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Thoughts on Catfish Tactics

by: David Coulson 10/7/2015

Iím fascinated by catfish, even though I donít frequently target them.  There are several reasons for this.  First off, Iím primarily a fly fisher these days.  Flies, by their nature, work best with predators that rely heavily on sight to feed.  While catfish have excellent eyesight, they also have an extraordinary array of senses, some of which we have difficulty in comprehending, such a sense of pressure, the ability to taste without touching the item, and electroreception.  I do catch them on flies and wrote about ways to successfully target them.  Still the reality is, day-in, day-out, fly fishing isnít the best way to target catfish if youíre goal is to consistently catch them.

I suspect there are those who feel catfishing is easy.  If youíre idea of easy is baiting a hook, tossing it out, pulling up a lawn chair, and cracking a cool one, yep, itís easy.  If, however, catching catfish consistently, any species for that matter, is your objective.  Then, no, catfishing isnít easy.  While some view cats with only slightly more regard than suckers or carp, the reality is catfish are near the top of the totem pole among fish when it comes to brain power, whereas favored species like trout and black bass are near the bottom.  Uhm, you donít suppose stupid, and ease of catching are related, do you?

Ok, Iím not an expert on catfishing, nor am I claiming to be.  What prompted this writing were a few articles I recently read on the subject, primarily from In-Fisherman.  The following two are on-line and I received through the email newsletter I get from them. Yes, Iím a subscriber to the magazine.  One is ďMoving Baits for Catfish,Ē and the other is "The Best Told Mistakes of Every Catman.Ē

Within these articles the following points are made, and while oriented to catfish, I feel they are applicable to fishing in general, especially bait fishing.  If youíre wondering why a fly fisherman is reading bait fishing articles, the answer is simple. Fishing is fishing, and by reading about other methods I pick up knowledge that allows me to be more effective with my preferred fishing method.  In my opinion, so should you.

Here are the main points I got from the articles. 

Movement is, or at least can be, important in triggering strikes.  If you put a bait, lure, or fly out there and donít move it, youíre chances of getting bit are greatly decrease.  So put down that drink and actively fish. 

Itís not necessary to hide the hook. Given what weíre taught this concept is hard for many anglers to accept.  The issue lies with our tendency to believe fish somehow think like us. They donít. In fact, we donít have a clue what fish perceive. Consequently, the hook has no meaning to the catfish and isnít something you need to worry about hiding.

There are no secret baits.  Iíd go one further, there are no secrets when it comes to fishing.  You may think there are, but if someone knows outside of you, then it isnít a secret.  Now that doesnít mean you need shout all you know at the top of your lungs to the world, but the truth is, someone else knows what you do, at least in part.  If you add all the parts that others know, everything you think is a secret is known and more.

If you get a bite, set the hook.  Seems easy enough, but . . . many donít follow this mindset.  In the long run, failure to do so will cost you more fish than not.  How you set the hook is another story, and depends on the situation.

Shorter leaders are generally better. This again is counter intuitive to many.  And Iíd add, typically heaver leaders can be used than you might think. The reason is simple. The line/leader has no meaning to fish.  The reason leaders are important, to my way of thinking, is they impact how the bait/lure/fly behaves in the water.  That impacts your presentation, which determines whether or not a fish bites.  So think in terms of how your leader impacts the presentation, not that the fish can see the line, because it can.  Your knot selection is probably more important than leader selection.

These ďfishingĒ concepts were gleaned from catfish articles and are applicable to more than bait and cat fishing.  No, Iíll probably never be a world class catfish angler, or for any species for that matter, but thatís OK.  Still, Iíll read about styles of fishing for all sorts of fish because I never know when Iíll pick up a tidbit thatíll help me become a better angler, even if all use is flies.

Blog content © David Coulson
Member comments
Whiskerhunter, CO   10/7/2015 12:53:31 PM
I spend lots of time reading and gathering tips as well Dave. Thanks for sharing those links, pretty good info on both of them. Secret baits always kill me no matter what the target fish is. I too have tried and been successful with many different baits for cats, but none of them are something anyone else couldn't find or make rather easily. Sometimes we tend to keep a tight lip on things for fear of people over-harvesting the big fish or stealing favorite fishing spots. In reality many people have and will use the same thing and fish the same places and there isn't anything we can do about it. But you can't blame those who have worked hard on their craft for being a bit cautious with sharing tips.
 
