June is a great month for taking catfish from Kansas' reservoirs, and so here are some hotspots and hot tactics for doing just that. (June 2009)
The author (right) and Jim Reid took these fat channel catfish over a chummed hole on a Kansas lake. It doesn't take long for hungry cats to find the bait when it's done right.
Photo by Marc Murrell.
If you enjoy fishing for big channel catfish in Kansas, you'd be well served to be a schoolteacher. As the students head home for summer vacation at the end of May or early June, that's the time when things in the whiskered world really get cranking up. And you wouldn't even have to call in sick to work. Chances are, a state fishing lake or reservoir is near enough that you could visit daily if you could work it out with your spouse.
"We really start looking at catching channel cats in June and July," said Kent Dodds, an avid angler who recently started pursuing channel catfish. "Just as the water temperatures start to heat up, so does the fishing for channel cats."
Catfish are right up near the top in angler preference in Kansas. Other more glamorous species, such as crappie, walleyes or bass, sometimes get all the attention, but there's no doubt the catfish is king among many Kansas anglers. Their popularity is likely tied to their availability, as virtually any stream, river, pond, lake or reservoir in Kansas has potential to produce plenty of catchable-sized cats throughout the year.
"We primarily fish the reservoirs, although the methods we use could be used on any body of water," Dodds admits. "Chumming really doesn't have any boundaries and it's like pour it out and they will come!"
Long thought illegal by some anglers, chumming is anything but in Kansas. In fact, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has its own version of it in the form of fish feeders at many smaller bodies of water and even some reservoirs. Officials admit that concentrating channel catfish and other species making them more available to the average angler is a win-win situation for the KDWP as well as the angler.
Most feeders are set to go off at least twice a day, usually right after sunrise and before sunset. As fish food is released, it doesn't take long for fish to come swimming to the dinner bell. Carp are the most obvious diners, but both boat and bank anglers will tell you that channel catfish are picking up the pieces below.
"We just happen to use our 'feeders' in a different location," Dodds said of chumming. The tactic is popular in many Kansas reservoirs.
In fact, Perry Reservoir in northeast Kansas has gained notoriety for an area that many anglers call "The Hog Trough." The mid-lake location oftentimes has anywhere from a half-dozen to several dozen boats on it. There seems to be plenty of room for everyone, and it's not uncommon to see multiple boats hooked up with catfish all at once.
"It works really well if you get a hole established," Dodds says. He's seen the effects firsthand.
And it doesn't take long to get a baited hole established, according to Dodds. He's heard of anglers putting out a couple 5-gallon buckets of chum and coming back in a couple of hours and loading the boat with big cats. A GPS unit is great for marking the spot in open water. Some anglers prefer tying baits up to standing timber near river channels.
"We try to look for some kind of structure, either a dropoff, point or hump near the river channel," Dodds said of his preferred locations. "You can catch them in anywhere from 5 or 6 feet of water down to 25 or 30 feet. Most of our fishing takes place in 8 to 20 feet of water."
Chumming is familiar to many anglers, but in case you haven't a clue, here's a brief rundown. The "chum" is nothing more than some sort of attractant, usually rotting grain. One of the most popular choices right now is soybeans, while wheat, milo or corn can be just as effective. Some diehard catfish connoisseurs don't use corn as they feel it attracts too many carp. Still others use range cubes meant for cattle or even big chunks of dry dog food.
Typically, the grain is placed in 5-gallon buckets (being careful to fill the bucket only one-third full to allow for expansion) and covered with water. Let Mother Nature "cook" it for just a few days when it's scorching hot or a week or more during cooler conditions. Be sure to start the chum bucket brigade downwind of any uppity neighbors, as the aroma will make even the worst barnyard smell like roses.
"We'll typically go to the same few areas and see what happens," Dodds said of the approach he learned from his buddy. "He's got them all on his GPS and we put an anchor off the front and back to keep us from swinging so we can stay right on the spot. One day, we might find most of the fish using the top of the break in 12 or 13 feet of water, while other days, they tend to hang near the bottom of it in about 20 feet of water. If you're not getting bit, you just have to move around, depending on where the majority of your chum is settling."
Once anchored, some anglers prefer to dump an entire bucket over the side. However, with grain prices what they've been the past few summers, that isn't such a good option.
"We typically start out dumping a little bit at a time," Dodds said of the rationing. He uses a regular quart-sized saucepan to measure the chum. "I think this gives you better odds at the fish finding your bait, rather than filling up on chum."
Catfish bait used for this type of fishing follows the same rules as other tactics. Any bait that smells is good, and one that's easy to work with gets plenty of bonus points.
"We typically use Danny King's Original Catfish Punch Bait," Dodds said of an ideal offering. "We punch it onto a No. 6 treble hook. If you happen to miss a few fish, you don't have to re-bait each time, as it's pretty good about staying on the hook — unlike some of the other catfish baits.
"We can buy a big tub of that and it will last us a couple of months, even when the fishing is good," he added.
Dodds uses a medium-action spinning or baitcasting rod spooled with 15-pound-test line. A 1/2-ounce egg sinker is placed above a barrel swivel and the hook is attached at the end of a 15-inch line below it.
"You want to fish it right on or very near the bottom," Dodds said. Most days he winds up less than a crank after finding the bottom.
"And unlike what you see on television where you let the fish run with it, you set the hook right now i
f you feel the slightest bit of anything! It's amazing how an 8- to 10-pound bull-headed channel catfish can suck in the bait and barely move your rod tip. And there's plenty that just flat grab it and go, particularly when there are a lot of fish under you and there's plenty of competition."
Dodds says chumming can work most anywhere, but you can increase your odds by fishing in the best channel cat waters. Many of the fish he and a buddy catch average from 3 to 5 pounds.
"Our biggest fish is probably about 15 pounds, but we catch a lot of fish between 5 and 8 pounds," he said.
According to the KDWP's latest fishing forecast, the best bets for channel catfish on reservoirs are at Clinton, Toronto, Perry, Cheney, Marion and Glen Elder reservoirs.
"We fish several of these and they're all good," Dodds said.
Smaller impoundments also produce plenty of cats, too. Many millions of channel catfish produced at KDWP hatcheries are stocked into these bodies of water and some produce huge cats despite their small size. Best bets here, according to the KDWP forecast, include Anthony City Lake, Pleasonton East Lake, Butler State Fishing Lake, Sabetha Pony Creek Lake, Clark State Fishing Lake and Pleasonton West Lake.
"The good thing is these are spread out across much of the state and so there's some darn good catfishing near a lot of people," Dodds concluded. "And that's the great thing about channel cat fishing in our state; there are plenty of them and places to catch them. They await any angler willing to do a little legwork, provided they can stomach the chum!"