From the mid-west to the Deep South and mid-Atlantic, catfish lure anglers onto the water each spring in search of trophies that weigh up to 100 pounds.
I target catfish on the James River in central Virginia, but the tactics that work in one part of the country often hold true in other parts.
Big cats will hold in deep water and feed in shallow water. When fishing deep lakes, I look for big catfish on a shallow flat that is close to deep water. Add in cover like wood debris or rocks and you’re looking at a catfish hotspot. On a big river, the same behavior applies. Look for channel edges and deep-water bends that feature a sandbar or mud flat to find big cats feeding. Anchor upcurrent of the structure and cast baits in every direction or drift through fishy areas. Spring through winter you can find the fish during the day, but during summer switch to night fishing to find cats escaping the heat.
Bait selection is the key to success.
Some anglers mistake catfish as mindless, detrital feeders, but I’ve found them to be quite picky. Flathead catfish seem to prefer live bait. I catch sunfish, suckers and shad for a live offering. Keep the bait lively, because bait will tire out and get beat up after hours on the hook. For blue cats, fresh cut bait is best. In my neck of the woods, gizzard shad are blue cat candy. Channel cats may be smaller than the other two species, but they put up a good fight. To tempt them, I use both live and cut bait. In warmer months, they seem to favor live bait, in the cold they like cut bait such as chicken livers, nightcrawlers and cut gizzard shad.
Since I’m fishing at anchor, I need a rod that can cast a good distance.
I like a seven-foot, medium-heavy and matching reel with a casting brake and 300-yards of 80-pound braided line.
My go-to catfish rig is a simple Carolina rig. I start with an 8/0 circle hook but will move down to a 4/0 for smaller cats. I use 12 inches of 50-pound mono snelled to the hook and tied to an 80-pound swivel. Slide a sinker over the mainline and tie to the swivel. Use enough lead to keep the bait on the bottom but light enough to let it roll over and out of structure. I like a no-roll sinker when fishing in the current and egg sinker when drift fishing. To fish calm lakes, I use a bell sinker.
My first big fish in a kayak was a catfish estimated to weigh more than 50 pounds. That catch has inspired me to target other species of trophy fish. If catfish lurk where you live, take some time to target them. Chances are, you’ll catch one.
Josh Dolin is chasing after every trophy fish that swims Virginia waters. So far, he’s scored 17 out of 25. Follow his adventures and learn something new at www.fishhardorstayhome.com.