Catfish get big. Not just “kind of big”. I’m talking really big. I mean, a single fish could weigh more than that tournament-winning stringer of bass you caught. And it wouldn’t even take a giant catfish to do it!
If you want to tie into a fish that pulls harder than anything you’ve ever experienced, here are 8 great ways to help you catch a few!
1) Location is everything
This isn’t really different from any other kind of fishing, but I feel like catfishermen, in particular, get wrapped up in things like, what is the best bait? Then forget that the bait doesn’t matter if there are no fish around to eat it. Each of the big 3 species of catfish in North America has their own tendencies and location preferences, and the better you understand where they live and where they go, the more of them you’re going to catch.
2) Variety is the Spice of Catfishing
I hear many people ask, and see numerous questions on Facebook groups, of people asking, “what’s the best bait?” Or what’s the best rig? Honestly, every trip could be different. I find a lot of value in experimenting with different baits, set ups, and locations, because honestly, it depends. Sometimes you can anticipate it, sometimes catfish do funny things for no apparent reason. Due to this, it is generally best practice to try several different baits, rigs, and locations each trip to figure out what the fish are doing.
3) Bait is Still Important
It may seem like I’m downplaying bait, but it is still important, especially for the largest of catfish. They are creatures of habit, and tend to key in on food they’re used to eating. For big blues and channel cats, it’s tough to beat a big, bloody chunk of cutbait that comes from a fish native to the body of water you’re fishing. For flatheads, cutbait catches fish too, but it’s usually a good idea to include several live baits to go along with it.
4) Catfish aren’t just bottom feeders
Catfish have this stigma about them that they cruise the bottom and eat whatever they find down there. While this isn’t entirely wrong, it’s definitely not entirely correct either. Look at a flathead catfish for example. Its head is, well, flat, but that’s only part of the picture. Its lower jaw extends further than its top jaw. Its eyes are located on top of its head. This is a fish designed to feed from the bottom up, sneaking up on unsuspecting baitfish in the middle of the night and attacking from underneath. Blues and channel cats often suspend several feet off the bottom. It’s typically good practice to suspend at least one or two baits above the bottom to key in on those fish that aren’t where “they’re supposed to be.”
5) Deep spots are best, except when they aren’t
Catfish spend a lot of time in deep water, but they don’t necessarily spend a lot of time eating in deep water. Typically, most fish moving around in the shallows are there for one reason, and one reason only, to eat. Low light periods are when this is most common, but in the spring and fall, catfish of all species can often be found in a foot or two of water in the middle of the day. Like mentioned before, it’s good to experiment, and it’s never a bad idea to toss a bait or two into shallower water.
6) Not all catfish are the same
The better you understand the species of catfish you’re fishing for, the more of them you will catch. Sure, there’s a lot of overlap of habits between blues, channels, and flathead catfish, but each of them has distinct traits and characteristics that make them, and the strategies necessary to catch them, unique. Flatheads like structure, generally logs, rocks, and concrete. Blues like fast, deep water. Channels can be found all over the place. There are exceptions to everything, but generalities like this can give you a place to start.
7) Keep your hooks sharp
It seems obvious, but many people overlook it. Just because a hook is new and is supposed to be sharp, doesn’t mean it is. Keep a hook file on you to help increase the likelihood that you catch more of the fish that bite. Oftentimes, especially when fishing for big fish, you don’t get that many chances.
8) Night time is not always the right time
Catfish activity, as a general rule, tends to increase at night. Fish that were glued to the bottom during the heat of the day are suddenly out roaming and are more susceptible to being caught. Knowing this, you can intercept them as they roam around at night. However, the opposite is true during the day. If you know where they’re shacked up, a well placed bait will still get munched, even by relatively inactive fish. The trick is to fish the situation, whether it is day or night.
Closer – These little tips are the beginning, not the end. There’s a lot more to catching catfish consistently than many realize, especially the biggest of each species. As you learn more and more, you improve your odds of catching a fish big enough to eat your state record Largemouth.
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