Catfish are fun to catch, remain active in summer’s heat, and make a great meal.
When I was only about four feet tall or so, my dad and I caught a mess of bullhead catfish on barbecued chicken – leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. I’ve also caught bullheads and other varieties of catfish on worms, grubs, chicken livers, dip bait and cheese. The common element that seems to characterize can’t-miss catfish bait is odor. While catfish can’t see well, they have an excellent sense of smell and the barbels near the mouth, which resemble a cat’s whiskers and give the species its common name, enable catfish to taste and smell food. That makes them easy to catch. And because they like warm water, they can provide a lot of summer fishing fun.
Bullheads are the smallest member of the catfish family found in our lakes and rivers, and they’re also the most common. There are several varieties of bullhead and most are around 10-inches long when fully grown. But they’re fun to catch, putting up a fairly good fight, and they are excellent table fare, fried with a cornmeal crust or blackened. You can catch them in the shallows of most lakes feeding near the bottom all summer long. I’ve caught a mess of them at noon on a hot day, when other fish just weren’t interested.
Channel cats aren’t much bigger than bullheads and are also quite abundant. Like bullheads, they’ll eat almost anything, but natural baits seem best. Small panfish cut into 1-inch pieces work well as do minnows or nightcrawlers. Fresh or frozen shrimp are said to work well. Dunham’s has a selection of baits that are sure to attract the channel cats. Berkley Powerbait chunks in liver, blood or fish scent are irresistible to any variety of catfish. Dip bait is among the most popular for catfish angling, particularly in summer months. Dunham’s carries Uncle Josh dip bits in rotten shad and liver. Also available are tube baits in the same delectable rotten shad and liver flavors.
When fishing for catfish, it’s important that you fish just off the bottom of the lake or stream. That’s where the cats will be searching for food.
Catfish angling gets serious when you go after the blue and flathead catfish. These big boys can grow to over 100 pounds, and 25- to 50-pound specimens are reasonably common in a lot of the nation’s river systems and lakes. While they can be found in some smaller lakes, they’re most prevalent in the big lakes. Like other members of the catfish family, they like warm water, so they’re a good species to go after when other fish are lying low in the midsummer heat.
Like their smaller relatives, big cats will happily feast on a variety of live bait, including minnows, crawfish, worms, chicken livers, cut-up panfish or man-made stink baits. Again, the preserved baits and dip baits available at Dunham’s are a sure way to attract the big cats.
Many catfish anglers set trotlines at night to catch a mess of cats. The trotline is a long piece of sturdy fishing line with multiple hooks attached to secondary drop lines that branch off the main line. Each hook is baited with some nasty bit that the cats will love. One end is tied to a tree limb or some other sturdy spot on shore. The other line is weighted and dropped into the water. A float can be attached to the anchor end via a piece of line long enough to reach the surface with the anchor on the bottom. An empty plastic gallon-size milk or detergent bottle works well. On streams with trees on both sides, a trotline can be strung between two trees. When I was a teenager I watched some older anglers bait and set their trotlines in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks. They were using massive hooks and baiting them with cottonseed cakes. They set the trotline at dusk and hauled in some mighty big blue cats in the morning.
Dunham’s can provide everything you need to put together a trotline, but most of us like to take our fish on rod and reel. Dunham’s offers a wide variety of heavy-duty rods and reels that are perfect for catfish angling. The Shakespeare Ugly Stik is a favorite of many cat fishermen.
Jim Burrows of Pure Fishing says the Shakespeare Ugly Stik rods and combos are tough enough to land the biggest cats, and Dunham’s has a wide selection of this gear. He also recommends loading your reel with Berkley Trilene Big Cat Monofilament line in 20 lb., 30 lb., and 40 lb. weight. Another good choice that you’ll find at Dunham’s is SpiderWire Stealth Braid line.
A great way to get your feet wet in catfish angling is with the South Bend Ready to Fish Catfish Combo. This all-you-need kit includes a rod and reel, along with a tackle box and some bait that is sure to make any cat sit up and take notice.
-Hook, Line & Sinker
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