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Big Game Sport on a Small-Game Budget  at Cabela's

Big Game Sport on a Small-Game Budget

Author: John N. Felsher

Not everybody can experience blue water action, but abundant catfish offer big game sport close to home. Flatheads may exceed 120 pounds. Blues broke the 128-pound mark, but old records claim fish topping 300 pounds.

Big catfish are big game on a small budget.
Catching big cats requires patience, effort and understanding. Blues prefer flowing water and may swim hundreds of miles. Ornery loaners, flatheads hide like cantankerous hermits in thick wooded cover and rarely venture far from home. Voracious nocturnal predators, big flatheads prowl shallows around fallen trees or other woody structure. About 96 percent of a large flathead's diet consists of shad, bream or other fish.

For big cats, use stout equipment, heavy-duty rods and reels loaded with quality line. Tie a barrel swivel below a slip sinker. To the swivel, tie two to three feet of premium leader with a high grade hook. For the really big catfish, you might want to go as big as 6/0 to 12/0 hook, but average sized cats can be tamed with a more modest hook. Catfish Charlie Dip Bait Worms have been designed to present specialty baits like cheese and stinkbait. An egg-shaped slip sinker keeps bait near the bottom, but allows a fish to take the bait with little resistance. Toss the bait near a hardwood logjam. Hook a shad, bream or large shiner through the lips or under the dorsal fin. Few flatheads can ignore a struggling, crippled baitfish.

Not as finicky as flatheads, blues eat almost anything. They readily devour live fish, fish chunks, night crawlers, crawfish, cheese, shrimp, stinkbaits, livers, kidneys or even soap. Any odorous bait that oozes an oily slick may attract blues. Like sharks, they home in on tempting smells from great distances.

For whopper blues, stick to fish. Big catfish almost exclusively eat other fish. Use whole fish four to six inches long, strips or meaty chunks. Four to eight minnows hooked through the eyes resemble a school of minnows. Although catters chasing behemoth blues might use baits weighing nearly two pounds, a big bait does not necessarily mean a big catfish. Some of the largest blues hit mere morsels.

"My number one bait is skipjack herring," said Gary Hood of Red River Catfish Guide in Bossier City, La. "I cut herring into 1-inch squares. I fillet one side and cut the other side into chunks. On the fillet, I'll just hook it one time and leave the hook exposed. Big cats aren't hook-shy. That strip undulates in the current. Catfish can't resist it."

Big blues thrive in rivers where currents excavate holes on the outside of bends and at the ends of jetties. Other choice honey holes include rocks or logjams, scour holes beneath dams, riprap or channel edges.

"River current creates an eddy at the end of jetties and digs a deep hole," Hood said. "Feeding catfish find a comfortable spot and face upstream looking for food to come to them. Inactive fish rest in the bottom of the scour hole. Sometimes, I won't get a bite in the bottom of the hole, but I can't keep them off on the upstream side."
Big catfish can be found just about anywhere.
Catfish also congregate in tailraces below dams. Power generators in reservoirs grind their own chum slicks. Generators sometimes pull baitfish through the turbines and spew crushed fish chunks downstream. Big blues feast upon these drifting morsels.

Slack water gathers between open generator gates. Catfish hide in "current tunnels" and dash out to gulp chunks flowing downstream. Position baits on the edges of slack areas or float bobbers between currents.

If Hood can't find fish, he tries to call them to him by attaching chum to his line. Prior to his trip, he drills holes in 35-mm film canisters and packs commercial stink baits or bloody chicken liver in them. He runs his line through the middle of a canister and anchors it in place with spilt-shot. That scent and blood oozes out and attracts fish.

To find big blue catfish away from cover, look for shad with electronics. Big blues in many reservoirs often shadow shad schools, suspending beneath the schools for opportunities to strike. When striped bass or other predators attack the schools, blues scoop up the cripples or falling victims.

For catching deep suspended fish, use a bottom float rig. On a conventional sinker and leader rig, add a small plastic float just above the bait. This suspends bait off bottom and keeps hooks out of snags. Catfish see a suspended bait chunk more easily than one resting on bottom.

If anglers want to continue catching monster cats, they must release big ones. It may take a catfish decades to reach 50 pounds.

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