You don't have to fish for catfish at night anymore. With the weirdoes and strange animals lurking about at night, I don't know why anyone would want to these days. Plus, many urban parks that have large cats are closed at night. So it's important to understand where cats hide under the water during the day.
Daytime angling for cats is something I have been doing for a few years now and I’ve become successful at locating them on any given lake. This is possible, in part, because catfish are predictable and can be targeted at certain times of the year and in certain locations. They are more likely to be in deeper water during the day. This helps a lot. If you can figure out the lake contours and depths, then you stand a good chance of catching cats during the day. Personally, I look for feeding flats and a point where I can cast from that’s next to that flat. That allows me to get my baits out as far as possible to the deepest part of the pond or lake. When boat angling, I do things differently, but that’s a discussion for a different time.
It’s well-known that anglers target more cats at night than during the day, but fish surveys indicate that more cats are caught during daylight hours. Prime time is 2:00 in the afternoon. Scientific studies back that up, and my catfish buddies will also. I still enjoy fishing at night once in a while, provided it's warm enough.
During the day, cats hold in certain areas. They will come shallow at certain times of year, such as pre-, during, and post- spawn, but overall they hang deep. During the night, cats eat more and are more active, but they are also spread throughout the lake. This puts the angler at a disadvantage. Not knowing where to locate them during the night can be frustrating and tends to result in more skunks than successful trips.
The following information is meant for shore angling, for boat fishing I generally use heavier rigs. Even though at any time I have a couple or three boats, like most anglers I frequently fish from shore. This information is also oriented to catching trophy sized channel cats, fish over 30 inches. These trophy cats are rare or else we would be landing them by the hundreds, so please release them as they are too valuable to only be caught once.
The following is a rundown of the gear I'm using these days. While I have good success with it, that doesn't mean it will work for everyone.
Medium-heavy 8 foot rods - These days I use Blair Wiggins surf rods. They usually cost around $100. There are also good rods from Cabela’s and Eagle Claw. The Zebco Catfish Fighters are decent, inexpensive rods for shore fishing anglers. But any 7-8 foot medium heavy rod will work.
4000 Shimano Symetre spinning reels - The most important thing about spinning reels is the drag must be made well. You can use the higher end bait runners, but because the line should be tight to set the hook to some degree, bait runner spinning reels are not really needed. You can use these if you also target carp. Then the rod and reel serves a dual purpose.
30 or 40 pound test braided line
2 to 3 ounce weights - I prefer the 3 ounce. Why such a big weight? It helps set the circle hook right when you need it to; that way the cat does not gut the hook. When getting food, most animals grab, turn their heads, and run. Cats do the same thing. The weight also puts the bait where I want it, even in high winds, and while casting it stays with my bait. Make sure the weight doesn’t slide down during your cast or it will keep you from reaching your potential.
18 inch 30 pound steel leaders - You’re probably asking yourself, “Why is he using steel leaders?” I will come back to that.
Circle Hooks - Sizes: 6/0 to 9/0. The circle hooks should be off set.
The pics below show the type of everyday hooks I use. You’ll notice that the eye is bent. I offset them myself. This style is also a thin wire hook that bends easily for the offset and I have never had one fail.
Note the number on the top right of the package, in the second picture. Sometimes I use Trokars 9/0 circle hooks, until I give them away or lose them to snags. One thing to keep in mind is not all manufactures have a standard from one size hook to the other. Eagle claws 6/0 is about the same size as a 9/0 Trokar even made by the same company. This goes for all hooks and companies there is no standard!
Brands of hooks
Rippin lips, Owner Super Mutu, Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp L2022 or L7228bpg, Gamakatsu Octopus, Trokars 9/0 are all good options. The circle hook design makes them stronger than a J-style hook made with the same wire thickness.
You should use smaller hooks for smaller cats. Always make sure there are no scales or debris on the hook tip before casting. You need the hook and its shank exposed as much as possible or the hook will not turn and set in the mouth of the cat when the cat turns its head and runs.
Here’s a hook I off set and bent out from the bottom.
