try drift-fishing tactics if you have a boat, or drifting a bait beneath a bobber when bank-fishing. You'll cover more water, and find more fish.
'¢Expose hooks. Many catfish fans get frustrated when they can't hook a fish that has bitten. Often as not, that's because they hide their hook in their bait, believing catfish won't bite otherwise. That's just an old wives' tale. You'll hook many more fish if you run the hook all the way through your bait and leave the barb and point exposed — a simple tip, but one many anglers fail to heed.
'¢Fish year-round. For reasons that are hard to understand, many people still believe the hot summer months serve up the best catfishing. Certainly, if we use the right tactics, summer can be a highly productive season. But to catch more cats, you shouldn't ignore the great fishing opportunities also available in spring, fall and winter.
Consider the fact that anglers who regularly catch trophy blue cats often do so by fishing deep ledges and holes in winter. One might think that icy-cold water would shut down feeding activity in these cold-blooded creatures. But such is not the case. Blue cats continue feeding actively even when the water temperature is near freezing. These cats bite well regardless of the season.
Flathead catfish differ in their habits. Most become inactive when the water temperature drops below 45 degrees. But these normally sedentary fish roam and feed ravenously during high-water periods in spring, and again in autumn when they're gorging to put on pounds prior to entering the period of winter torpor.
Channel cats bite in spring, summer, fall and winter. Ice fishermen often catch them.
'¢Fish the right depth. Don't think catfish always feed on bottom. They don't. If bottom fishing doesn't produce, watch your fish-finder for suspended fish (beneath shad schools, for example), and use a float-rig to present bait at the proper level. Watch for cats feeding on the surface, too. Cats often gorge on grasshoppers and cicadas when these insect foods are plentiful, and a bug hooked and fished like a surface fly can garner a quick strike. Be versatile. Fish where the fish are.
BLOW-DOWNS, wing dikes, holes, humps and riprap will harbor bait-fish schools and give crawdads and bugs shelter. Note large expanses of empty spaces. We're not saying these are dead zones, but a break in the current or structure will increase you chances of hooking up.
BEST ADVICE EVER
LONGTIME catfish angler Tom Evans told me to know dam generation schedules and how the flows at both ends of a reservoir affects current. Moving water positions big blues and flatheads on structure and prompts aggressive feeding, Tom said.
So it's important to plan trip times and locations based on water flow. You need to learn which dam affects which part of a reservoir and how long it takes the water to get to different areas after generation starts. And always, always try to pick areas where the water will be moving.
That's good advice. — Jeff Samsel, catfish expert and author
DID YOU KNOW?
More than 3,000 species of catfish swim the waters of the world. They make up about 10 percent of all fishes.
Catfish are like swimming tongues. From whiskers to tail, and everywhere between, they are covered with taste buds.
WHEN PIGS SWIM
Flathead catfish grow faster — by far — than most other North American gamefish. Between ages 3 and 8, they often add 2-5 pounds annually. Older fish may add 10 pounds a year. That puts "fat cat" in a whole new light.
-Sources: "Handbook of Freshwater Fishery Biology," by Kenneth Carlander; "Checklist of Catfishes," by Carl Ferraris Jr.; Dr. John Caprio, Louisiana State University
MOJO CAT RODS ST. CROIX
Built with premium SCII graphite and 100 percent linear S-glass, Mojo Cats provide exceptional strength, lifting power and tip flex. Features include Kigan Master Hand 3D guides, Fuji reel seats, high-grade cork handles and Kigan hook-keepers for all hook sizes. Five casting and two spinning models. MSRP, $150-$200.
B'N'M POLES | SILVER CAT BUMPING ROD
Designed specifically for bumping, a fast-growing catfishing technique, the Silver Cat has a light, strong, sensitive carbon-fiberglass blank and 18 1/2-inch Portuguese cork handle.Extra stiff tip to pull large fish out of deep water. MSRP, $79.
BASS PRO SHOPS | CAT BUSTER RODS
Great for budget-conscious anglers, super-tough Cat Buster spinning and casting rods feature tubular fiberglass blanks with highly visible white finish, double-footed guides with aluminum oxide inserts and a graphite reel seat with stainless-steel hood. Available in 7- to 11-foot medium-heavy and heavy models. $24-$29.
BASS PRO SHOPS | CATMAXX
This baitcasting reel is built tough to overpower heavyweight catfish, even in swift currents. Features include a one-piece aluminum frame, aluminum sideplates, Teflon and stainless six-disc drag stack, double-anodized aluminum spool, high-strength brass gearing, four bearings, magnetic braking and powerful 5.2:1 gear ratio. $59.
TEAM CATFISH | GOLD RING 5000
This new spinning reel has all the features needed for catching and landing big cats: a Free Runner clicking system, auto-engage secondary drag for freelining baits, high-line-capacity anodized aluminum spool, six stainless ball bearings and powerful 4.9:1 gear ratio. High-strength graphite construction. MSRP, $129.
