Steve Quinn of the In-Fisherman staff kept catfish in an aquarium when he was a kid.
Today, he chases big channels, flatheads and blues around the world.
“It’s a wonderful fish,” said Quinn. “Muskies are popular in many systems, but catfish are just as big, not abundant and are as hard to catch. I consider them a trophy fish.”
There are other reasons to like catfish. They range naturally or through stocking over much of North America in lakes, rivers, small streams and reservoirs. They’re also great eating. They can be caught from the bank or from a boat. And the needed tackle is simple: a handful of weights, some hooks, a few floats, a sturdy rod and reel, and strong line.
Use long rods with lots of backbone for good hooksets. A muskie rod, 20-pound to 40-pound-test monofilament, and a heavy-duty reel are good choices for flatheads.
The best rig is a simple one. Thread an egg sinker or flat pancake sinker onto the line, then add a bead and tie on a barrel swivel. The stronger the current, the shorter the leader should be. Tie on a circle hook of 2/0 or larger and you are set.
For fishing on flats, use a large Thill Center Slider float balanced with an egg sinker, and add a circle hook. Set the depth so it just ticks the bottom.
Fresh-cut bait is best for channel catfish because it allows the flavor to permeate the water. Simply fillet the sides and pierce a fillet with the hook close to the edge to ensure the hook point is exposed. They’ll also take a variety of baits manufactured to give off odors, such as cheese bait and blood bait. Dip baits spread on dip worms also are great at times, he said. Rig them on a three-way rig or the simple bottom rig described above.
Flatheads want their dinner alive. Catch bluegills and suckers and use them on big hooks. Tail-hook them on big sinkers if you want them to stay put. Lip hook them on a slip-bobber rig if you want them to cover a larger area of water. Most states require that live bait comes from the lake, river or reservoir you’re fishing.
Bait up, cast to your target, put the rod into a rod holder and watch the tip.
As for location, streams can be divided into holes, riffles and runs.
“The hole is the home of the catfish,” Quinn said.
When actively feeding, channels catfish will move up to the upstream side and feed on dead or sickly minnows and crayfish moving downstream in the current.
Anchor upstream, cast your bait to the hole and wait 5 minutes to 10 minutes. If nothing bites, move on.
In high water, check the current breaks, such as fallen logs, along the shore.
Cats Spawn At 70 Degrees
In larger rivers, catfish in early spring follow baitfish into feeder rivers where water warms first. Look for neckdowns, rapids and other obstructions, such as bridges. Fish the downstream sides.
Fish will migrate with baitfish to the main river as the water warms. The cats will then move back into the tributaries to spawn when water reaches about 70 degrees. After hatching, small catfish stay in the streams. But, adult fish move back to the main river and seek out holes at mid-depths, often on the outside river bends and especially in spots that feature cover. They’ll also set up on the outside edges of wingdams.
Radio studies show flatheads love the hottest water they can find, even in the 90s. It’s unlikely, however, you’ll find them in the strongest current.
Night fishing, especially for flatheads, can be awesome. Scout the area in daylight for hazards. Keep the floor of the boat free of clutter and take several sources of light along.
Blue catfish reside primarily in big rivers of the Mississippi Basin. Resort to big 3-ounce weights, 7/0 circle hooks and cut bait for blues.
Catfish are great food. But, remember to practice selective harvest. Biologists have found many small fish in specific areas of big rivers with heavy commercial and recreational fishing pressure.
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Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson write a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Ted has many fishing achievements, including a victory at the 1993 Mercury Nationals and the 1995 Professional Walleye Trail Top Gun award. He reached the pinnacle of both angling and business when he was named PWT Champion in 1998 and president of Lindy Little Joe, Inc., of Brainerd, Minn., a year later. (Ted’s sponsors include Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards, Pinnacle Rods and Reels, Bottom Line Electronics, Minn Kota, Stren, Normark, Flambeau, Master Lock, Gamakatsu, Aqua Vu and Nautamatic TR 1.)