A Guide to Non-Typical Catfish Fishing Techniques

Jeff Williams

Introduction

Many of the people about to take one of my guided trips don't believe that Catfish feed as aggressively as other game fish. People are used to throwing out their bait and letting it set while they wait. Some days this works and they don't have to wait very long, but some days we all know that the wait can be very long. This waiting is what encouraged me to try to catch Blue Cats using other methods. Some techniques are passed down from generation to generation and these tried and true methods have caught Catfish since people have fished for them. I have used these methods most of my life and it was the way I was taught to catch Catfish. On the opposite end of the Cat-fishing spectrum, however, are two newer methods that I have been using to consistently catch Catfish, as well.

Fishing for Catfish

Ah, the American Catfish! The big three: Blues, Channel Cats and Flatheads; aren't they a wonderful species of fish? Each one has its own outstanding features to thrill Cat-fishermen and women throughout the United States and even worldwide. Flatheads, with their big, wide heads and flat tails, have my vote as the hardest pulling fish pound-for-pound in fresh water. No Cat-fisherman can talk very long without telling their favorite Channel Cat story. Channel Cats live almost anywhere in fresh water and eat an enormous variety of baits, from prepared stink baits to live baits. I believe these whisker fish are the most versatile and adaptive members of the Catfish family. The next Catfish member, the Blue Cat, also commonly called a White Cat, gets my pick for the best all around, year-round Catfish. This is also the fish I target with my non-typical Cat-fishing techniques. Although Channel Cats and Flatheads are caught using these techniques, Blue Cats remain the king in mass numbers. These dudes grow big and fast and will strike your bait with a vengeance. Plus, they pull hard in the Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.

The Blue Catfish

The Blue Cat is truly an amazing fish. I have caught these fish as deep as 96 feet at the bottom of a river channel in cold water conditions. I have also seen them come right up to the top and smash a school of shad just as a Striper or White Bass would do in warm water conditions. As far as I can tell, these fish feed aggressive all year, which in my opinion sets them apart from Flatheads and Channel Cats. Reports of Blues falling for lead spoons, jigs, crank baits, and many other artificial lures are not uncommon any time of the year. The other Blue Cat bonus is their size, growing much larger than Channel Cats and a smidge larger than Flatheads. That makes your chances of catching a Blue Cat over 20 pounds a big time reality. Fish over 50 pounds are not that hard to find in reservoirs and rivers that have had time to produce that size of Catfish. These fish grow to be over 100 pounds - it's the exception and not the rule, but it does happen. That's the beauty in setting up and fishing for Blue Cats: your next fish might be 1 pound, 51 pounds, or 101 pounds.

Method 1

Equipment

I fish baits at all depths, not just the bottom, in wide-open water. I always set up and fish deep lake structures. Besides an understanding of the contours on the bottom of the lake, being mobile and being able to read your fish locator are the keys. The tools I use are 8-foot heavy action rods, circle hooks, cut and live shad, balloons and the all-important fish locator. I use 30-pound line, large capacity reels, 8-foot heavy action rods, 2 oz. Egg sinkers, barrel swivels and #7/0 circle hooks. Basically a Carolina Rig, I have a hook with an 18-inch leader tied to your barrel swivel, which is connected to your main line, which is where your egg sinker is attached. My boat is equipped with steel rod holders, a hand-controlled trolling motor, two fish locators, a big dip net and marker buoys. My equipment is not the most expensive but it is practical. The main thing to remember is to keep whatever equipment you use in good condition. Many know all too well about the disasters that can be caused by old line and improperly maintained fishing equipment and big Blues will test everything from your knots to your rod holders. If there is a weak link, they will expose it.

Find the Big Fish

You need to know how to tell the difference between larger fish and bait fish while using your fish locator.

There are two main structures that I catch Blue Cats on: ledges and humps. Blue Cats are creatures of edges and they seem to congregate on the brake lines of ledges and humps. The one-two punch comes when you find these structures with both bait fish and big fish mixed together on your locator. There are very few spots that I will stop and fish where I don't see either big fish or bait fish on my locator. The ledges that I primarily fish are old river channels edges. The fish can be scattered up and down the edge but the best fishing occurs when they are on the top.

