For years you have probably read articles for seen fishermen on TV telling you to keep detailed records of your day on the water. Like many you probably started a season with the best of intentions to keep track of every little detail of your outing and by the end of the season if any records were still being kept it was where you fished and what you caught. Don’t feel bad you are just another member of the club. To most people keeping fishing records is like joining a health club at the start the new year. Start with great diligence and fizzle out as time goes on.
If you did keep the records, no matter how much detail of lack thereof what do you do with them in the months and fishing seasons to come? Do you refer back to them to remember a great fishing trip of the past or do you really utilize them to recreate a presentation or situation that worked on a past outing?
Record keeping of fishing conditions in the most basic sense can be a valuable tool to find fish but with a little knowhow it can be used more effectively in helping to pattern a bite. With just a little bit of effort in the record keeping especially for river channel catfish it is possible to actually predict the bite pattern from day to day. This prediction can be valuable catching more fish to not wasting time fishing in spots that will be unproductive based on conditions.
Before you can begin keeping records and put them to work catching catfish you must first understand the natural progression of the catfish season from pre-spawn, spawn, post-spawn, summer and fall patterns. These seasonal patterns of the channel catfish are the same every year, but the conditions dictate the progression of each season. With a few observations and a small amount of record keeping you will be able to quickly transition from season to season. In fact, after a few years referring to the records you will be able to predict the presentation and location best suited for the seasonal situation put forth.
Now that you are in tune with what the catfish seasons are, a few basics need to be known about what records to keep for rivers and channel cats. Environmental factors in rivers such as gauge height and water flow vary from day to day. Also, water temperature which also fluctuates from day to day throughout the season and trigger the seasonal patterns. Other factors that play into patterning are weather systems and even the moon phase.
All of these factors play into how fish feed and move. Understanding how the fish move and act from day to day to these changing patterns. It is these small changes in pattern that can be the difference between a good day of catfishing and a bad day of catfishing.
It is widely known that in the spring of the year when the flood season is winding down and the water is warming up that channel catfish migrate upstream and gorge themselves after a long winter and to get ready for the nearing spawn season. Many people think this pattern has more to do with the date than what the conditions are. Some years in the Red River Valley the flood season can be over in late April while others can linger on into Mid-May or even Early June. The pre-spawn bite is always the same but can be weeks apart from year to year.
It is the river level and water temperature that dictate the best time to be out fishing during the pre-spawn. This is where record keeping and analysis really comes into play. With just a couple seasons of taking these notes and referring back to them based on conditions and not date, it soon becomes easy to pattern that bite based on how spring is progressing. Understanding this phenomenon will help pinpoint where the fish will be much more quickly than just going out to your favorite spot and throwing some bait out.
A time that many anglers miss is when the cats move from pre-spawn to the spawning grounds. The fish are still feeding but are dispersing back downstream to prepare for spawn. You will be able to know the exact point in water temperature when the fish migrate from the pre-spawn feeding grounds and spread out to find nests to begin spawning. When this happens you will know to move downstream checking traditional spawning locations while also working the fast water breaks for the feeding fish that have not come into the spawn yet and the first post-spawn fish that are coming out for the post spawn feed.
Besides being able to understand when the catfish progress from season to season, with good record keeping you will be able to quickly point out changes in the fish movement based on water conditions. River situations can fluctuate from day to day. The 2010 season on the Red River of the North was a testament to that. Due to wet conditions the river stayed high all season and saw 1-10 foot fluctuations in level from week to week.
Record keeping can also help in understanding how the fish adjust to rising and falling water and at what points in level and flow they do it is the key to staying on fish. After a few years the records will begin to show trends in the bite and at what point in the flow the fish will move from one pattern to another. With some time spent with this way of studying the records it becomes clear that as little as a one foot rise in water level can push the catfish from a fast water break out of the main channel to a secondary current or edge of a back eddy.
Good record keeping on catfishing trips can also help with patterning based on weather conditions and how the fish react to them. Everyone knows that fish of any species react to cold fronts but how do they react is the question and how do you fish through them? Keeping records can help you understand what the fish do when a major front moves through or how they move react to it.
In the case of channel cats they will tend to get lethargic during or the day after a major low pressure system move through the area. For the angler who fish aggressively in fast water things will get rough in a hurry. When this happens the aggressive fisherman must relax and find structures out of the main currents putting bait nearly right on top of the catfish and be willing to wait 20-50% longer for the fish to get in the mood and bite. In this situation baits should also be 10-30% smaller. The smaller fish will be the first to bite and the bigger fish will soon follow. Patience is the key in this situation. In the case of low pressure below 29.6 inches the bite will continue to get better each day for three consecutive days following.
As anglers it is important to keep in mind that you have to take advantage of the fishing time that is allotted in a busy life. You can’t simply look the crystal ball and when all the stars align say that is the day because there are so few perfect days. Keeping these simple yet detailed records can help you chart out a game plan to deal with the constantly changing conditions and make the most of the cards you are dealt on any given day. Keeping that in mind and putting your experiences and records together can make everyday on the water chasing channel cats a great day.