There’s more to catfishing than what meets the eye
By Amy Smith
Catfishing… many times when people hear this they think of muddy river banks, stink bait or local fish fries. Or they think of a slimy, squirmy fish that is going to sting them with their whiskers. In fact, that is the number one thing I hear from most women and why they refuse to catfish. But let’s get the facts straight.
Yes, catfish can be very slimy, but they cannot “sting” you, especially not the whiskers. A catfish’s whiskers are as soft and pliable as they look, just like a cat, and can be touched without any harm coming to you. Now, some folks say a catfish can “horn” you. To clear this statement up, you need to understand that all catfish have a hard spine that runs through their dorsal and pectoral fins. If the fish is not held properly, then yes, it may poke you. This is most common with your smaller channels.
But there is more to catfishing than what meets the eye. Catfishing can be very glamorous. There are beautiful places to travel, several styles of fishing to master, different species to target and, best of all, the opportunity to catch a new personal best! This is where the memories are made and this is why I love fishing! It doesn’t matter if your personal best is an 80-pound blue or a 6-pound channel. It’s a fish that you caught, by yourself, and a memory you can keep forever. Showing it off in front of the guys is just an added bonus! So if you’re ready to catch a few cats, here are some tips to help you along.
When asked, “When is the best time to go fishing?” My answer is always, “Anytime!” You can fish for catfish all year long, day or night. The same goes for, “Where can I catch catfish?” Anywhere! Rivers, lakes, reservoirs or even a stocked pond… the choice is yours!
The United States is home to three main types of catfish: channels, flatheads and blues. Blues are mainly found in the southern states, while channels and flatheads can be found all over. No matter what you plan to target, there is one general rule to remember: Mother Nature is always in charge! Catfish are cold-blooded, so their behaviors and patterns are controlled by the water’s temperature. When water temps decrease, so does the fish’s metabolism. Which, in turn, means less activity for the fish.
Each season has a different pattern. When spring is in the air and things begin to thaw, water temps begin to increase and fishing can be down right awesome! This is probably my top favorite time to fish. The fish are on the hunt for food, and they need to regain strength and prep for spawn. They begin to move from their wintering holes in search of shallower waters. This intense fishing can last from March until May, depending where you are.
Then things seem to take a sudden U-turn. Once water temps reach an ideal temp (80 degrees for channels), spawning will begin. Males will find a nest and wait for the female to lay her eggs. Then the male will guard the eggs while the “spawned out” female will go out in search of food. The upside to fishing during spawn is that not all fish spawn at the same time. The downside is that they may be a little sluggish for awhile until it is all over. This is when you throw your trusty bobber up in the shallows and cross your fingers!
As summer comes into full swing and things get hotter, nighttime fishing can become very popular. During the day, fish are hanging out in deep holes or holding tight near structure where baitfish are lingering. This can sometimes be tough to deal with, especially in the heat of the day. When night approaches and it begins to cool off, activity levels pick up and catfish can be found following the bait up in the shallows and along flats. That’s why you hear, “Flatheads can only be caught at night.” But in all reality, catfish, including flatheads, can be caught during the day in summer… it just takes a little more effort.
Fall is another good time to fish. Usually by October, waters have started to stabilize for a bit and fishing will pick up pretty good for the month. The fish will start to follow bait back into deeper water in hopes to fill their bellies for the winter. This is especially a good time for catching trophy flatheads and blues.
When winter begins to show her true colors, catfish begin to slow down. Even though they head even deeper in search of their winter homes, don’t assume they are done eating. Catfish will eat all year long; they just don’t want to use as much energy when it comes to mealtime. Many catfish will suspend themselves under schools of baitfish during this time of the year.
Now, if you have the opportunity to fish from a boat, do it! Anchoring is fun, but can’t always be done. So try out trolling or drifting. Trolling, also known as “dragging,” is when you use a trolling motor (and maybe a drift sock) to move your baits across, with or even against, the wind. Drifting is the same concept, but without the help of the trolling motor. During cooler temps, it’s best to run .5 mph or slower. During warmer temps, you can run .5 mph or faster. It’s all based on the fish’s activity level.
When it comes to creating a good arsenal for your catfishing needs, it may seem a little overwhelming at first. There is always some new style or brand being developed and it’s hard to know just where to start. Don’t fret. If you are just beginning and looking to go after some local channels or flatheads, these basic tips will help you get started.
