Catching Catfish: My Trip to Missouri in search of blue cats

I love fishing. I love catching anything that will bite, panfish, walleyes, pike, bass or catfish. More than just catching fish, I love my finned foe to be able to put up a battle. I would bet you can also appreciate a battle, or you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

This quest for a good fight has led me to a love of catching catfish. Catfish, as some in the professional circle would say, are the top of the food chain, the king of the jungle so to speak. Most people’s opinion of catfish sees them as a bottom feeding rotten meat eater. This is almost true, (catfish don’t eat rotted meat) but it should be known that catfish are opportunistic feeders and look for the easiest meal available.

When you take up any new activity there is a learning curve that goes with it. Starting to fish a new species is just the same. Once you know the basics to catching catfish you can quickly become an expert at catching them whether you fish a pond, stream or the Mighty Red River of the North.

Gearing Up

Many people who fish already own a medium heavy rod. If you have such a rod, all you need is some heavier line (12-20) pounds on your reel and you are in business. If you don’t have a rod or reel setup, you can buy a combo that will get you by or you can get a bit more involved and purchase a medium heavy catfish rod or even a musky rod. Longer rods measuring seven to nine feet tend to work better for casting and for fighting a big fish. The reels should hold at least 200 feet of a strong line to allow for long casts and hard runs from these creatures of the deep.

Now that you own the rod and reel, you will need to acquire the line and terminal tackle. Choose a good quality line between twelve and thirty pound test (depending on the water you fish.) A quality monofilament or super line is the best way to go. Pick the one you prefer. You should be aware that catfishing in a river does require break offs and heavy super lines sometimes make a quick break off more difficult. Next you will need a sinker to keep the bait on the bottom. Depending on the body of water you will want a one to six once sinker. No rolls tend to be the best for faster currents but any sinker like a bell sinker or an egg sinker will work fine. Like with walleye fishing, you want to use the lightest sinker you can get away with while keeping the bait in the strike zone. Below the sinker you should put a bead or piece of surgical tubing to protect your knot from being damaged by the sinker. Next, tie in a barrel swivel to allow your bait to turn in the current and keep line twists at a minimum. Last but not least you will need a good quality hook. A 1/0 to 5/0 hook is the last part of the equation of success. The hook size should be determined by the size of fish you plan to catch and the bait you plan to lure them in with.

Locating a Fishing Spot

When I was starting out, I really had no idea where to catch catfish except that I knew they liked to lye in holes. I was shown a couple holes to fish and had success in those holes while fishing from a boat. Shore fishing was another challenge all together. I did not know the back roads along the river so in the beginning I was relegated to only a couple spots from shore.

One of the spots I found revealed a catfish home run. I could bait up my hook, cast it out, and I would catch fish. Sometimes, I would catch small fish, and occasionally a big fish up to 16 pounds. Based on how long it took for the sinker to reach the bottom, I figured out that I was fishing in a hole. What I learned about my shore spot is that it was a spot that I now consider a goldmine in structure. This hole had a riffle (faster current over shallow water) running into it and it had a snag (tree or other debris) stuck on the edge of it.

This spot was the perfect learning spot. Casting to different parts of the hole and around the structure allowed the opportunity to learn the basics of how fish move around in a hole, how they related to structure for rest, and used it for efficient feeding. Spots like this are hard to come by, but once you find one they will hold fish nearly every day.

In most cases the magic spot really does not exist. This is where learning fish habits, patterns, and how they relate to the different spots can make your catfishing more efficient. There are three basic structures to a river that catfish relate to. Whether you are in a small stream or a large river the basic three structures always exist in some way shape or form.

The first structure is a run. A run is a flat area of a river that has very little contour on it. When you look at the surface of the water you will see flat water or just a little ripple as it moves downstream. These spots are great feeding locations when the fish are aggressive and on the prowl. The best time to fish in runs are low light periods, nighttime and during the pre-spawn period.

A riffle is the spot where the river narrows or gets shallow forcing the water to speed up. Riffles do not hold fish as much as a run or hole but they are very important as they create the faster current that runs into the holes located directly downstream of them. This faster water catches and dumps food and baitfish into the holes where it is easy for a feeding fish to get it at the head of the hole. It also provides fresh oxygenated water for the fish during the lower water or hotter times of the year.

You will find fish more often than not in the holes or snags located in or downstream of a riffle. Learning to read the river where the currents speed up and slow down greatly increase your ability to find good fishing spots with active fish in them. Fish typically feed actively at the head of a hole in low light periods of early morning or evening. During the day they will rest in the deeper sections of the holes or under the snags.

Finding runs, riffles and holes is much easier from a boat. If you are shore fishing it may seem a bit harder to find as you can’t drive right over them using your electronics to see what is below. From a shoreline spot the best way to find these spots is begin walking stretches of bank looking for the spots where the faster water slows down or even creates a back eddy. These are the spots to stop and fish. These spots are tell tail fish holders. Good fortune will be a snag caught up on the edge of the hole or eddy where fish can sit back and rest between meals. Cast the bait around in these spots to figure out where the fish like to hang out and it will all come together.

Whether you live next to a small stream, the Missouri or Red rivers, you should now know what to look for when fishing from the shore or the boat the next time you go fishing for channel cats. Catfishing can be as simple or as technical as you want it to be. Knowing the simple basics of where the fish live and how they tend to feed based on water conditions, will make you a better angler day in and day out. Once you learn the basics it will make your electronics and other technologies even more effective.

Like I said at the beginning, I love fishing for any fish species that will bite but channel cats have a special place in my heart. I just love the fight and the never give up attitude that comes along with them. I love the way they feed and live in the fast moving murky water in most rivers. And, they are kind of cute. This summer get out and try a fish off the beaten path, the mighty channel catfish.

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