By Christian Jones -
To have successful experiences fishing for any species of fish, it’s good to understand the general characteristics and feeding behavior of the targeted species.
As many already know, catfish are primarily bottom feeders. What many not know is that their bottom feeding behavior is the result of these creatures being negatively buoyant. In other words, they tend to sink rather than float in order to reduce gas bladder and because their large, heavy heads, tend to weight them down.
When feeding, catfish with their large mouths fasten onto objects especially in fast-moving water. Though catfish are unable to protrude their mouths, they generally feed through suction or gulping rather than biting and cutting prey.
Another interesting fact about catfish is that they have chemoreceptors across their entire bodies which allow them to almost taste anything they touch. And despite popular belief, biologists have proven that catfish have excellent eyesight.
There are nearly 3,000 species of catfish across the globe, however I’d like to target three popular types of catfish found in North American waters – (in order of size) – the channel catfish, flathead catfish, and blue catfish.
The Channel Catfish
Channel catfish are abundant, and can be found in many lakes, ponds, streams and rivers. Channel catfish aren’t small and have the potential to grow anywhere upwards to 60 pounds.
When it comes to bait, channel catfish rely heavily on their keen sense of smell. They are omnivorous feeders, meaning they are not picky, but the stronger the smell the better the bait. This is typically true for all species of catfish. Good baits for channel cats include cut bait, small live bait, crawfish, catalpa worms, night crawlers, prepared stink bait and chicken/beef livers. I’ve even heard of some anglers using small chunks of bar soap. If it’s bloody or emits a scent, channel cats will eat it.
There are numerous ways to prepare cut bait. In many cases filleting strips from the sides or belly of the fish works well. Simply cutting the bait in chunks also works. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to match the bait’s size to the cat you’re aiming for. Typically for cats in the 5 to 6 pound range and under, use 1- to 2-inch chunks or strips of cut bait. The use of 3- to 4-inch-long baits can be used for larger channel cats.
My favorite bait is the plain chicken liver. I like to use a slip sinker rig with about an 8-12 inch long leader and a treble hook which helps the liver and other baits stay on better. Normally an ounce of no-roll sinkers, more or less depending on the current, are also used. For a fun fight, rig this up on your bass pole and make sure your pole is close because you don’t want lose it!
When tackling Flatheads you are going to need to beef up your tackle. One of the largest recorded caught Flathead was in Independence, Kansas, weighing 123 lb. 9 oz. And talk about a battle. These are powerful and aggressive fish. So, nothing less than 40 lb. test and a good med-heavy to heavy action rod will work for these beasts.
There are many types of rigs you can use for big catfish but the rig I use is, 80 lb. power pro braid line, a 9-and-half foot medium-heavy action rod, a 750 lb. swivel, at least size 5/0 circle hooks, and 40 lb. mono leader. This may seem like overkill but overkill is always better than under kill! I use the 40 lb. mono leader in case I get in a snag. I can just break the mono and only replace the hook instead of the whole setup. I will also put a bead in front of my sinkers so my sinkers won’t fray my line.
Look for flatheads to be around log jams, rock piles, and ledges in the river channel. They also tend to lie in eddies, current breaks, and tributaries into the main river they are ambush predators so look for schools of baitfish and there won’t be a flathead to far behind!
As far as baits go flatheads love live bait (see what’s legal to use) such as goldfish, sunfish, bullhead catfish, river chubs, sucker chubs, and even small carp. This is not to say they won’t hit a really fresh piece of cut bait. I’ve had really good success with cut gar also. These humongous fish are less common than the other two but can be the most fun!
With their distinct blue coloring and highly visible forked tails, these types of cats are absolutely beautiful and grow to be the largest in North America with the world record being 154 lbs.
For blue cats I use the same rig as I do for flatheads. Blue catfish tend to like fresh (and I mean as fresh as possible) cut bait. Do a little homework and find out what kind of bait fish these catfish will find in their natural habitat. You don’t want to throw a bluegill out and the only baitfish present is shad and skipjack.
I like to use a big piece of cut shad, which are filter feeders and cannot be caught with rod and reel. Cut bluegill, cut skipjack, and big live bait work really well to. Bigger catfish tend to be loners, so if you’re catching a bunch of smaller ones the chances of the big one being there may be slim. Remember catfish are ambush predators and will lie in slack water so they can ambush their prey.
No matter the bait be sure to use a good-sized hook. Any hook ranging from 3/0 to 9/0 will work. And again, make sure you have a good, tough rod and strong line to pull the Blue Cats out with. And be ready for a sure fire battle. Blue cats are known as vicious fighters.
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