The Dreaded Spawn: Catching Channel Catfish During the Spawn

Catching Catfish during Spawn Isn’t That Bad

If there is one time of the catfishing season that delivers the most complaints, the most negative attitude and the most arguments about how to catch a channel catfish, it is the spawn and the post spawn.  These times happen every year whether we like it or not and there are a few ways to capitalize on this time and not miss a beat in your catfishing.

I think the reason these are such hated times to fish is that many people simply don’t understand the fish and how they move during this time, what they need to eat and how they react to conditions.  Just understanding some of this can make this time of the season go by in a fairly painless fashion.

The Spawn

Channel catfish spawn in the early part of the summer.  Usually when the water temperature reaches 68 to 70 degrees the catfish migrate to their nesting areas and start getting ready for the annual ritual.  The actual spawning takes place when the water temperature is a stable 70 to 74 degrees.  During this time the female channel cat will deposit her eggs into the den and leave the male behind to fan and guard the eggs.  The female will then head off to rest and start the recuperation process while the male waits without eating for a couple weeks while he guards the nest.

When the spawn is in progress there are many catfish anglers who believe that they may as well take a couple weeks off from fishing until things straighten out or they totally change gears fishing near the holes and dens where the catfish spawn.  The idea is to find the fish near the den and draw them out.  Sometimes they win and sometimes they don’t with this method.

The method of fishing near the dens is not necessarily a wrong method but there is a much more effective way to catch channel catfish during the spawn.

FISH AGGRESSIVE;  just like the spawn is not happening.  What this means is that not all catfish spawn at the same time, in fact some biologists believe that not all catfish spawn every year.  If the conditions are good for spawning fish like it is still pre spawn.  What you will find is that you will continue to catch pre spawn fish in the more aggressive locations such as current breaks and troughs of a river.

During this time you will notice that you will go from catching robust pre spawn fish to catching skinny post spawn fish.  If the conditions stay stable this entire process will take only two to three weeks and you won’t miss a beat in your fishing.  Should the water temperature cool back to below 70 degrees it could hold up the process and make this method a bit tougher as the spawning process will virtually stall until another warm snap.

During the summer of 2010 I ran into this exact pattern.  I noticed that the fish were moving onto the nests but the weather was nice and I decided to stay fishing very aggressively, changing spots every 15 minutes or so if no fish.  Stay on the move to find aggressive fish.  We had a great day with 16 channel cats up to 16 pounds coming into the boat throughout the day.  All of the fish were healthy and willing to fight pre spawn fish.

At the end of the day I spoke with some other anglers that were complaining that they were really struggling.  They noted that the spawn is always tough and they would just continue to tough it out.

The next day I went out again but with different guests and fished the exact same pattern as the day before only this day (just 24 hours later) all of the big fish were skinny beat up fish that had clearly been spawning and wanted to bulk up after the ordeal.  Just like a light switch the last of the pre spawn fish had gone to head the call of nature as the first were coming out and getting on with their catfish lives.


The Post Spawn


There was some mention of post spawn in the previous section as the catfish came out of the spawn.  What the post spawn is to the grand scheme of the catfish life cycle is the time when the spawn ends and the fish recuperate and move into the summer pattern where they will live out the rest of the summer months until the fall waters begin to cool.

When the fish finish up spawning, they must kick into high gear, feeding to recuperate from the long sit without food of the spawn.  In some cases the catfish has sat for two or more weeks without eating.

Consider that a 10 pound channel catfish requires a little over a half pound of food per day has not eaten in say 10 days.  That means that this fish is roughly six pounds short on food intake.  That coupled with the expanded energy requirements of the spawn itself.  The fish need to eat not only to live but to gain all of that weight loss back.

Water temperature dictates everything for the feeding and metabolism process.  If the water temperature stays stable to a slight rise the catfish will go on a feeding frenzy to gain that weight back quickly and eventually take up their residence in the general area where they will live out their summer.

When all conditions are in play, such as water temperature and a stable weather pattern, like during the spawn stay aggressive. This is a time when we should be looking for feeding fish and the quickest way to do that is to move every 15 to 20 minutes if you are not catching fish.  This is a time when you want to work the current breaks, smaller holes, troughs, and snag piles near the breaks.

Should there be a major cold front that lowers the water temperature (even just a couple degrees) the fish will pretty much quit feeding and wait out the front until things warm up and kick the metabolism back into feeding.  When this pattern rears its ugly head the best way to combat it is to start thinking slow.  The fish are not willing to look for food so they tend to sit tight usually out of the current and wait for conditions to improve.

Instead of looking for aggressive current think out of current or as little current as possible.  To find these locations look laterally to the edges of the river.  Instead of running up or down stream in search of low flow, look the edges where the faster breaks meet the shallow water.  The catfish should be holed up nearby in shallow structure.  What they are doing is waiting out the metabolism and looking for the sunlight to warm things up.  They will continue to feed should some food be put forth that is an easy meal.

In this case, once you find the location it is a good idea to sit on the spot longer than normal.  Instead of the standard 15 to 20 minute stop fish slower by staying on a spot a minimum of 30 minutes.  While this seems like a long sit, the fish being in a negative mood will have to have the bait in front of them longer before they will finally decide to take it.

In the beginning of my guiding career I ran into this a number of times and as I always did I fished aggressively searching for active fish.  During this time I would have stretches where I would catch fish but not have the number of fish that I expect for a good guide trip.  Once I realized to move to the shallows and sit a bit longer I began to catch numbers with more consistency and bigger fish.  When the water temp and metabolism heat back up the catfish will move laterally to the deeper faster water and the action will heat back up.

There is no magic wand to waive and spawning and post spawn catfish will just magically bite but there are a few things that you can do to up the odds of success.  Just imagine that spawn is not happening and plow ahead with aggression and demand success.  Pay attention to the water and weather conditions and how the fish react to those conditions.  Be willing to work the lateral movement and try different things and different location that will lead you to success.


Captain Brad Durick is a nationally recognized catfish guide, seminar speaker, and writer based on the Red River of the North at Grand Forks, North Dakota.  He is also the author of Cracking the Channel Catfish Code available at

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