First and foremost, you need a pole! A good pole to look for would be a medium-heavy action rod – preferably in a 7’6’’ length. This gives the guarantee of versatility.
Next is your reel. I am a baitcaster-kind-of-gal, but if you like a good ol’ fashion spinning reel, that is equally great! It’s all about comfort, not popularity.
Now for line – this can tend to cause a lot of debate. I know several professional anglers who only swear by mono and some who only swear by braid. I, however, swear by both. When in search of big cats or fishing a tournament, I will run 80-pound braid for my main line and 50-pound mono for my leader line. For a little lighter fishing, I will run 65-pound braided main line and 30-pound mono leader. This may still be a little overkill for those only after “eaters” or under 10 pounds. If that is your target range, then a 20- to 30-pound line of your choice should work just fine.
You can never have enough tackle. (Hint, hint.) To start off, you will need sinkers. Egg sinkers or no-roll sinkers (tear-drop shaped) are great to have on hand. A good range would be 1/2-ounce up to 8-ounce. The more current there is, the heavier the sinker you will need.
Swivels are another product to have. I like to use barrel swivels and three-way swivels. I also like to use floats or rattles when at all possible. Floats can be used to keep your bait suspended off the bottom when in current, while rattles add sound and vibration to the water.
And you can’t forget the good ol’ bobber! This may feel a little kiddish, but honestly a bobber is a great tool to have at times. Another small, but important piece of tackle I use is a sinker slide bead. This helps to keep your sinker from getting stuck on your swivel knot and slide with ease.
Now for the hook, if you plan to use a rod holder or release your catch, a circle hook is ideal. These are designed to hook the fish in the corner of the mouth and cause less harm on the fish so it can be later released. They are also designed to “set” themselves. There is no need to hold the rod and wait for the right moment to set the hook. Just reel down when you see that the rod is bent and the fish is indeed on.
If you plan to hold your rod or want to “set” the hook yourself, then a J-style hook is good. To use these hooks, you simply set the hook with a long sweeping motion of the rod. A variety of sizes are good too. Sizes 4/0 to 6/0 are good for targeting smaller fish and 8/0 to 10/0 are better for your larger fish.
Along with your gear and tackle, you’ll need some other things along the lines of: needle nose pliers, towel, scale, scissors, gloves, net, knife for cutting bait, fish grips, bug spray and some good rain gear! While rain gear can be highly expensive, it can truly make or break you when you are out on the water for several hours. Trust me, I have outlasted many grown men just because of the gear I’m wearing. I wear the men’s Bass Pro 100MPH set. They are wonderful, and I can fit many layers underneath when needed.
Last, but not least, the key ingredient to fishing… bait! Live or fresh cut bait is the way to go for any species. Shad is a huge preference among channels, but if you don’t have the opportunity to catch your own bait, don’t stress, as channels will eat just about anything from worms to chicken liver. If it bleeds or stinks, they will be interested. Just remember to always expose your hook and try to keep other scents, such as sunscreen, bug spray, etc., off your bait.
A good setup to use would be the Slip Sinker Rig. Start with adding a sinker to your main line, then a bead and tie onto a barrel swivel. From there, cut an 8- to 12-inch leader line (this is where my mono line comes in). Tie this to the other end of your swivel and tie on your hook. If you want to get creative, you can add a float and/or rattle above your hook for a little something extra. When fishing with multiple poles, try to run something different on each one to find out what is working. Even if that just means different baits. It’s all about providing options!
To the Future!
With all the information out there on catfishing, one important thing many trusted and respected anglers follow is CPR: Catch, Photo, Release. CPR is huge in the tournament world, but is growing more and more popular every day amongst anglers. It’s a way to catch more fish and bigger fish year after year. Most fishermen will keep a few “eaters” here and there, but typically everything else is thrown back to breed and grow.
Just think of it this way… one day you release a 30-pounder and years later watch your children catch the same fish that is now almost twice as big! Pretty cool, if you ask me!
With all that being said, the last bit of guidance I can pass on is to have confidence and remember that practice makes perfect. I struggle with this every day! Being the only female at times on the boat or during a tournament can really put the attention on you. I am always getting nervous about something: from making a good cast to loading the boat back on the trailer with everyone watching. But then I stop and remember that not all these guys are perfect either. Everyone has to start somewhere!
I hope this information sparks an interest to get out and do a little catfishing. Remember, a little slime never hurt anyone!
Check out Summer 2017 Cover Girl Amy Smith’s bio on page 6.