In this day and age we all have the insatiable desire to learn as much as we can about what we love to do, in this case catfishing. From what is the sharpest hook to what is the best way to side image a hole full of catfish and set up on them. All of this learning and knowledge is great because in the long run it makes us better, that is; if we remember the basics.
Keep it simple catfish is a key that must be thought about often to stay on the fish. Think about it this way, a great sports team does not just show up to the rink, court, or field and just win. They spend many hours practicing. They start out with the very basics of the game then spend hours working on the plays until every scenario becomes automatic. In the fishing world looking back at basic how to books, videos, or articles is the “team meeting” of the fundamentals and getting out on the water putting those fundamentals to work is the practice.
We all know the basics of tying a catfish rig and we are probably confident in the system we use. It never hurts to look at the diagrams and the applications of some other rigs just in case you may have run across a situation and think, that may be a better rig than what I’m using in that certain situation. This might be a great example of an audible (borrowing from a football term) the next time the situation arises.
For the most part I only fish cats with a no roll sinker and snell. About the only adjustments I make to my rig is how much weight I use. There are dozens of presentations but having just one that keeps it simple with just small adjustments is a key to being automatic when on the water and keeping it simple.
Catfish rig review may be a bit elementary but what about seasonal locations and patterns? Most anglers have a tendency to find a few good spots that have shown great fishing over time and stick to only those spots. Some spots are great and require frequent visits but not all spots are created equally. Some spots are spring spots, some high water spots, and others are summer night spots.
Every season is different and no two years in a river are the same. This is where a little K.I.S.S review comes into place to pull back to some basic locations and conditions to look for. The key is the run riffle hole concept that has long been promoted by the good people at In-Fisherman. This is as simple as it gets. All rivers have the run riffle hole make up and once it is located and figured out fishing is that much easier.
My basic seasonal patterns go as follows. Ice out is the time right after the winter ice subsides. Over the past decade this is an unfishable season due to major spring flooding. If there is a year there is no spring flooding this is a time when you can start fishing the shallows very slowly for fish beginning to feed and bulk up after a long winter. Because of the cold but warming water temperatures, when you find the magic spot fish it a little slower. Don’t play 20 minutes and out. Be willing to wait a bit longer for active fish to find the baits.
Pre-Spawn comes as the water temperatures warm up to above 48 degrees. This is a long period of the catfish season when the catfish are aggressively feeding to get ready for the spawn season. As the water warms up the catfish keep feeding. The fish feed aggressively, so fish aggressively. Look for feeding spots near faster water. A trough located between two holes can be an amazing feeding run during the pre spawn. Other areas might be a faster channel break moving into a big snag.
Spawn period is about the time when northern waters reach 70 to 74 degrees. The spawn can last anywhere from two weeks to two months depending on the weather. If the weather stays stable and the waters continues to warm, spawn will be quick but if the water temperatures drop due to a drawn out cold front it will take longer. There are two theories to fishing the spawn. One is to fish as normal and wait the fish out. The other is to fish aggressively going after the pre-spawn fish. Not all fish spawn at the same time. Staying aggressive allows you to keep catching big pre-spawn fish and one day the fish will be skinny post spawn fish. There is virtually no drop in catch rate if the spawn is fished aggressively.
Summer pattern is the time most people are familiar with. This is the time when fishing the old wood pile or a big hole comes into play. The catfish tend to stay somewhat localized and fairly predictable. Try the patterns keep moving and good things will happen. The summer pattern is where some differentiation and homework come into play but for this topic Keep It Simple.
Bait is another one that people put way to much effort into. Ask 20 people what the best bait for channel cat is and you will get 18 different answers. None of these answers are necessarily wrong. The key to bait selection in the K.I.S.S System is to pick three or four quality baits that are key to a specific area and be the best at using them.
During the spring understand that the catfish are eating anything they can find easy which is usually dead fish left over from winter. This is the case where you find smellier baits such as last year’s bait left over in the freezer or some dead bait left out from the day before.
When pre spawn kicks in you need to get some meat in the water. This is a time of aggressive feeding. It is also the time when water temps and fish metabolism are heating up and need to eat is in high gear. Many people pull out their favorite bait but it seems the most plentiful fresh bait is all you really need during this time.
As pre spawn turns into spawn the last of the fish getting ready to go are still feeding hard to get ready and the catfish actually spawning usually won’t eat unless something is basically dropped on their head. This is when good natural bait that is popular to the water system you are fishing is key. Keep the baits fresh and be willing to move to a second option in case fish taste changes. In my fishing this time is critical. I use white sucker as much as I can but in a normal year the spawn kicks in about the same time as the pre spawn run of goldeyes and mooneyes. During this time the bait preference can change from sucker to goldeye as fast as you can pull your anchor so you have to be ready to make the change for finicky fish.
Summer pattern is when bait selection is fairly simple but very important at the same time. You have to be prepared with multiple baits to suit the taste of the catfish. This is where the statement of have two or three go-to baits comes into play. Have your comfort baits ready to go. Be willing to try all of them on a line spread to determine which bait will have the strongest showing. If the bite is firing on all cylinders it won’t take long to figure out which bait has the preference for that outing and change over to that bait for the remainder of the day.
In August of 2011 I had a situation where we were catching fish on both suckers and frogs. As the day went on the bite seemed to change over to exclusively frogs and we adjusted accordingly. Twenty four hours later with the same customers we started out with the same pattern and tested bait the same way and found that sucker was outperforming frogs 3-1. A total bait change in a day. Just the proof required to keep go-to baits on hand and be willing to try them all.
Adding To It All
Once you have all the basics of catfish down and are on the K.I.S.S catfish system it is time to allow the new knowledge to flow into the game. This is the time when you can start more advanced water reading and heading the fish off at the pass so to speak. Find them on the move between holes and snags.
This is the time when using your electronics to find more advanced structure like stumps and rock piles that are located under the water and may hold fish. Start taking what you know about the seasonal moods of catfish and bait preferences and begin working it into these spots. You know where the catfish should be based on the season now you can start fine tuning the spots based on more advanced structure and currents.
Keep it Simple Stupid
Keeping it simple is the basis for any catfishing. Like any good sports team the fundamentals should be so automatic that there is little or no thought involved. Because they are so automatic, they can work in the tougher plays with ease. In terms of catfishing understanding the seasonal patterns, bait patterns and gear basics are the fundamentals and adjusting to water conditions or bait situations are calling the audible. Remember the great sports teams make the fundamentals look easy because they work on them daily. Catfishing is no different so K.I.S.S Keep it Simple Stupid.
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. https://www.redrivercatfish.com