Post By: Catman1979 Posted: 10/8/2012 12:24:16 PM Points: 3728
This year has been a banner year for catfish angling in Colorado, with many anglers landing their first trophy size, and others continuing to show their ability. As for myself, my catfish angling has been a bust. It really got me to thinking, did I have a good year of angling my favorite freshwater fish? Yes. It has been great seeing so many others actively target catfish. With that, I felt it was time to give up many of my tips and knowledge, in order to continue in helping even more folks, get the kitty fever…
The most I ever learned about cat fish behavior, was from my two upside-down catfish I owned. When I would feed them, I would drop a blood worm ball into a tube, and then place the other end in a shot glass at the bottom. The fish would congregate around this shot glass until I lifted the tube out, and then a feeding frenzy would start. The catfish, never came out from their rock, until the blood worm scent got to them in the current. The smaller one would come out first, and investigate the scene, while the larger one would idly sit back. Then, out of nowhere, they would cyclone around the shot glass, leaving scraps for the other fish. They were extremely fast predators, and the other fish never ever messed with them. I had underwater night lights setup, and I would turn the lights off in the living room sometimes. After about twenty minutes, two distinct catfish silhouettes would be seen coming out of their rocky home roaming around the aquarium for food. They did this, while resting off and on, for hours. When day came, it was back to hanging out under that rock. They ate fast and quick when they had to eat in the day, and had an internal instinct to move at night.
The following is an article that I hope will educate not only beginners, but even the most avid cat angler. This is information that has been plied not only in Southern California, but in Colorado as well.
Colorado Catfish Descriptions:
In Colorado, we have three prominent species that are sought after. The channel catfish, the blue catfish, and the flathead catfish. Channel cats are the only known Colorado native, and can be found in most waters east of the front range. Flathead cats, tend to be found in the southern parts of the state. The blue catfish, is found in the eastern plains fisheries.
Channel Catfish: The channel catfish is by far the most popular fish to be caught amongst Colorado anglers, primarily due to their abundance. They can be found in huge reservoirs, to small ponds. Channels usually are scavengers, but will often times become more predatory as they get larger, seeking live bait. The bait selection for these fish is limitless, but more often than not, channel cat anglers will be found with shad sides
Flathead Catfish: Flatheads were introduced some time ago, and have not done well thriving in our waters. The best place to find these guys would be Pueblo Reservoir, where their numbers have gotten a healthy foothold in the environment. The state record was recently caught there, and will continue to be bested as the years go by. Flatheads, unlike channels, will feed almost exclusively on live bait only, such as live crawdads, leeches, and baitfish to name a few.
Blues: The rarest Colorado species. Blue catfish are not too different then channel cats in their feeding habits, but do favor cut bait. Most will be found on the eastern plains fisheries, such as Adobe Creek Reservoir. Blue catfish will make a drastic change in eating habits once they are older. In order to land a huge blue catfish, one should be fishing strictly with live bait.
The term bait, in regards to catfish, is widespread and open ended. When I was younger, my father and I ran out of night crawlers after getting into some decent channel cats. Being that I was just a little kid with a hunger for gum, I figured that the catfish too would love to have a taste of my favorite fishing standby. It turned out I was right, and I caught an eleven inch channel on a chewed up piece of gum. The following, is a breakdown of baits that I have known to be successful for myself, and others.
Live Bait – Any form of bait that is actually still alive… Bluegill (per Colorado law only permitted to be used from the water it is caught in), Sucker, Nightcrawlers, Leeches, Crawdads, Gizzard Shad, Shiners, Minnows.
‘Dead’ Bait – Any form of bait that was once alive, or from a living creature… Shad Sides/Guts, Chicken Liver, Beef Liver, Carp Sides, Sucker, TV Bait Shrimp, Store Bought Shrimp, Mussels, Hotdogs/Lil Smokies, Corn, Steak Chunks, Cheese, Chicken Gizzards.
