Topcatting: A New Method for Catching Catfish
Catching catfish is easy with the Topcat; simply strap it to a stump or other structure in the water and then drop your baited hook and line
Steve Green is a Midwest catfish man. He cut his fishing teeth on whiskerfish, and knows more about the behaviors and day-to-day habits of blues, flatheads and channel cats than just about any guy you’ll meet. He likes catfish so much, in fact, he invented a new way of catching them.
The idea came to Green while fishing with limb-lines. These are sturdy fishing lines with hooks that are attached to springy green limbs overhanging the water. Each line is baited with a lively sunfish or other fish bait, and when a catfish detects the bait thrashing on or near the water’s surface, a light that says “Dinner time!” comes on in its little catfish brain. When the cat takes the bait, it gets hooked and the flexible limb keeps it from pulling free.
The problem with limb-lines, Green determined, is springy green branches aren’t always available where you’d like to tie a line. So Steve went to work in his shop and created a sturdy metal device called the Topcat that solves that problem. It quickly straps onto a stump or standing snag to create a lining spot even where no overhanging branches are available.
A semicircular “collar” at the base of each Topcat fits against a tree or stump, and an attached nylon strap wraps around and tightens down to hold the Topcat securely to the upright. Protruding at an angle from the collar is a short, ultra-sturdy pole on which you attach the provided line, which comes pre-rigged with a top-quality hook, swivel and rubber bungee specially made to handle the thrashing and twisting of catfish weighing up to 100 pounds or more.
One spring, just before he headed to Alaska, Green met me and my son, Josh Sutton, on central Arkansas’ Lake Conway to show us his Topcats in action. We chose Conway because it has lots of standing timber where the Topcats can be placed and is loaded with big flathead and channel catfish.
After catching several dozen sunfish we kept alive to use as bait, we attached 30 Topcats to snags and stumps along a half-mile stretch close to shore in shallow water. We baited each with a big lively sunfish near sunset the first day, then left the Topcats overnight and checked them at first light the following morning.
Green says Topcats work best in spring, as the water temperature rises from 60 to 80 degrees, then again in late summer and fall when the water temperature falls from 80 to 60 degrees. That’s when catfish are likely to be prowling shallow portions of lakes and rivers where Topcats work best.
“We like the bait up near the surface where it’s splashing and making a commotion,” he says. “The more commotion it’s making, the more likelihood that big, lively baitfish is going to get eaten. I tell folks if the bungee on the Topcat line is in the water, then you’re placing your bait too deep.
“We catch the most and biggest catfish by placing Topcats in areas where the water is three to eight feet deep,” he continues. “If the water is deeper than that, catfish won’t come up for the bait because they can’t see or hear it splashing, or smell the scent stream it gives off.”
The best Topcatting locales tend to be transition areas – for example, where a tributary flows into the main portion of a lake, or side channels that rise onto shallow flats. These provide deep-water areas where catfish can retreat and shallow-water areas where cats feed at night.
“I like areas with a lot of structure,” Green says. “For example, if I see a big stump field where a lot of treetops have broken off and are laying in the water, if it’s in the right depth of water, that can be an excellent fishing spot. I also like to see a lot of double and triples – anything with double branches, triple branches or clusters of snags that provide areas where baitfish can hide. Big catfish routinely come to such spots to feed.”
Before Green visited Lake Conway, he had enjoyed Topcatting success on 136 trips in a row. “I’m proud to say we caught fish on every single trip – more than 800 altogether that weighed a total of more than 5,000 pounds,” he says, smiling. “We’ve never gotten skunked.”
I’m proud to say Green didn’t get skunked on Lake Conway either. As he, Josh and I cruised out to check the lines at first light, we were giddy with anticipation. Some people say lining this way isn’t as much fun as fishing with rod and reel. But I beg to differ. When you get near and see one of the Topcat poles dipping toward the water, you know you’ve caught something, and you’re eager to pull the line and see what it is. The anticipation breeds excitement, making this a super-fun way to fish.
The first two fish we caught were big channel cats – around 7 to 8 pounds each. Then we all got drenched when Josh pulled the line on a 15-pound flathead Steve deftly netted. Another nice flathead – a 10-pounder – was on the next line, and three more jumbo channel cats after that. The baits we used were filleting-size bluegills intended to entice some of the lake’s 50-pound-plus flatheads, so our catch was limited to catfish big enough to swallow 6- to 8-inch-long bream. Had we used smaller live fish as our enticements, I have little doubt we’d have caught a catfish on every line.
Even so, none of us were unhappy with our success. The cats we caught produced eight-quart bags of delicious boneless fillets for future fish fries, and catching those hard-fighting fish made our fishing trip fun and unforgettable.
Three weeks later, Josh and I had a chance to try out some Topcats on our own. After a day spent bluegill fishing on Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita, we placed four Topcats on trees growing adjacent the shore and baited them with some of the bream we’d caught. When we checked the Topcats at first light the next morning, three of the four were bent under the weight of channel cats that tipped the scales at up to 10 pounds.
Topcatting is easy, fun and productive. It adds a whole new dimension to catfishing. If you’d like to give it a try, you can learn more by visiting Green’s website, www.topcatfishingtackle.com, or friend him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/topcatfishing.