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Catfish on the Fly Rod

Blog by: Lloyd Tackitt 9/17/2015
Part of Series: Warmwater Fly Fishing
I've mentioned it in passing before, how I catch catfish.  I catch them and usually release them, although I kept a stringer of them a few weeks back and made a catfish etoufee that was delicious.  I catch them because they are great fighters.

Put a six to eight pound catfish on the end of a fly rod and you've got a lot of fun in front of you.  They dig deep, rarely come to the surface - although I've actually had a couple of them jump right after getting hooked - and they twist around a lot.  Catfish roll over and over the way an alligator does.  Often I'll bring one in and there will be slime up the leader the length of the fish.  Somehow they roll all over that leader even as they are fighting the line.

In the Brazos where I fish the catfish tend to hang out in schools, apparently they aren't loners.  This is a good thing because when and where I catch one I can be fairly sure there are more down there.  I've caught the occasional cat on a regulation fly, but they are pretty few and far between that way.  On the other hand I can use a 1" gulp chartreuse minnow on a No. 6 or a No. 8 bait keeper style hook and catch the dickens out of them.

The baitkeeper hook has two small barbs on the long shank, pointed towards the eye of the hook.  These help keep the gulp minnow in place on the hook.  I run the hook point into the head of the minnow about a quarter or an inch, then out of the bait and pull the bait up the shank until the head is tight against the eye.  Then I run the hook back through the body of the bait.  

Usually I can catch a couple of fish on one minnow, sometimes more, and sometimes it just comes off without catching any.  These are very soft, they tear easily, and they don't last long when being whipped around by a fly rod.   But they aren't expensive and they work!

My most productive technique isn't very exciting, it's a basic dead drift.  Catfish don't seem to want to chase these things, so it's mostly a matter of the bait drifting along and being seen by a close-by catfish that's hungry at that moment.  It's a game of numbers.  

Sometimes I use a strike indicator but not usually.  Nothing against strike indicators but they make an already clunky to cast bait even a bit more clunkier to cast.  

I watch the line and if it does anything that seems odd I set the hook.  I set the hook on empty water a lot, but I also set it on catfish often enough.  It seems to work best when the minnow is bouncing and dragging along the bottom with the current.  Not exactly fly fishing at its most pure I guess - but I'm about the fight of the fish not the fooling of the fish into biting.  

I'd tie on a Prince Albert can full of gravel and cast that if it caught fish.  I suspect that many a fly fisherman just shuddered.  
Blog content © Lloyd Tackitt
Blog Comments
Flyrodn, CO   9/17/2015 9:32:23 AM
I agree that catfish on a fly rod are a delight. Shudder no. I just don't view using "bait" on a fly rod as fly fishing. In my youth I drifted a lot of bait through holes on streams and rivers with a fly rod. It's a great technique and line control is better with the long rod. Fishing, catching, great fun, you bet! Fly fishing, uhm, not so much. But I'm OK with that.
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   9/17/2015 10:14:06 AM
Fly fishing can be parsed many ways, and there are as many preferences as there are fishermen wielding fly rods. I'll be the first to acknowledge that there are fly fishermen that are purists in their approach - they only fish for native trout and only with dry flys that match the current hatch. At the other end of that spectrum are fly fishermen that use live bait and try to catch anything they can. You can guess where I am on that spectrum - I've been wondering how well I can cast a live worm and keep it on the hook, and no doubt will give it a try at some point. I like to catch fish - others like to fool fish into biting - and yet others like to fool fish into biting within a very strict set of self defined limitations. More power to all of us in finding the technique that makes us each happy!
Ajax5240, CO   9/17/2015 11:23:45 AM
I'm with you Lloyd! If it gets a fish on the hook, then you accomplished the goal. It is fun to catch fish on a fly you tied, and feel the accomplishment of that challenge.. But if given the option of a slow day on the water with flies, vs a day full of catching with a less "pure" technique.. I will opt for the day full of catching every time.
Flyrodn, CO   9/17/2015 11:52:55 AM
I guess I'm a "purist" in the sense that I only use "flies" these days. That's my choice and I'm good with other fishing whatever makes them happy. The reason I only fish flies is it can be a bit more challenging to get some species to bite. The challenge, and the bragging rights of saying I did it that way. But that's me, and no way is it meant that anyone should follow my path. In truth I'm just as happy if you don't, or do, or . . . Do what makes you happy, as long as no one else gets hurt and it's legal I'm good with it. Nice cat by the way.
tracks, CO   9/18/2015 10:47:06 AM
I very much dig cat's on my wippy stick! Couple years ago I caught about a 10 pounder on a Phillipson Paragon! Man was I scared that I was to break the rod! I landed the fish (tubed the fish?) and I was startled at his size. Since then it's become a passion. I usually tie on a #6 black wooly bugger and about 4" behind that I'll tie on an olive #6 wooly. I'll use Backstabbers with good luck as well. While I normally wouldn't use any bait of sorts, I did tie on a big hook and tossed out some pork fat on a recent trip with 6 WT. No luck though

Other Blogs in the Warmwater Fly Fishing Series

Walleye Fly Fishing by M. Snider 09.03.21
A primer on how to go after toothy walleye on the fly. With a sinking line and some clousers, you'll be well on your way to hooking these predators on a noodle rod.
Sonar Exploration to Catch More Shallow Fish by M. Snider 06.19.21
In this blog I explain a bit about my technique of scanning sonar in deeper water around a lake to find and mark congregations of gamefish and baitfish to improve chances of catching fish when casting shallower structure.
Ready For Carp by M. McConnell 03.18.19
Fly fishing for Carp is a blast! Whether you're targeting Common Carp, Grass Carp, or Mirror Carp - these fish are sure to test your fly fishing skills.
Carp on the Fly Resources - Part 4 by T. McInerney 10.14.18
Here's the fourth and last of a few blogs highlighting some great resources to get you into carp on the fly.
Carp on the Fly Resources - Part 3 by T. McInerney 09.24.18
Here's the third of a few blogs highlighting some great resources to get you into carp on the fly.