Artificial Bait – Any form of bait made by people… Store Brand Stink Baits, Homemade Stink Baits, Zote Soap, Marshmallows, Lures.
It’s important to remember to, that this list is small. The following is a breakdown, of the various ways that I present these baits, and the tools I use to do so.
Shad Sides: In my opinion, the most successful catfish bait in Colorado, or anywhere. These can be purchased at any mom and pop bait store, and are simply sides filleted from gizzard shad with the skin on. I exclusively use shad sides with circle hooks, big circle hooks. Thread the needle through one end, twist the side one hundred and eighty degrees the other way, and through the hook point again. If fishing a body of water with an abundant supply of gizzard shad, try using a cast net. I don’t myself, but a friend of mine does with great success. I am too lazy, and prefer to stock up on shad at the bait store.
Chicken/Beef Liver: My second go to bait. Using a treble hook, hook the liver piece through the meatiest firmest parts of the liver, while also using the shaft of the hook. After doing this, wrap the concoction in panty hose. Also, leave enough space for the hooks to be exposed, and not with the ‘liver bag’ protruding out from the hooks. You want to have those hooks exposed for a good solid hook set. Not doing so, will result in you pulling the bait out of the catfish’s mouth. Want to soak them in the water for a six hour period, or surf cast them far? Make ‘em at home, and freeze them. When you pre-bait with this method, you are throwing a large frozen hunk of liver eighty yards into the water. It won’t unravel in the cast, and it will slowly spread the scent into the currents. Only do this however, when the water temperature is above sixty five degrees. Not doing so will result in the bait thawing out very slowly, not allowing the scent to get out well while still fishing. I will often times also tie a piece of yarn around the hook eye once rigged up. This is an old trick I learned long ago, with the idea being that the yarn will hang up in the teeth if the catfish tries to spit the hook before you get the hook set. As much as I do this, I still am unsure if it works, but it does give me some reassurance when I get a bite while rigging up leads or baiting another setup.
Live Baitfish/Bluegill: Take your live bait out of its container. Using a large circle hook, slide the point just underneath the dorsal fin and out of the other side. This allows the fish to have a good action and swim some while staying firmly on the hook. When using smaller bait such as minnows or shiners, use a smaller circle hook, and slide the hook point from the chin through the top of the mouth.
Dead Baitfish & Parts: Using the method described above for small baitfish, the head and entrails of a fish head can be done in the same manner. Use a hook size matching your bait, and hook through the mouth. You can also utilize a bait threaded attaching a hook to the mouth of the bait, and tying the end off at the tail. This provides a variety of styles to use, and can be easily found online.
Shrimp: I use a vast variety of shrimp brands, but have found common store bought shrimp to work well. Some bait shop shrimp, such as TV Bait shrimp, can be the difference between catching, and not catching. Simply thread the circle hook starting at the thickest part, down to the tail portion. Remember to keep the hook exposed. If having difficulty in keepin’ the shrimp on during a cast, simply wrap some thread around the shrimp and shaft, tying it off when done.
Live Crawdads: Same as above. Take your live (or dead) crawdad, and thread the hook through the bottom tail, to the middle of the tail, and out towards the crawdads mid-section. Like mentioned, if you are casting far, you will need to wrap thread around the tail and the mid-section, and firmly to the shaft of the hook. Do NOT thread the hook right in the middle of the tail. Doing so, will rupture the crawdads mud vein, and it will die shortly after. When using dead crawdads, I will usually just thread the tail portion on.
Stink Baits: There is some controversy, as to how well they work. Rest assured, they work great. Growing up, we used a bait that at the time, was kind of a secret thing. It was called Hog Wild, and when using this awful smelling stuff, we would catch catfish left and right. I will usually use the same method described with chicken liver, wrapping panty around the treble hook. It has an amazing way of spreading the scent out in cold to warm water, and shouldn’t be dismissed as a formidable bait.
