We've all heard those fascinating tales about huge fish lurking in our lakes and rivers. One of those stories tells about scuba divers that refused to return to the water after encountering fish as big as a small car. Perhaps you may have even heard the story about the angler who used whole chickens as bait to capture a monster fish that devoured the entire fish population in his favorite farm pond.
In virtually every case, catfish played the starring role in these fishing "Horror" stories. While one might question the accuracy of these urban legends, there is no doubt that huge catfish do exist in our nation's waters. In fact, the North American record flathead catfish tipped the scales at 123 pounds. The largest blue catfish currently occupying the top tier of that category in the record books weighed in at 111 pounds. And, a 58-pounder currently holds the top spot in the channel cat hall of fame.
Though big catfish are always the "talk of the town", this popular sportfish comes in many shapes, sizes and species. The smaller bullhead seldom top more than two pounds, while the ever-popular forktail or channel catfish typically range in size from one to 20 pounds. It is the flatheads and blue catfish that most often grow to trophy size and can often weigh in at more than 30 pounds. Regardless of their size, these slick-siders all put up a good fight.
They lack some of the glamour associated with certain other fish species, but many of the nation's angling enthusiasts still hold a certain affection for catfish. In fact, many of these same individuals prefer a plate of fried catfish and hush puppies to prime rib or steak. Therefore, it's no wonder that catfish rate high on their list of favorite fish species. Throughout the summer, anglers of all types can be found prowling the country's many rivers, lakes and ponds in pursuit of Mr. Whiskers.
Fortunately, catfish are abundant in most waters throughout the 48 states. While the fork-tailed channel catfish is most common, blue and flathead cats are also present in good numbers. Best of all, a fancy boat or expensive gear is not needed when pursuing the main ingredient for a delicious fish fry. All that's really required is a bit of patience, a supply of often odiferous bait and a good recipe for hush puppies.
Gearing up for cats
When it comes to their catfishing, most folks prefer to keep things simple. Though some anglers fish from boats, many catfish enthusiasts choose to relax along a quiet stretch of shoreline and carefully monitor their rod tips for a telltale nibble. Depending upon how serious the angler might be, the typical catfish pole may range from a simple cane pole to a much more sophisticated graphite, composite or fiberglass rod. It is important, however, that the rod be sensitive enough to detect a bite, yet stout enough to horse in those big ones.
Most anglers elect to use a somewhat longer rod, like the seven-foot Cabela's IM7 Tourney Trail or E-Glass series. Veteran catfish anglers prefer those with a somewhat stiff center section and a flexible tip, and Cabela's has designed the King Kat combos especially for these aficionados.
While catfish will occasionally hit artificial lures, bait with a little more "presence" is the most common approach. The strong odors of catfish baits are nothing unusual to those who enjoy this species. The basic theory is to entice the catfish to seek out, mouth and then eat the bait. Unfortunately for those with delicate sensibilities, catfish are driven to food by their keen sense of smell.
Topping the "strong odor" category is a variety of concoctions widely known as dip baits are often referred to affectionately as "stink bait." These cheese- or blood-based mixtures are sold commercially though a few of the most seriously obsessed have their own "secret" blend. If you don't want to hear comments like "did something die in your utility shed?" you might want to opt for the commercial prepared options that come in sealed containers.
Water current helps spread the news of an easy meal. A popular rigging system is composed of a plastic "dip" worm that is submerged in the mixture until a glob is formed around it. In rivers, the worm and mix is cast upstream of a likely catfish haunt and the odor spreads downstream with the current. Lake anglers merely allow the hungry fish to follow the scent back to the bait and hopefully gobble it down.
Oftentimes equally productive, natural baits are a little more pleasant to handle. Night crawlers, crayfish and minnows yield good catches. These baits do produce a smell that attracts catfish, but it is a little subtler than the dip baits.
Cut baits are another popular choice among dedicated catfish anglers. Baitfish such as suckers, chubs, or shad are "staked out" and the pieces are threaded on a hook. Some anglers even fillet the baitfish and thread it on the hook.
The typical catfish rig is equally uncomplicated. Regardless of the bait being used, catfish rigs come in one of four styles. Many anglers prefer to use a swivel tied to the line and a 12-inch leader down to the bait. Another popular choice is a variation that includes a snap swivel attached to a short leader of six inches or less. Both are popular with anglers who like to frequently change dip bait worms.
Another common rig is composed of a three-way swivel tied to the main line. A six-inch drop line holds a lead sinker. The remaining end of the swivel is attached to a 12-inch leader holding the hook and bait.
The final rig utilizes a slip float that is held in place by a bead and stop knot. The moveable stop knot allows the float to be adjusted, and permits the angler to suspend the bait at a desired depth. The line continues to a swivel, weight and bait that is held near the bottom of slow-current areas.
In all of these cases, the swivel is used to prevent a twisting catfish from tangling the line during its attempt to get away. A hooked catfish will do its best to break the line. For that reason, most catfish anglers use 12-pound test or heavier line. With a high-quality tough line, the catfish angler can fish around rocky or stumpy underwater cover.
Top spots for cats
Though most every lake, river, stream and pond in the lower 48 states contain catfish, certain waters offer the best fishing potential. Rating high on the list are the tailwaters below a major dam. Deeper sections in rivers and streams can also be hotspots. Most reservoirs and larger lakes also contain good populations of catfish. Even the smaller farm ponds can often be excellent locations to catch a few of these whiskered creatures. Regardless of the type of water fished, it is common knowledge that catfish prefer cover. They are bottom feeders that typically can be found around rocks and stumps.
Except when feeding, catfish often lay in deep water near some structure. During warmer summer months, they do not usually feed actively during the midday hours. Instead, they will move up to the shallow flats to feed later in the day and predominately at night. In the morning they can often be found under any existing vegetation, such as lily pads. Catfish will loaf in these areas until warming water sends them back to the depths.
With all these great catfish angling opportunities, it is no wonder that many folks have a certain love for catfish. All that is really needed is a minimum of catfish gear and a supply of bait. And, don't forget to purchase the necessary ingredients for preparing a batch of hush puppies. Eating catfish without hush puppies is a misdemeanor in some locales. If it's not where you live, it should be!
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