Tips for Catching Popsicle Pond Cats

Despite popular misconceptions, channel cats feed actively throughout winter and even put up a fight when the water is frozen over

Do catfish contain antifreeze? That question crossed my mind as I lifted my tenth big channel catfish over the transom.

It was a polar afternoon during Christmas break. The high temperature that day soared to near 30 degrees. My friend Alex Hinson and I were catfishing in a small farm pond owned by one of Alex’s neighbors.

To say the fish were cooperative is an understatement. We’d cast a bait into deep water by the pond’s dam, and before it hit bottom, a sassy channel cat would have it. Alex caught a 5-pounder, then its twin. I caught several 2- to 4-pounders. We caught a total of 23 before our fishing trip ended.

What surprised me most was how icy-cold the fish were. Each fought like the dickens, and we took great care that we didn’t get soaked with freezing water when one splashed alongside the boat. Yet when you touched one of the catfish fresh out of the water, it felt like a Popsicle. How, I wondered, can a cold-blooded creature put up such a fight when its body temperature is barely above freezing? Antifreeze, perhaps?

Despite what many anglers think, channel cats feed actively throughout winter, as the experience outlined above shows. Alex and I make several winter fishing forays each year, and we’ve never failed to catch plenty of cats for a fish fry back home.

Even more amazing is the fact that channel cats are now common targets for ice-fishermen in northern states. Despite popular misconceptions, they don’t lie in the mud and sulk when it’s cold. They actively hunt for food and bite readily even when all the water is frozen over.

Many rivers and lakes serve up excellent cold-weather catfishing, but almost invariably I head for the nearest farm pond when fishing in December, January and February. Most ponds are stocked with channel cats, and I can fish from the bank or a small boat without freezing during a long boat ride on open water.

Start by obtaining permission to fish and asking the pond owner to point out the deepest hole in the pond. During cold weather, that’s where most cats will be. Fish from a boat if you can, lowering your bait straight down into the hole. When it reaches the bottom, turn your reel handle a few cranks so the bait is a foot or so above the substrate where cats can better detect it. When bank fishing, adding a small bobber on the line between your hook and sinker accomplishes the same thing.

Fresh chicken liver is my favorite winter bait. Cats quickly zero in on the scent and taste of poultry blood dissolving from the tissue. I weave my hook through each piece of liver several times, then put my reel in freespool and let the bait sink straight to the bottom. When bank fishing, a gentle lob keeps the liver from flying off on most casts.

Don’t sit in one spot too long. You’ll have a bite before 15 minutes passes if a hungry channel cat is nearby. If you don’t, move a short distance and try again.

If luck is with you and the catfish are biting, the action may end abruptly after you’ve caught a few fish. Once again, it’s time to move and try another location.

Of course, when you’re fishing for cats in winter, it pays to keep moving anyway, just so you can keep warm. This is not a sport for anglers who detest the cold. You’ll get chilly out there, even when you’re wearing the proper clothing. Your teeth will chatter, and your hands and feet will feel like Popsicles.

Nice thing is, when the cats start biting, that frigid feeling disappears. Nothing in the world warms you quicker than battling a rod-bending catfish. Try it yourself and see.

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