Learning the "sweet spots" -- specific types of habitat that attract actively feeding catfish -- is the best way to zero in on lake and reservoir catfish like this 70-pound-plus blue caught in South Carolina's Lake Moultrie by Chad (left) and Kevin Davis. (Photo by Keith Sutton)
Tuning in on these catfish sweet spots will put more whiskerfish in the boat.
All my life I've heard the elder catfish anglers call them "sweet spots."
The places they refer to are precise forms of habitat and structure that draw ravenous catfish like a hungry family to a holiday dinner. To catch more cats, it pays to know these catfish magnets.
Some sweet spots are easy to see and identify. Others must be pinpointed using a fish-finder and may be so subtle they are difficult to locate. Either way, your ability to zero in on these prime waters can mean the difference between catching lots of catfish and catching none.
Here are six sweet spots you should know. A good bottom contour map and sonar fish-finder are invaluable tools for determining the "sweet spots" to fish on lakes and rivers. (Photo by Keith Sutton)
1. Bottom Channels and Ditches
A bottom channel in this small lake is clearly visible during a drawdown. A fish-finder may be needed to find sweet spots like this on most visits. (Photo by Keith Sutton)
Some lakes and rivers have prominent bottom channels. Others have subtle ditches and drops. All such structures are sweet spots you can find using good electronics. Main channels act like major highways, leading migrating catfish from one part of the water body to another. Small branches act as secondary roads, leading migratory fish toward shallow-water habitat. The biggest congregations of catfish often are found at the junction of two or more channels. If it's trophy cats you're after, remember they usually feed near deep water falling into the channel. Look for them near features on the ledge distinguishing it from surrounding areas — brushpiles, points, adjacent humps, cuts in the bank, etc. During the day, anchor in the shallowest water near the drop-off and fish deeper water. At night, do the opposite to catch cats moving shallow to feed.
Outside river bends often provide catfish cover in the form of toppled trees. (Photo by Keith Sutton)
2. Outside River Bends
Rivers follow the path of least resistance. When compacted substrate obstructs the flow, the river changes direction, forming a hard-bottomed outside bend with current. These bends are sweet spots you don't want to miss. The river gouges the bank, forming undercuts. The undercut ledge or lip offers natural seclusion to cats waiting for a meal.
Trees growing on the bend topple due to erosion. This creates an additional hotspot where hungry cats find plentiful forage and eager anglers can catch lots of fish. If a deep-water pool lies just downstream, productivity increases even more.
When the water in this lake rises to normal levels, this hump will be a sweet spot that attracts catfish. (Photo by Keith Sutton)
Locating an underwater hump, rise or submerged island is like finding a map to buried treasure for the cat fan. These sweet spots are among the most productive catfishing areas in any lake or stream.
When you've pinpointed a hump with your electronics, learn all you can about it: its size, the steepness of drops on each side, existing cover and so forth.
Narrow your fishing area to a few choice zones -- points, pockets, rock beds, timbered or brushy areas, etc. -- and mark them with buoys.
Note the depth of the hump below the surface. The best are 5 to 20 feet from the surface and have substantial deep water around them, such as a creek channel running alongside. Humps with timber, brush, rocks or other cover are also very productive.
Riprap is a covering of rocks that helps prevent shoreline erosion. It's also a sweet spot for hungry catfish. (Photo by Keith Sutton)
Engineers often place riprap (large rocks along shorelines to prevent erosion) near dams, bridges and causeways on major rivers and lakes. Riprap appeals to catfish because it attracts forage animals such as crayfish and shad and provides cover, depth and shade. Large channel cats and flatheads, especially, like this habitat.
When fishing a long, look-alike stretch of riprap, focus on objects distinguishing a small section. A pipe or fallen tree may attract catfish. Other times, a difference in the rocks does the trick. Watch for big boulders changing to smaller rocks or slides of rocks creating points.
Log rafts sometimes extend half a mile or more. Fishing them can be difficult, but catfish love these structures where they find plentiful baitfish and other forage. (Photo by Keith Sutton)
5. Log Rafts
When big rivers reach flood stage, large mats or "rafts" of floating logs and debris form in the backwaters. These often move slowly in a circular pattern, and almost always attract baitfish and other forage, which in turn attract catfish.
When fishing a log raft, anchor your boat to one side and present live or cut bait on an egg-sinker rig — a 1- to 2-ounce egg sinker above a barrel swivel to which your leader and hook are tied. You want the eddy current to pull your rig beneath the raft's outer edge.
After casting, hold your rod tip high and strip line, guiding your rig under the logs. If don't get a bite before your line catches on the driftwood, move and try again. If cats are present, they'll usually bite quickly.
Fishing the deepest hole in this pond produced this stringer of nice cats for author Keith Sutton. (Photo by Keith Sutton)
6. Deep Holes in Ponds
During most seasons, you'll find pond catfish (typically channel cats and/or bullheads) in the deepest water, usually close to the dam. Cats abandon these structures only when oxygen levels fall too low, such as when a pond stratifies in summer, but the remainder of the year, whiskerfish will usually gather in abundance.
Deep holes are particularly good during daylight hours when cats seek the sanctuary of darkness. Fishing here may produce fish in spring, summer and autumn, but winter months outshine others. During this season, cats pile up in cold-water congregations where a school may contain hundreds of fish.
Fish vertically beneath a boat if possible. Use a weight and hook only, with chicken liver or night crawlers for bait. Free-spool the bait to the bottom, reel up one foot, then get ready for action.
We've discussed only six sweet spots; there are dozens more. What's important to remember is this: the best bait and equipment are useless unless hungry catfish are nearby. If you take time to find the sweet spots, however, and present your bait in the right manner, the odds improve for catching lots of cats, including occasional trophies.