QUANTUM | IRON PT
This is a big baitcasting reel for big catfish, with seven stainless-steel bearings, spool-click tension knob, an oversized power handle, massive line capacity, a lightweight aluminum frame, ACS adjustable centrifugal cast control and CSC carbon fiber, plus a stainless and ceramic drag system. Also features an aluminum frame and gear cover. MSRP, $199.
MAGIC BAIT | STICK-IT PUNCH BAIT
Punch a treble hook into this bait, pull it out at an angle and your rig is loaded and ready for action. An ideal blend of fiber and attractants keeps the bait on the hook and makes it irresistible to eating-size cats. $32-$44 per case.
RIPPIN LIPS | BOOTLEG DIP BAIT
Formulated with carefully chosen cheeses and other catfish-craving ingredients, this thick dip bait adheres to hooks, dip worms and tubes like glue, yet is clean and easy to use. Available in two blends: Batch No. 17 (Sweet & Sticky) and Batch No. 131 (Bold & Bloody). $6.78 for 14.4 ounces.
STUBBY STEVE | SPARKLE CRAWFISH
Stubby Steve's superb fish-food-formula bait now comes in a crawfish pattern sure to tempt big cats. Stays on the hook for multiple catches. After fishing for awhile, cut away part of the bottom to introduce more of the fish-food chum trail into the water. Available in red, chartreuse and brown colors. MSRP, $4.99.
BASS PRO SHOPS | CATMAXX MONO
Infused with a high-viz green color, CatMaxx makes strike detection easy under any conditions. It glows under a black light, making it great for night fishing. Made to resist abrasion, with better knot strength and smoother casting. In 20-, 30- and 40-pound-test on 300-yard spools. $3.99.
LEW'S | MR. CATFISH LINE
This premium mono is strong with great shock absorption, excellent abrasion resistance and low-memory formulation. It's tough but also supple enough for ease in spooling, knot tying and casting. Choose from 12-, 15-, 20- and 25-pound test on 500-yard spools. Fluorescent-yellow hi-vis or camo colors. MSRP, $7.99.
SUFIX | CASTABLE INVISILINE 100% FLUORO
Unlike traditional fluorocarbon that is stiff and memory prone, Sufix Castable Invisiline sails off a reel with ease. It's strong and abrasion resistant, yet provides sensitivity catfish anglers need. In 100-yard or 200-yard spools from 4-pound to 20-pound-test. MSRP, $13-$39.
GAMAKATSU | OCTOPUS CIRCLE/BIG RIVER
Octopus Circle Hooks are available in regular straight-eye model or an up-eye version for easy snelling. Big River Bait hooks have extra large gaps. Available in nickel silver black color in sizes No. 6 to 12/0. MSRP, $3.74-$16.12.
MAGIC BAIT | BIG BITE LONG SHANK TREBLE
This specialty No. 4 treble with stainless-steel spring works with dip baits, dough baits and liver. The extra-long shank allows more bait on the hook for bigger scent trail. MSRP, $24.50 for a six-pack of three hooks each.
FISHPOND | THUNDERHEAD SLING
Carries all your fishing equipment and keeps it dry. It has a spacious interior and a quick-access exterior pocket with a water-resistant zipper. Cyclepond fabric is made from recycled commercial fishing nets. MSRP, $200. Fishpondusa.com.
WHISKER SEEKER TACKLE | VERSA RATTLES
Catfish have excellent hearing that helps them zero in on sounds and vibrations made by prey. Add a Versa Rattle to your favorite rig and take advantage of this sensory ability. Multiple colors. $4.95 for a package of four.
WHISKER SEEKER TACKLE | BABY CHUB RIG FLOATS
Use these floats with slip-sinker rigs to keep your bait off the bottom and in the strike zone. Each has a hand-painted buoyancy body, internal rattles, 6/0 octopus circle hook, fast clip for easy hook changes and nylon-coated wire. $6.95 for a package of two.
DRIFTMASTER | TROLL KING
This multiple-rod trolling system can withstand 100-pound-plus cats in heavy current. The support system has two outer tubes and inner threaded rods on each end. Twin stainless-steel rails span the boat for mounting rod holders. The detachable rod racks are easy to remove when not in use. Twelve-, 18- and 24-inch heights. MSRP, $399-$479.
WHISKER SEEKER TACKLE | NITE STYX LIGHTED ROD TIPS
Attach one of these LED-powered gizmos to your rod tip, and you'll see bites better on dark nights. They easily attach to rod tips up to 5mm in diameter and come with interchangeable orange and green tips. Includes a replaceable 150-hour battery. MSRP, $6.95.
BASS PRO SHOPS | OSPREY WADERS
These are stocking-foot, breathable waders that come at a great price. Five-layer, reinforced knees work with attached gravel guards to increase durability. Criss-cross suspenders, inside chest pocket, and three water-resistant, zippered pockets. MSRP, $90.
PLANO | A-SERIES BACKPACK
The perfect, hands-free way to carry your gear to remote catfishing hotspots. Includes five 3600 StowAway utility boxes for terminal tackle, large interior storage compartment for boxes and gear, four-pocket front flap, four exterior pockets, plus a cushioned back pad, adjustable shoulder straps and reinforced top-carry handle. MSRP, $59.99.