The Night Crawler Special: The oldest, most tried and true option for any level cat angler. Take three to six night crawlers, depending on treble kook size. Taking 1/3rd the amount on hook, split those worms in half. So in other words, if using six on a large treble, cut two night crawlers in half. The scent from the torn up ones, will attract more catfish, not to mention the water displacement of a bunch of wiggling live worms in the water. Want to know how far this goes back? My great great grandmother showed this trick to my dad, when he was growing up.
Zote Soap: It’s a soap made in Mexico. It’s a soap made in much more traditional ways. In other words, it has actual animal fat. This fat seeps through the water, and catfish are frantic for it. Southern cat fishing method. Cut bar into thin sections. Place sections on circle hook, or wrap around a treble. Found at Hispanic grocery stores.
Marshmallows: Like some shrimp, it will float up in the water column when using a slide sinker. A large bait ‘lindy’ rig. Just remember to add a bobber stop and bead at the depth that you want your bait to float from the bottom. More or less a reverse slip bobber setup, except that now you are suspending the bait above the weeds from the bottom. Great method when fishing deeper.
Lures: I am not hip to the artificial scene and catfish. I also know a lot of guy’s that do this, fly or crank bait, and are very successful.
What I find is MOST important, no matter what I use, is understanding what you are using and being very aware of your drag setting. Catfish, no matter the size, put up an amazing fight. Catching a small twelve inch stocker on four pound test, can be a very exciting thing. Catching a twenty pound monster, will sometimes make you think you have a snag, at least until the “snag” starts fighting back!
Whatever you do, have a solid setup that you know, and have confidence in. Big gear setups are best for going after the big ones, but a solid medium setup and some patience, will get you the same big fish. The last thing you want to be doing while reeling in a big catfish, is thinking too much about what you need to adjust. You want a setup you know. This is what works for me:
1-Okuma Avenger Rod & Reel Combo, 12’ Med/Hvy, 20lb Mono, AV 80a Reel:
Used for surfcasting big baits out to channels and feeder creeks, that most other setups cannot reach.
Rods - Rod choice is a very wide open subject, but I tend to rely on my well rounded rods. I look for a strong setup that gives me confidence in fighting a cat, but also for “playing out” a catfish when using mono. Out of all the fancy rods on the market, you can’t go wrong with a Shakespeare Ugly Stick.
Reels - In regards to reel choice, just make sure that it will hold an adequate amount of line. If using twenty pound test, you should have a reel that will allow one hundred yards of line. I exclusively use spin reels, but many trophy anglers rely primarily on larger bait casters. Like any choice you make in gear, it’s a personnel one. I will say though, that you should have a good quality reel. This means that the drag has very little ‘play’, and allows for gradual adjustment. Any reel that has dramatic changes with minimal manual input, is key to many anglers loosing larger cats to line breakage. The reel should also have minimal to no ‘slop’ in the reel shaft, and allow for precise reeling. This will allow you to not ‘over reel’, and make adjustments to your drag accordingly.
Line - This choice is purely a personal choice. I almost exclusively use monofilament, and have found that the stretch of this line type allows me to play the fish understanding the stretch allowances of the line I am using. It gives me some breathing room in other words, and lets me think two steps ahead of the fish while making my drag adjustments. It’s a setup I have grown to love from my upbringing, and am comfortable with. As far as knots go, I exclusively use the palomar. PIC 1
Setting It Up:
My dad had a really good friend that passed away some years ago. His nickname was “Chicken”, but I always thought it should have been “Catfish”. Anyways, this guy would catch catfish all night, and up to twenty pounds, using four pound test, with no weights, and a split shot sinker a foot and a half up from the treble hook. I have yet to catch a catfish that large, on four pound test. He was just that good.
‘Fly Lining’ - What Chicken taught me, was to divert from what ‘mainstream’ cat anglers attest to be ‘go to setups’. I have a few setups that I have come to love. When using a lighter line, and the currents are calmer, I will “fly line” my bait out. What this means, is that I will only use the weight of the bait and lightness of the line, to cast out. No weights, and a swivel attached eighteen inches from the hook.