I'm looking for a hook that I can slide my pointing finger past the shank and hook point. The reason for that is the lip or the thick part of the cat’s lips is about that size on cats I'm targeting.
The setup I use is my twist on the Carolina rig. I sometimes will remove the clips and use split rings. They are a lot stronger. I have found you need to retie often, at a minimum you should at least retie every time you go out fishing. I like bumpers and beads, but I don't always use them, as there is no need for them.
I use steel leaders because I can easily untangle a steel leader after a crawdad has mangled the bait and tangled everything up. Plus, there’s less of a chance the leader will tangle occurring during a cast. When it hits the water I reel in a little so it stays lined up as it falls through the water column and hits the bottom of the lake. Avoid using braid as it tangles like there is no tomorrow and you’ll want to shoot yourself when it comes back to shore in a mess.
Mono is used by most catters, it floats and stretches, which is why I don’t use it. I don't like the idea of something touching the cat before it gets to the bait lying on the bottom. I feel that when catfish feel the floating mono they may be scared away.
The double steel leader rig is 18 inches of leader, a hook, then 9 more inches of leader followed by a hook. This rig allows me to catch more fish by keeping the bait in the strike zone longer and the craws busy. I have been using this rig for over two years now with excellent results. If you prefer rigging with mono or braid, that’ll work too, but use 30 pound test or higher. That way you will get less stretch in your line and fewer tangles. Plus, mono/braid rigs are easier to make and not as expensive as the wire rigs I use.
If you do not like the double rig then use a single 18 to 24 inch rig and you can downsize the weight to a one to two ounces. This setup can be used for extreme casting distance also.
My double steel leader rig
Liver is great bait for cats and can catch lots of fish, but it’s best to use fresh liver. If you can locate liver that has never been frozen, you’re golden. Also, do not refreeze the liver after you buy it. The blood will crystallize or coagulate and will not seep out like it does when it’s fresh. If you use the correct liver, you will be more successful. But, of course, even previously frozen liver will work, just not as well in my opinion. Where you purchase your liver can matter. I’ve found that from some large retailers the liver seems to have lower blood content than liver from other retailers.
My liver two years ago in a luffa, gives you an idea on the size of bait you will need.
The product I use for retaining liver used to be a secret. The product is called Surgilast tubular elastic dressing retainer and you can buy it on eBay for about $10. It is very important to use size 1. This is better for the environment than using the luffa sponge, as it is made of cloth, and the Luffa is made from plastics and will not degrade. This is also a lot better the salmon spawn sacks.
The new product. It’s not a secret any more thanks to the Interwebby
Part of the joy I get from fishing is finding this stuff out on my own. I usually find out that someone else has done it already but I still feel good about it. The cloth is a way better way to go. Hook three times and stuff the liver in and hook three more times and you’re good to go. It’s quick and easy while fishing from the shore.
You need the hook exposed as much as possible
Some guys bury the bait; don’t do this with circle hooks
If you really want to catch more big catfish use bluegills or fresh shad as bait. Shad can be difficult to locate depending on where you live, but gills are generally plentiful everywhere. The problem is you have to catch your limit, and that may only be enough for a few hours fishing.
To keep bait that you caught fresh, use a cooler with ice and rock salt to create a brine, and layer the bait in the cooler. The salted ice is colder than just ice by itself and slows the decomposition of your bait. You can then freeze the bait in layers in freezer bags or vacuum packs but don’t stack them on top of each other; you want the bait to freeze quickly.
You should change your bait out every 45 to 75 minutes depending on water temperature. Soak times are longer if the water temps are colder. You should also set a timer on your phone to remember when you tossed it out.
I hook the bluegills through the eyes from one eye to the other and then let it hang
Below is an image of a shad head and side. You can buy and use shad sides also. They do work, but they come frozen. If bait is not properly frozen it starts to degrade quickly. So store bought bait is not something I like to use. Shad works for the laker trout guys too, rather than catching suckers.
Shad head and side
There are other ways to hook bait fish of course, just make sure your hook is well exposed. Your pieces of bluegill body meat should not be any larger than one-inch by three-inches long.
