Baiting Catfish And How To Find Them
The heat and humidity of mid-summer are not only trying on one's temperament, but can result in brutal conditions for fishing as well. With temperatures soaring into the upper 90’s and heat indexes in the triple digits, it doesn’t sound much like fishing weather. However, catfish enthusiasts will tell you that the best time to catch these whiskered fish is during hot weather…often the hotter the better. And the month of July surely fits the bill for hot weather. This month we’ll look at some tips and techniques for catching hot weather cats.
First, before getting into the actual fishing techniques, it might be helpful to take a look at the natural feeding habits of this species. Catfish are omnivorous feeders with a well-developed sense of smell. This means that they consume a wide variety of food items and are most often attracted to “smelly” types of food. Small catfish, those less than 14 inches, feed primarily on bottom-dwelling organisms, like aquatic insect larvae and other invertebrates. As cats reach the 16-inch and larger size, the bulk of their diet is made up of fish, either dead or alive. Another important factor is that catfish feed more heavily right after dark.
Catfish inhabit all kinds of water; farm ponds, streams, rivers and lakes. But no matter what type of water, cats will be found only in selective parts, not evenly distributed throughout the whole area. Just moving fifteen or twenty feet in one direction or the other might mean the difference between success and failure. Fishing for catfish is a game of look and find. You travel and cover a lot of water, either from the bank or from a boat, until you find a gathering of catfish. The mistake that most angler make is that they stay in one place and stay there for hours, hoping the catfish will “start biting”. Try 10 to 15 minutes in one spot, and if by then you haven’t had a bite, move to another location.
Tackle is an important consideration when setting out after catfish. The most important part of the terminal tackle is the sinker and the hook. Catfisherman don’t have to worry about the size, shape and color of lures, but hooks and sinkers, as inexpensive as they are, are very important. Always use the lightest weight necessary, and always use a slip sinker or Carolina rig. With any resistance on the line whatsoever, most catfish will leave the bait in search of another meal. A common mistake that many catfisherman make is to use a hook that is too large. A small hook will subdue even a large catfish, but it is very difficult to catch a smaller cat, around a pound in size, on a hook larger than a 2/0, and often a 1/0 hook is better and always make sure that your hook is sharp. Many catfisherman have gone to the circle hook. With these, a hook set is not required and they hold the fish exceptionally well. When using chicken liver or a dough type stink bait, a spring treble hook is the way to go.
An ideal rig for catfishing is a 6 ½ to 7-foot medium action rod and a good quality spinning or baitcasting reel. A smooth, adjustable drag is a must and I prefer 14 to 17 pound test line. Smaller fish can put up a respectable fight on this tackle, yet it has sufficient backbone to whip a larger catfish. Just don’t get too excited and lose command of the situation. I’ve heard it said that fish seldom break lines…fishermen do.
I could write an entire column on which baits you can use for catfish, because cats will eat almost anything. One of the largest blue cats ever landed was caught on Spam!
However, while cats can be caught on everything from pieces of Ivory soap to hot dogs, some of the most productive baits are chicken livers, cut shad, stink baits and worms.
Arguably, no bait is more closely associated with catfishing than chicken liver. The reason is simple; livers produce catfish and lots of them. With their strong, meaty smell, chicken livers draw cats from a broad area and once cats find the bait, they can’t resist them. Livers are inexpensive and available at any grocery store, and while they may not catch many huge catfish, they are extremely productive on cats up to about 10 pounds. When fishing with liver, it’s best to use a small spring treble hook. The spring helps hold the liver onto the hook and it allows the bait to stay in place during your cast. Just keep in mind that livers tend to work best for the first 15 or 20 minutes that they are on the hook. After that, they lose a lot of their natural juices and thus, much of their appeal. Anglers would be wise to re-bait periodically and to always begin with a fresh piece after moving to a new spot.
Cut shad seem to work better than whole shad because body fluids from these oily baits can attract catfish from a long distance. The bait can be prepared several different ways. Some fishermen filet strips from the belly or the sides and others just cut the bait into chunks. Vary what you use until you determine what the catfish want.
Stink baits, or dip baits all have one thing in common…they smell bad. However, a foul odor is not enough to make a tub of bait attractive to cats. A dip must have a cheese base or some kind of protein content. A good dip is soft enough that it breaks up gradually, but solid enough that is doesn’t wash away too quickly. In current, where dip baits are at their best, that can be a delicate balance. That is why most catfisherman use a “rubber worm”, which is a tube with holes it, that is designed to hold the bait initially, but release it gradually. Most come pre-rigged with a treble hook and leader and some dip baits include one or two “worms” with a can of dip.
Live worms have always been popular bait for catfish. Generally speaking, the rule for worms and catfish is, the bigger the better. Even small cats like big, juicy worms so a good idea is to wad two or three on a hook if you are using small to medium size worms. Unlike other species, catfish don’t care how worms are strung on the hook so the more worm that is wrapped around the hook, the better your chances of hooking the cats that bite.
And lastly, catfish are sensitive to sound when they are in water 3 to 6 feet deep. Don't be talking loudly or playing loud music while catfishing because this could surely affect the bite.
Hopefully, these tips will help you put more catfish on the stringer, because July can be a tough month to fish. Next month, we’ll look at some more hot weather fishing tips. If you get a chance this summer, take a young person fishing and introduce them to the great outdoors.