Slip Sinker - My more traditional setup, will incorporate the use of a slip egg sinker, weight bead, leader, and then hook. I try my best to not go over one ounce. If working in a stronger current, a two or three ounce weight is a must, especially when fishing spillways at high flow. I often also have to use this setup when the winds pick up at Pueblo, in order to keep the bait from entangling in cover. Remember to leave space between the leader and weight after casting. Not doing so may spook the catfish when it picks up the bait, feeling the resistance.
Slip Bobber – This incorporates using a slip bobber setup, and a circle hook. Set your slip bobber at the desired depth that you want the bait to hang. Follow this with a bead stop, float, leader (18”), split shot weights (2), and hook. Contrary to popular beliefs and tips, fishing only “the bottom”, is to paint yourself in a corner during sometimes of the year. Catfish will often roam suspended, looking for schools of shad, or simply just to stay in the thermocline.
No matter what body of water I fish. I am always looking for two things: structure and cover. Structure, is the actual physical layout of what’s underwater. Cover, is what is underwater and separate from the physical landscape. So, a channel next to a gradual gravel slope, would be the structure. Place a dock overhead, and you have some cover.
Think of a highway, as the actual channel in a reservoir. Sure, you could take the side streets, but you will ultimately get there faster if you take the freeway. Catfish are no different, and will rely on the always present current of a channel or feeder creek to get there. So in looking for cover, you will do best to find some next to a channel. This could be a log, an old tire, etc.
In finding cover that is near structure, you already have an increased chance of catching a catfish, especially during the spawn, where catfish lay their eggs in submerged brush and trees. What has also held true for me, is fishing the “shady side” of structure/cover during the day, where catfish will often find respite from the hot sun. If you can find an area like this, that also has a lack of current, even better.
Another great place to fish for catfish, and sometimes even better, is flats. If you can find gravel substrate, sand, or mud flats devoid of any structure, fish it. Catfish love to roam flats after leaving channels and feeder creeks. This especially holds true in colder waters during sunny days, which allows the catfish more maneuverability due to warmer water. As of recent, it was found that catfish eyesight is just as good as walleye. Their lateral lines, pick up more vibrations than most other fish, and their sense of smell is only second, to sharks.
In regards to weather, catfish are catchable all year long, contrary to popular belief. Summer time, as most know, is the best time to seek out catfish that become very active at seventy degrees (eighty degrees for flatheads). As the summer time rolls on, and the water warms even more, catfish will often become very nocturnal, feeding into the late morning. As fall starts to come, and the waters start to even out, they can be found roaming during the day and at night. Winter brings a time when catfish will eventually seek out dips and holes, often times in deeper water. This is a great time for boat anglers, and a tougher time for the angler on shore. Remember too, that in the winter the bait will need to be nearly right in front of them, as the cold water doesn’t allow the scent to spread out as well. As the spring starts to round the corner, catfish will slowly start to make their way to spawning points, becoming more active in movement and feeding as the water warms.
This is the boring part. In order to make this happen, you are going to need to be patient. So you have the best bait, and a highway that you know catfish will be cruising. Or, even better yet, you found a submerged log next to the channel? The idea of traditional cat fishing, says that you should sit on the shore for twelve hours in one spot. My opinion, is to not do this. You need to try different spots. In ten hours of fishing for cats in new areas, I will stay for two hours. That make’s for five new spots!
Anything more is a waste, in waters I am unfamiliar with. If you get something within an hour, that is an indication that you are in the right spot. What you DO want to do, is stick it out somewhere, that provides all of the above and also produces cats. If fishing a spot that has garnered you some success, stick it out! The longest I stayed still fishing one spot was seven hours, on the same bait (shad side). I caught a thirty two inch channel cat, six hours into my bait soak, in seven feet of water.
