Our local expert highlights three stretches of the Ohio, Wabash and White rivers where you're likely to find big whiskerfish biting right now. (August 2008)
Everyone knows that the catfish run big in Hoosierland. But being on the proper stretch of river increases one's chances of connecting with one of these trophy-class cats, and if you're willing to put in a little effort, fish over 30 or 40 pounds are possible. Indeed, it wouldn't be surprising if a new state record were to come out of one of these rivers. So here are a few rivers where you can tangle with your own big catfish in 2008.
The Ohio River has always been big-cat country. The entire river, with its five Hoosier locks and dams, offers good fishing, but the tailwaters below the Newburgh Dam just might be your best bet for a big cat.
"There's likely to be a 100-pound fish anywhere on Indiana's portion of the Ohio River," said Tom Stefanavage, the Department of Natural Resources' big-river fisheries biologist. "It was below the Newburgh Dam where we saw a 90-pounder while electrofishing, which we just couldn't get to the boat. The state-record blue was caught in the river and weighed 104 pounds."
Electroshocking has never been very useful for checking blues and flatheads, but according to Stefanavage, that -- at least when it comes to flatheads -- is changing. The new technique being used regularly yields flatheads in a variety of sizes, including one that weighed 54 pounds. Blues are still elusive, but that's OK. Last fall the DNR biologist saw schools of young-of-the-year blues feeding on the surface that numbered in the thousands. Last year was a drought year, which usually means more-successful river spawns.
Blue cats vary as to what they'll hit, while flatheads stick strictly to live bait. If you're going to catch a flathead, you'll have to use a live baitfish. Both blues and flatheads may look like inefficient predators, but they're amazingly adept at catching panfish and smaller cats.
"Shiners, turkey livers and cut shad are what I sell or hear of guys using," said James Smith of Smith's Bait and Tackle in Evansville. He knows of an 87-pound flathead taken within the last few years below the Newburgh Dam, along with several 60-pound-class blues in the same spot.
Channel catfish are abundant in the river, but are seldom found where larger flatheads and blues are holding in the tailwaters. Check along the riverbank in the evenings and throughout the night or in deeper water during the daytime.
Stink baits, cut fish, earthworms and minnows are good producers. Some creative catfish anglers will make their own baits from cheese. Be sure to use a three-way rig with an egg sinker to help avoid hangups.
The Newburgh Lock and Dam is located at river mile 776.1 near Newburgh in Warrick County, about 16 miles upstream from Evansville. Boat access at Evansville is good. The Angel Mounds ramp on the city's east side is a mile south of Pollack Avenue and the Dress Plaza ramp is in downtown Evansville on the riverfront.
For additional information, contact the DNR at (812) 789-2724 or Smith's Bait Shop at (812) 425-0645.
The Wabash River is a catfish hotspot in both the northern and southern parts of the state; but for numbers of catfish as well as the opportunity to tag a trophy fish, the stretch of the Wabash running through Huntington, Wabash and Miami counties is at the top of the list.
It's been several years since the Division of Fish and Wildlife completed an electrofishing survey here, and it's hoped that another study will be done this year. In the past, the DNR's Stefanavage has found big cats in the Wabash in several spots. "We've seen 20-pound flatheads up to Lafayette, but they're more abundant downriver," he said. "Most of the blue cats are downriver from the confluence of the White River. A 60- to 70-pound blue was caught a few years ago around New Harmony. We found a 50- to 60-pounder during a survey in the Posey County reach."
The blues, the beasts of the river, can be found in the deeper pools. Flatheads are second in line when it comes to trophy-class sizes; they'll be found in the tangled logjams near deep water. Channel cats are anywhere the bigger cats aren't eating them.
The whiskerfish angling is good from the Andrews area downstream to the state line, which is an excellent place to plan a float trip. Launch a canoe in Andrews, and within the next 12 miles or so, the Salamonie River flows into the stream, while several islands break up the river's flow. A takeout point in Wabash is three blocks west of the state Route 15 bridge.
The favorite spot for Martin Durden, a local angler who's caught his share of cats, is upstream from the Wabash to the Salamonie Dam. Chicken livers and minnows do well for eating-sized channel cats right at the base of the dam, he reported.
The next section of the Wabash is where the Mississinewa River flows in and where channel cats are king. There's a takeout point on the river's north bank about a mile below the first bridge past the town of Wabash. The next one is near the power-generating station by the Wayne Street bridge in Peru.
Submerged rocks characterize the area downstream from Peru. Fishing can be good in any slack water around rocks and eddies. The launch is in Logansport at the 18th Street bridge.
Channels, flatheads and blues can all be found from here downstream. Fish the habitat as you find it. Flatheads will lurk in logjams and collected debris over a deeper hole or cut for prey to float on by. The occasional blue will be in the deepest water available. Channel catfish will be in holes, under laydowns and in the backwaters.
According to fisheries biologist Ed Braun, the upper Wabash River's tailwaters are probably the best places to find good numbers of cats. They'll concentrate in the stretches below Roush and Mississinewa lakes. "I've heard of flatheads in the 20- to 40-pound class being caught in this area and the channel catfish are everywhere," he said.
For more information, contact the DNR's District 4 in Columbia City at (260) 244-6805 or District 6 in Avoca at (812) 279-1215.
Not to be outdone by the great catfishing on the Wabash, the East Fork of the White River produces plenty of big cats of its own, especially in the Williams Dam area. The state-record flathead, a fish weighing 79 pounds, 8 ounces, was caught on the East Fork of the White near Bedford in 1966 -- and there's no reason the record can't be beat.
"The Williams Dam on the East Fork of the White has always been one of the more popular catfish spots," fisheries biologist David Kittaka said. "It's not uncommon to hear of large flatheads and channel cats being caught in this area."
Chris Amstutz has owned the White River Bait and Tackle for nearly 25 years. As far as he's concerned, the Williams Dam area is the best trophy-class flathead stretch on the river.
"The area below the dam is the best spot," he said. "A lot of big flatheads are taken here."
Amstutz recommends fishing over the railing on the catwalk with a 1-ounce weight and as big a bluegill as you can get. When the sinker hits the river bottom, lay the rod butt down with the tip over the rail. This will raise the sinker and bait off the bottom to just the right height.
Another hotspot at the Williams Dam is by the metal retaining wall. Gary Amstutz, Chris' son, caught a 62-pound flathead off the wall with a big sunfish on 100-pound-test line and a 9/0 hook.
These cats are aggressive. One angler Amstutz knows consistently takes big flatheads on deep-diving Rapalas. Another angler used a goldfish to catch a 6-pound channel cat and before he could reel it in, a 48-pound flathead swallowed most of it headfirst.
The White River is another great float-trip destination. Beginning at Lawrenceport, the sandbars serve as feeding areas by hungry channels and the occasional whopper-sized flathead. The put-in point is at the SR 37 Bridge in Lawrenceport.
The U.S. 50/SR 37 access site is south of Bedford; a paved ramp is available.
The next stop is the Williams Dam, where camping and excellent catfish angling are available. From the Williams Dam downstream to Shoals, a float trip is an all-day affair. Start south of the dam at the Williams Dam State Fishing Area on SR 450 at the paved ramp and campgrounds. It can be tough going because of the shallow water.
The annual summer Catfish Festival in Shoals hosts an open tournament.
For additional information, contact the DNR at Avoca by calling (812) 279-1215 or the White River Bait and Tackle at (812) 388-7362.