Catching Them

Typically, when I set up to fish these ledges, I run my boat over them and throw out my marker buoy where I see the fish. A little trick to using your marker buoys is to throw your marker upwind of where you are going to fish. If you drop the marker right on top of the fish, you will be bumping it and will eventually move it while the wind is pushing you around. If you throw it upwind of the fish, you can run your trolling motor right up to it without the wind pushing you over it. Next I bait my rods, staggering them at the depth I see the fish. If the fish are up high, above 10 feet, I use a balloon and live shad on two rods. The other four rods will have half live and half cut shad, which I will suspend over the fish, continuously moving around the marker until the first strike occurs. In the warmer months the bite will usually occur on live shad. The colder the water, the better that cut bait seems to work. Keep moving the depth of your baits up and down according to what your locator is telling you. An easy way to determine the depth of your bait is to measure the distance between the first guide and your rod's reel. My rods are two feet from reel to the first guide so when I pull out twenty sections of line between my reel and the first guide, my bait will be approximately 40 feet deep. Stagger the depth of your bait so that you know how deep each is. When you get your first strike, move your other rods to that depth. If no strikes occur within 30 minutes move to another structure. I have set on the same ledge for many hours and caught fish, but I will usually have to move after catching 5 to 10 active fish. If you do not have a trolling motor you can use anchors, but it requires many sessions of heaving up heavy anchors and can soon kill the fun of ledge fishing. When water is at its coldest, the anchor method will work better due to the inactivity of the fish below. In other words, the warmer the water the faster the fish will spook out from under your boat. The colder the water the less chance the fish will want to move away due to their comfort zone in the water column.

Method 2

The second method that works really well for me is drift fishing. Lets start by explaining how drifting works. It's really pretty simple: you cast out bait and drag it behind or from the side of your boat while the wind pushes you along.

Where to Fish

The majority of Cat-men that I know all use the same rig, although their tackle will differ from one guy to the next. Whatever tackle they use, they are all dragging some kind of bait on the bottom. The big difference between most drifters and myself, however, is that I usually do not drift in water any shallower than 30 feet deep while most others like to fish much shallower, such as 10-20 feet deep. The shallow waters of most lakes contain a few big fish and lots of little ones resulting in lots of action, but not too many that will test your string. I have said before that Blue Cats can and will live and feed in deep water. My best day of drifting, as far as numbers of fish weighing between 3-20 lbs. goes, occurred last December. In one drift I caught and released 47 Blue Cats. These fish all came off of a huge flat that runs parallel to the main river channel with an average depth of 45 ft. Its surface has a few small humps and a couple of old ditches running across it. People drive by me and look in disbelief when they see me drifting in 30 to 50 ft of water, but when that fish locator shows big fish marks on the bottom at those kind of depths I have a pretty good idea of what's down there.

Not all lakes are as easy to drift: some have gobs of timber and some have tons of rock on the bottom. The best lakes I have found have had some silting or massive mud flats that were old fields at one time. Simple structures like old ditches that carve across mud flats give Blue Cats a place to ambush their prey and might give them a little relief in the water column when the water is at its coldest or warmest. Look at these flats from different angles and ask yourself, "How does the bank look?" Could the surface under the water look similar to the structures above the water? Chances are that it will be pretty close.

These ideas are not really new. Bass and Walleye fishermen all over the U.S. use land structures to locate their fish and when it comes to locating these structures, fish locators are very valuable tools. My opinion is that you get what you pay for with electronics, but if you can find shad or baitfish with your locator as well as see the big fish marks, that's all you need.

Catchin' the Big Cats

The speed of your drift makes a huge difference. A good rule to follow is 'the colder the water, the slower you should go.' A big Blue Cat will not want to chase bait that's traveling fast in cold water, so when you are dragging bait on the bottom you should use some kind of drift sock or sea anchor. You might have to experiment with different sizes until you figure out what size slows your boat down. Manufacturers of drift socks will usually give you an estimate of the size of sock compared to the size of the boat you are using. Furthermore, just because you are a Cat-fisherman, it doesn't mean you can't use the tools other fishermen use. Experiment with different hooks, weights, line, rods and reels, but my advice would be to eventually work your way into having an exactly matched set of at least 4 rods and reels. When you learn what works for you, you will be much happier with a matching set of gear. Having your gear match might not sound like much, but when you start catching Blue Cats over 20 lbs you'll know the limitations of your tackle. Furthermore, you wont have to worry every time you set a hook about which rod the fish hit because they will all perform the same.

Closing

Get some good gear capable of handling big fish. Get your tools so you can go out and learn your lake. Spend time learning your water before you start to fish. If you can't or don't want to spend the amount of money necessary to purchase all the equipment and cover all the various expenses, don't be afraid to take guided trips. You'll have good company from someone who knows the lake well and can teach you a great deal, plus it takes A LOT of guided trips to add up to the cost of equipping yourself.

Don't be afraid to experiment with new tactics after you start fishing. Always remember: Blue Cats are Blue Cats, they don't know what lake they're in or where they live. They will behave the same where I fish or where you fish. If you'd like, I can actually travel to your lake to prove it, as well as show you what a professional guide would do on your lake or river. Always keep your eyes on your fish finder, and get out there and try some non-typical Cat-fishing!


This site is no longer updated.

Click this link to have updated entertainment news and articles.

About the Author
2005 All rights reserved
Jeff Williams, Lake of the Ozarks, MO, USA

Jeff Williams runs a Truman Lake Hybrid Bass and Lake of the Ozarks Catfish Fishing Guide Service offering lodging and guided trips in Missouri. To book a trip, learn more tips, or find out how Capt. Jeff would fish your own local waters, call 1-866-HOOKSET or visit http://www.ozark-lodges-fishing-trips.com today!