Use the least possible disturbance, either sound or vibration. Catfish pick up on light, shore movement, and loud sounds. They are a very spooky fish at night! You need to find a way to lay low, while also having some form of entertainment and comfort.
This, is the part that is most important. I have had GREAT success on all three of the following. It should be noted as well that these are all shore techniques. They will require you to have a nice and simple pole holder, set at a forty five degree angle, and sized to your rod thickness.
Closed Bail: This requires a sturdy setup, with a moderately tight line. You will want to use a nice coil pole holder, and set it up so that its deepest in the ground. Some anglers I know of, use bungee cord to wrap the rod reel arm and holder together. I don’t do this myself, but also believe their stories of monsters pulling the rod out of the holder. Set the drag on hard, with twenty pound mono or bigger, with a treble hook or circle hook. Place bell on the tip. More often than not, you will lose cats this way. It’s also a very tried and true method for catching VERY large channel cats, that run with your bait. Just make sure it won’t steal your rod and reel combo, or worse, snap a cheap rod.
Closed Bail/Light Drag: Uses the same pole holder setup as above. Set your drag so that the top spool drag adjuster is moderately loose, with some loose line in the water. The trick here, is to use circle hooks. When a catfish starts to make your reel sing, simply pick the rod up, keep the tip down, and do a very strong sideways reel, setting the hook when you feel a pull and, HOLDING FIRM to the bell. Once you feel that its hooked, quickly tighten the drag to medium. Slowly work the drag up until you feel its tired, and make drag adjustments as it runs. I myself don’t use this method often, but know many that have good hook up rates doing this.
Open Bail: There are some product’s on the market, that detect a catfish strike when open bailing a spinning setup. They are not cheap! The one I use, costs nothing. It’s a straw. Actually, a typical white straw will get me six free strike indicators! Cut the straws into 1.5 inch sections. When done with that, use your line clippers to cut a horizontal seem on one side, along the length of the straw. Clip this on the line between the spool and the first guide. When open bailing, the fish will run OR slowly take your bait. Using a white straw, will allow you to not only ‘see’ the indicator move, but it will also click against your guides. The resistance is minimized once it gets to the smallest guide, the line will continue to seamlessly move with no tug for the cat to feel, and through the straw. This also allows you to lay your rod on the ground, and out of a wind that will constantly pull line out of your reel, at least at Pueblo Reservoir. Although you need to watch your setup like a hawk, it will pay off in spades. Once you fill confident, slowly close the bail, wait for the line to tug the tip, and set the hook after a second or two. It sounds a little intimidating at first, but it’s the best method I know once you figure it out.
Wow. thats a heck of alot of info to absorb. Just got back into fishing after 15 years. Went for the cats pretty much all the time and my total for the summer is 8 cats , the biggest at maybe 2lbs. I realize now that I missed alot of fish because I didnt know how to read their bite. I always thought it would be a monster hit and they would grab it and run. Thanks for all your tips and info, I'm not givin up !!!
Reply by: FISHRANGLER Posted: 10/9/2012 9:46:50 AM Points: 4409
Hey Buck I got to thinking and had some questions others may have, I thought I would ask you.
Do you age your baits like liver or shrimp gills and if so how long and how do you do it? Whats your thoughts on frozen baits?
Soak time for baits Shad sides, Craws, Liver, gills? How long? I change ever 45 min max at 1.25 hrs I even start a timer while doing this.
When using prepaired baits like stink baits in a jar I beleave these are best used for eater size cats and the biginner catter. Your thoughts? And how would one present those?
If it's getting hit by Crawdads. Do you have a method for dealing with Crawdads we may not know about? And is it always a crawdad that is messing with you or could it be a fiddler or a larger cat taking its time?
Have you ever caught any LMB while fishing for giants Channel cats using your cut bait?
Are you targeting the Flatheads in Plow? I expected to see another record pulled out this year and have not heard a thing about them.
