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Channel catfish tactics

By DICK MARTIN • Jun 30, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Many readers grew up fishing for Lake Erie perch and walleye or farm pond bass and bluegills. In southern Ohio where I spent youthful days we rarely saw Lake Erie and farm ponds and larger lakes were scarce, so mostly we fished rivers for catfish. I've always liked cats. They're good fighters and good eating, but in those days we sought them mostly in river pools and hoped something would happen. Often enough, it did.

I learned a few things about river fishing then, and used it later in lakes and even Lake Erie. One point was that cats in rivers (lakes, too) spend most of their day in the deepest pools they could find, usually in river bends where currents cut out deep holes that made prime layup spots. So, I usually fished river bends. And down through the years I learned to attract cats and up my catch by chumming. I well remember two old timers who fished rivers like the Big Scioto often.

They loved to hunt groundhogs and would feed the meat to their dogs mixed with dog food, and place the entrails, heads, etc. in a burlap bag with a couple of stones for weight. Then they'd tie a rope to the top of the bag and toss it out at the top of a river bend and spend several nights fishing just below it. "We caught a lot of cats that were attracted to the bag,” one of them told me. I did much the same later using a can of jack mackerel perforated and tied to a string for later retrieval. The mackerel was oily and very fishy smelling and drew catfish from quite a distance downstream to my waiting hooks.

Lakes have holes too, and they're ideal for daytime fishermen who can't go out at night, the usual time for cats. I found a fairly deep hole in Charles Mill Lake by checking a Division of Wildlife map of the lake, and occasionally spent time drifting over that hole with a Lindy rig baited with a nightcrawler. Lindy rigs are just a slip sinker with about 18 inches of monofilament below and a hook that held a head hooked nightcrawler. Bumped along the bottom it drew loafing channel cats very nicely. On another trip I found a hole off Johnson Island in Lake Erie and four of us caught about 60 cats in one morning. I asked to keep the smaller ones, fish of about 10 inches up to 15, smoked the lot, and found they made an ideal addition to a ball game with an appropriate beverage.

Baits for catfish can vary a good deal since they'll eat almost anything. I caught a great many on ordinary nightcrawlers down through the years, but crawlers have a problem in that the scent washes off fairly quickly and I have to change baits about every half hour if they're biting only occasionally. Minnows are better, and better yet, if stepped on slightly to open the belly cavity and release more scent, but the best bait I've found is raw shrimp, which holds its enticing odor for a long time.

Cut bait is a close second, and I've often used a hand seine to catch gizzard shad in three- to four-inch sizes and cut them in two to bait hooks. Do remember that a channel cat is little more than a swimming nose with scent cells on its barbells (whiskers) and all along its body. In muddy water particularly, they can hunt strictly by smell and find food in plenty. Finally, do remember too, that cats move at night. In lakes they'll invade bays and backwaters to forage for minnows, crayfish, worms, insect larvae, and anything else edible. In lakes too, they like to forage among the riprap of dam sites seeking food, and they'll move up any tributary from lakes that have them. Find a good spot, use the right bait, and bring the fish to you with chum when possible. Shortly, you too will be enjoying catfish fillets whenever you wish.

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Hooks & bullets

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Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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