The ideal size bluegill is 3 to 5 inches. Leave the larger ones for reproduction; you don't want to decimate your bluegill spot.
Cats like brains, so use the heads on smaller gills and put that on the end hook. On a double hook rig if the gill is large enough use the body on the upper hook. More blood is good!! Behind the gut sack, the tail of the bluegill is worthless. Cats are like vampires and zombies, in that they like brains and blood. Remember that, if it’s not bleeding, it won't work as well.
Many other options work very well also. Carp and perch will work, but do not contain enough oil in my opinion. Suckers and creek chubs are OK bait also. Just know exactly what you’re using as some species are protected and illegal to use as bait. Fresh jumbo shrimp are very good and matches what most large cats are eating. You can also use store bought gutted fish in the package, but you know the laws and have a receipt with you.
Remember in order for this setup to work it has to be a TIGHT LINE from rod to the hook. The reason why is that the cat will grab the bait and turn its head. That's when they get hooked.
Set rod at 45 degrees. Make sure your rod is anchored well or you could lose your rod very quickly. Use higher end reels with well adjusted, smooth working drags.
Set the drag so the hook will bite into the fish’s mouth, but loose enough so it can spool out without taking your rod. I set mine right at the point where I could possibly lose my rod. The rod sits in a Euro type rod holder and is anchored with a very heavy rock on the butt end of the rod. We have seen cats tip the large rock off without a problem.
Using bells as strike indicators
Some guys don't like to use bells because it's not cool or something, but the bell allows me not to glare at my rod tips all the time watching for the hit. It also allows me to know when a craw, carp, perch or something is jacking with my bait. Using the bell is important because it gives you tons of information you might not get loose lining or not using bells. Carp will suck on the bait and perch will peck at it. Turtles will do a slow drag.
When fishing the tight line. Let the fish hit and it will hit very hard! When it's a big cat they do not mess around with it. Most people think that the smaller hits are from cats tasting or feeling the weight and dropping it. This could be the case, who knows for sure? However, in my opinion, this is not the case with large cats. And I let people think that way, to let them struggle as I did for many years trying to figure it all out. It also allows the monster cats to keep swimming.
A big cat will just eat the bait 90% of the time. Its primary goal is to CRUSH its target, kill it, and then swallow whole as fast as possible so it does not get injured from eating its prey. Big cats eat bluegills and crawdads in one gulp and crush them waiting for the fins to relax in their mouth so the food can then be safely swallowed.
When you hear or see the take, your first thought is to grab the rod so you don't lose it, but don’t lift your rod, just rest your hand on the butt end and wait to make sure the hook is good before you lift. Wait just a couple more seconds before you lift it. Do not set the hook like a bass fisherman. With circle hooks, the hook has set already. Just fight the fish to shore. Adjusting the drag as needed.
You should be able to land a big cat in under five minutes and they should be real frisky when you get them to shore. We call it being "green" or the fish is “still green”. This simply means the fish is healthy and happy. If you're taking longer than that, the fish builds up toxins in its blood, and even after the release it could die. So use the proper rods, reels and line, and it will be a faster process for the fish and give you a release that you will be happy with.
One thing I have learned about catting is you have to be proficient at catching bait. So that means you're not just a catter, you’re an all species angler. Being forced to catch, not net, my bait has made me learn many things about what lurks below the water and when it does, too. Be sure to learn the rules about using bait and all the laws that go with it. Whenever I go out I find that it is a process not many anglers know about.
Sometimes it takes a complete day to get bait. You may have the drive to where the bait is and then the drive to wherever it is you want to fish. You may need worms, lures or flies or all to get bait. The ideal lake is one where you can catch bait consistently and then use that bait to target your species. Never take live bait you caught from one location to another. Make sure it is dead; there are many laws protecting the lakes these days.
Now in order to use all this info it will take a very long time with lots of practice, but you have a head start with most. Stay with it and you, like me, will soon have a few of your own catfishing secrets. Good luck.