What is a good size eater Channel cat? IMO a eater size should be around the 27 or 28 inches or so and down from there.. Anything bigger Should be released. I would keep a state record though. I don't eat them I conceder big cats a sport fish and just have fun catching them. I was just wondering your thoughts and others may be on that subject. I know many eat them at all sizes, it's not my place to say anything about that. I will not fish with anyone that will not release a large cat though that is not a record.
Any ideas on taking better pictures, Many catfish anglers fish by themselves and do not end up with great pictures. Most are on the ground like in my case because I do not want to reveal the location. I do clean them off before releasing them.
Handling of big cats? Someone gave me some crap about it once. I have seen many pictures of large cats held in positions that a Bass angler would freak out about I hold them vertical some times to move from one location to the other to take a photo. Do you think large cats can be harmed by holding them in the vertical position from the lip? I do not think so? I have caught the same 36 inch cat twice this year and it was fine. But I do think not holding in the vertical is better for them. Im working on suporting thier wieght a habbit.
CPR how long should a cat be out of the water? Do you think there is a limit on the time? When it comes to CPR I start to freak out if the cat has been out of the water for over a minute. Now I know they will survive for long periods out of the water but at some point it cannot be good for them.
The straw method is a great tip for the angler that open bails.
Thanks for writhing this it should help many get started.
The only frozen baits I use are the chicken liver balls and mackerel. I do let shad sit out in the sun sometimes, but not often. Shrimp is a great bait to let sit out as well.
Soak time varies. If I am fishing near a channel. I will often times let the bait soak for four hours max, in order to get the scent in, and down the channel. If there is a lack of current where I am, I will often times re-bait every hour and a half.
Stinkbait I seldom use, but “mixing” a treble into the tub, and then wrapping with pantyhose will hold the globby mess on. Never gotten anything substantial on stinkbait, and don’t use it much these days. It’s great for smaller ponds and getting’ a few stockers for the kiddos.
I more often than not have a bait that smaller catfish couldn’t swallow. It gets rid of a lot of cats that I am not targeting. As far as crawdads go, Pueblo doesn’t have an enormous crawdad population, so it’s less of an issue in contrast to bodies like Cherry Creek and Aurora. In those situations, knowing your depth and using a slip bobber is almost a must. Even lindy rigged baits will get pulled down by crawdads.
No LMB yet, but wipers are a nuisance to shad sides at Pueblo sometimes.
Flatheads are hit and miss still at Pueblo, and the action was very slow this year.
I agree, CPR of larger cats is a must in order to keep the catfish population on the rise. Fresh caught catfish are a great table fare, but anything over eight pounds seems to be an excessive take to me. I have eaten channels that were larger, and they taste awful. I actually know how to cook pretty well, and never found a marinade or lemon/vinegar combo that got rid of the gaminess. The flesh is also more of a rubbery texture, then a meat that flakes off. I also feel that if you really want catfish, that buying the farm raised variety is best, and very cheap in comparison to a full fishing trip (food, gas, bait, terminal equipment loss to snags).
As for pictures, a small 15-20 dollar mini-tripod works well, with a camera that has a delayed snap. When I do get something worthwhile to post, I am going to try out the GoPro with the head strap, takes some pretty amazing HD.
Big cats are pretty sturdy and I have never had any issue holding them in any position. The jaws are much larger than any other species of fish here in Colorado, not to prone to jaw breakage. Not to say you shouldn’t be careful. I just try to keep ‘em vertical, and I will hook the lip for a picture of scale weight. I did see others however, that utilized a net to weigh the catfish, which was an eighty pound blue. The camera man held the handle to the net that the cat was in, and the guy weighing, hooked the scale on the net. The camera man made sure the net was up, and not pulling down and messing up the scale. Was a pretty neat trick, but again, we don’t have eighty pound catfish.
I have had channels on stringers for ten hours, that where as alive as when I caught ‘em when I took them out and put them in a cooler. I have also had channels survive a cooler for three hours while driving home and breaking down my gear, only to be found flopping around my sink when I go to clean them.