The Off Season- Tips for the Northern Catfish Angler
For many of us in the North Country one season seamlessly moves to the next. We go from early spring pike fishing to summer catfishing to hunting to ice fishing and over and over as the years go by. There are people out there who do experience an off season. We may not hunt or ice fish. That leaves us with the winter to prepare for the summer. Catfish anglers are no different than any others. So the question is for the hard core catman, “What do I do in the off season”?
Put the Gear Away
When fall becomes winter and it is time to put the gear away until spring. It is a great time to take the reels off the rods and give everything a good once over. Check out all the eyelets in your rods, make sure they intact and not cracked or broken. If you find a bad eyelet you can usually find parts at your local outdoors store or find a custom rod shop that can do a quick repair for a couple bucks.
Catfish reels take a harder beating than any other part of your arsenal. Take time to wipe off your reel, back off the drag, (leaving the drag tight over the off season is harder on it than a big channel cat taking a hard bulldog run.) Make sure all the moving parts are working properly, and take the line off. If your reel is sticking, or making noise during the cast or retrieve, this is a perfect time to either take the reel apart for a cleaning and lubrication. If you are like me, just take it to a good reel repair shop and pay the $12 to $15 for a professional to go through and make sure the reel is back in tip top shape.
This is also a great time to take inventory of all your other gear from hooks to sinkers. Make a list of supplies you will need for next year and put the gear you have away in your tackle box or a place that will be easy to find for the first spring catfish outing.
Review any Notes
Your gear is cleaned and tucked away for the winter and ready to go for spring. If you kept a journal of your adventures or even took a few pattern notes this is a great time to get those notes together to review them. Going over these notes is a vital key to becoming a better angler.
In the fall your fishing prowess from the previous season is still fresh in your mind. If you have notes and mentally go back to the good days and the bad days you may find that one nugget of information that made the difference between a great day and a day to forget. It is that information that could be the key next year if the same scenario should arise.
2010 presented me a tough go at a certain point during fluctuating water. It seemed that every time the water got to a certain point my bite vanished. I knew the fish did not quit feeding but was unsure about where they moved to. In November 2010 (just after the season ended) I took the opportunity to look back over my catch records and water records. What I found was that I had two great days as the water came up. It was at that point I discovered secondary currents. In 2011 I hit the high water early and started playing with the secondary current lines that I discovered in my research and what do you know; SUCCESS. That little bit of homework in the off season actually made the 2011 season my best season ever.
Your notes or research do not have to be that in depth. They can be as simple as a bait change or a small presentation change. Just a little off season research keeps your blood pumping and make you a better angler at the same time.
Back to the Basics
Every winter I read In-Fisherman’s Catfish Fever at least once. To me this book is “the bible”. It tears down the art of catfishing to the bare bones and builds it up. Today with advancements in technology and the abundance of basic articles on the internet everything tends to be made more difficult than it needs to be.
By going back to the beginning and reviewing the most basic way to catfish you will be reminded of very simple details that you may have forgotten. Hitting just one of these details buried in the back of your mind could be the key to catching just one more trophy next season. It may give you a tidbit of information to go back to your notes and put two and two together on something you had not figured out yet.
Go to Seminars and Sport Shows
By mid winter most northerners need to get out of the house. This could be a great opportunity to visit a sport show or two. If there are guides for outfitters at the show, take time to visit with them. This can be a great way to pick up a tip or a trick. If there is not a line to speak to the outfitter about booking trips most will be glad to visit with you and answer questions.
Speaking for myself, I love the opportunity to talk with people when I work at sport shows. Even as a guide talking to anglers from other cities and bodies of water I can always find something to spur a thought that may help me out. I especially love talking to people after giving a seminar. If they find something in the presentation that does not jive with them they will let me know. Sometimes they just might be right and I am the student at that point.
Seminars are a great way to learn about catfishing and maybe gather up some new ideas on how to catch fish. Reading a book is one thing but listening to it live and having the opportunity to ask questions is the best way to learn. With the growing popularity of catfishing nationwide it is becoming easier to find quality seminars about catfishing.
When going to a seminar if you can pick up just one new idea that you think can help in your catfishing it was worth the time. Just one good idea can set up an entire season to master a new trick and catch more fish.
Some sport shows may not have the catfish seminar you want but another place to look is your local sporting goods store. As winter becomes spring the tackle shops want to show off all of the new gear for the upcoming spring. This is the time they schedule factory pros of various companies to come in to promote their wares and conduct short seminars. This is a great way to see a seminar and get some face time with the speaker. It is the visit after the seminar where the real lessons will be learned.
The first time I participated in a catfish tournament the tournament officials sponsored a seminar the evening of the opening ceremonies. The seminar was about using circle hooks the right way for tournament fishing. It was a great seminar but they left our one piece of information. After the seminar my buddy and I walked up to the stage and asked for the rest of the story. The speaker gladly answered the question and explained again the proper set up for using circle hooks, a technique I still use today. Thinking back on it, there were about 200 people at that seminar and I can only remember three stepping up to the stage to ask questions.
Right Before Winter Ends
About that time that cabin fever is in full swing and the spring floods kick into high gear there are a couple things that still need to be done. This is the time to hit the outdoor store to finish filling your shopping list from the fall (if you have not yet done that at the spring sale and seminars.) Buy any hooks, swivels, or sinkers you may need. This is the time to purchase fresh line.
The last step before the boat goes in the water or you get the waders on to hit the shore lines is to put fresh line on all your reels, tie snells for at least the first half of the season and go back through your inventory from the last fall. Make sure everything is ready to go and you are not missing anything that could be critical to your success.
Simply going through your gear and spooling your hooks will take your mind back to your notes and what you learned. The things you read or heard over the winter will also be going through your mind as the excitement of the upcoming season draws near. Now it is only a matter of getting out there and catching some catfish.
You can use any of these tips for any species that you like. Most of it is goes for any type of fish. Catfish anglers (at least the ones I know) tend to throw their stuff in a pile in the fall and scramble to be ready for the first trip in the spring and that is ok too.
These tips are some of the things I do in the off season beginning in the fall even before the boat is dry. I do them to always stay ready for the next season and to stay sane during the long cold winter of the north. I can honestly say that the off season preparation is a huge key to my success on the water. I would rate the research and preparation as important to catfishing as time on the water. It’s not too late, use your off season to the fullest. After all spring is just around the corner.
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