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   10/7/2015 1:05:03 PM
I have no issue with folks being "tight lipped" generally. When they're outright "thieves" as in taking and never returning info I then have an issue. While I report on lakes/rivers I fish, it's not often on the forum. I don't often give "spots" rather opting to share conditions/techniques. Plus, I do my share of "preaching" or educating, if you will. I'm trying to encourage others to pass on good stewardship of our resources. My point here was primarily, no matter your favored fishing technique, other techniques often have information that is applicable to you. In catfishing articles have benefit a fly fisher.
 
FISHRANGLER, CO   10/7/2015 1:28:09 PM
Good article Dave I consider myself to be one of the best in Colorado at catching channel cats. For now at least I do have secrets only a few 6 people know about that is to protect the species no one else is doing this in the entire country these cats in Colorado should be protected because what we are learning about them here, the cpw doesn't even know. As you know I target many species, without that knowledge of catching all those other species I would not be as good as I am at this catfish hunting. Yeah I know I sound a bit cocky about it but it takes a certain kind of personality to actually catch these cats and many other species like large carp consistently. If you don't have confidence in your tactics your not going to catch IMO . Getting back to your article and the links you provided, moving baits is the primary way I target cats these days covering lots of ground. This method was developed by catfish tournament anglers, one of the reason I travel to do the tournaments is to learn these techniques. There's no one in the state here that showed me how to do it. I had to learn the hard way. If your willing to put the time in and read you will learn too how to do it. It's not a secrete any longer. But it's also something that's not easy at all. As far as the intelligence and abilities of a channel cat I would say no other species in this state stands a chance.
 
FISHRANGLER, CO   10/7/2015 1:43:48 PM
If I was you I would use a float and fly presentation with a large float and a large crawfish imitation. And fish shallow waters. Depth can and will change throughout the seasons but learning that is paying your dues imo.
 
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   10/7/2015 1:52:20 PM
Daris I fully agree that you're one of the top catfishers around and I tip my hat to you for your skills and all that you have shared with others. Than includes your efforts with CPW to get trophy regulations on the books. Might interest you that while I don't use a "float" with the long rod, what you suggest is follows my approach when I do target cats. Big flies, shallow water, movement. There's a bit more to it than that, but it's a starting point. And in my case I figured out ways to catch cats with a fly mostly on my own and by reading catfish articles and yes by listening to catfishers such as you, also.
 
FISHRANGLER, CO   10/7/2015 2:45:54 PM
Slow slow and even slower when it comes to moving that fly Dave. I wanted to add when anyone is reading any of these articles about catfish they need to understand they are written for a very large audience and they don't get very specific on technical issues pertaining to a particular species and particularly the size you should be targeting with any given tecnhnique. Once you determine which species of catfish and what size your after you can narrow it down, but the new guy reading many books can easily take to much info in and get confused. So narrow down what size cat and species and go from there. Best advice I can give.
 
Whiskerhunter, CO   10/8/2015 6:50:19 AM
Daris you are indeed one of the best. You're hard work and dedication to the sport is paying off huge for you. Nothing wrong with being cocky and tightlipped...You have good reasoning behind what you are doing. Whether people realize it or not you have shared quite a few tips if they are willing to read between the lines.
 
iFISH2much, CA   10/8/2015 8:08:54 AM
Uh oh, the cat is out of the bag! Why are you telling everyone my secrets Dave? Lol! Don't you know that I'm a self-taught cat fisherman who never learned from someone else's tactics? Since I am the "greatest", I must protect the species with my life. I'll take a bullet to the chest to save a MA catfish. Since my secret to catching catfish is out of the bag, I must let everyone know how "great" I am so that I get all the credit for using someone else's techniques! Just so you know, I am the greatest catfish angler in the state. I still cannot believe you told everyone my secret! Dang, what am I going to do now? I know! Spend 8+ plus hours fishing and smoking cigarettes! Why did you have to tell everyone MY secret? Oh well, at least I know where the 40#+ catfish hang out in Colorado! Don't tell anyone about the reservoir in Pueblo! That state record is what I live for! Get the boat ready, I'm going fishing!
 
David Coulson (Flyrodn), CO   10/8/2015 8:43:04 AM
Sounding a bit like me and a few others. I'm the best and if you don't believe me just ask!!! Or one my favorite lines that my wife hates, "I quit lying (about fishing), as no one believes the truth." Thanks for all the comments. And when I write, I do try to give the reader something to make it worth their while. May not always succeed, but I try.
 
FISHRANGLER, CO   10/8/2015 5:01:01 PM
Lol
 
David Coulson
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