Tips for tackling catfish
Gear: I recommend a parabolic, medium-heavy-action crankbait rod, in either spinning or baitcasting. Big cats will try to drag you into the drink or tear the hooks out, so the parabolic blank absorbs the power of the fish, yet has the backbone to control it. Downrigger rods will work, but they gravely lack in sensitivity.
Be sure to choose a reel that has solid gearing. I like the Shimano Tekota because it sports a line-counter feature, which is helpful for putting your bait back in the same spot you caught your last fish. For spinning reels, the Shimano Baitrunner has also worked well. With the flick of a lever, you can activate a secondary drag that puts the reel in a tension-controlled free spool so the fish can run without knowing it’s been hooked. To fight the fish, you just have to turn the drag back to its primary mode.
Bait: The best thing about catfish bait is that you really don’t have to break the bank. Plus, there’s plenty of room for creativity. For live bait, go with minnows, suckers or dew worms. Some cat anglers prefer freshly cut suckers where the regulations allow, while others prefer frozen mackerel, store-bought shrimp, chicken liver or even hot dogs. Cats feed based on smell, so choose your bait accordingly. And don’t be afraid to experiment with scents or stink baits. While there are plenty of companies that commercially produce dip bait and pastes, home concoctions can work just as well.
Where it’s safe to do so, anchor your boat so you can precisely and repeatedly present your bait right where you want it. Just remember to position the boat far enough away from your target area so that you don’t spook the fish when the anchor locks onto the bottom. If you can, use an anchor at both the bow and stern to get optimal boat control.
Cast into the current so that your sinker finds bottom and holds in the strike zone. If you cast with the current, the sinker tends to keep rolling and skipping along the bottom unless you use a really heavy one. I prefer to use the lightest sinker possible to avoid getting snagged yet maintain the proper bait presentation.
To properly present your bait, use a Carolina rig with a circle hook (see diagram). The design of circle hooks makes it easy for catfish to hook themselves when they swim away. However, you have to make sure not to set the hook. Instead, keep tension on the line to let the hook naturally plant itself in the corner of the fish’s mouth as the fish turns. I like the 5/0 Owner Super Mutu hook—it’s so sharp that I’ve caught fish by their whiskers as they sniffed the bait.
Forty-pound-test braided line is a good choice for the main line. Depending on whether I want my bait to float higher or lower, I alternate my leader material between 20-pound-test monofilament and 30-pound-test braid. If the fish are suspended off the bottom, a longer, heavier leader allows the bait to float.
Catfish will either slam your bait and speed away like a freight train, or they’ll play with it, so you have to watch your line very closely. For those non-committal fish, patience goes a long way—when the feeding window finally opens, the taps on your rod tip will evolve into strong, steady pulls.
While the right set-up allows cats to set the hooks themselves, the trickiest bite occurs when the fish picks up the bait and swims toward you. Even the most skilled anglers can miss these fish when quickly reeling to keep tension on the line is the only recourse.
Now, touch gloves and come out swinging at the bell.
This article was originally published on May 3, 2012
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