While 2020 was a year of trouble and disappointment, Brian Cabe’s year was a little brighter after being the first of Konkle’s clients to join the 100-pound club. Konkle had three clients land 100-pound plus blues in 2020.
Tips for Finding and Catching Deep Water Blues
by Ron Presley
The fishing is not that much different, but you might catch bigger blues.
Capt. Ty Konkle is well known for his ability to catch trophy catfish. Recent proof came in November when he put clients on two triple-digit blues on the same day. The two phenomenal catches were characterized by one thing—they came from deep water in the Tennessee River Gorge.
Fishing deep water is not necessarily harder to fish, but it can be frustrating enough to keep some anglers from probing the deeper waters for the trophy cats that live there. His willingness to explore and fish deep water partially explains Konkle’s success in catching numerous trophy cats for his clients.
“Deep water isn’t inherently harder to fish than anywhere else,” Konkle stated. “But it is definitely harder in the river gorge due to the overwhelming amount of structure on the deep river bottom. There are rocks down there that are literally the size of houses.”
According to Konkle, the deep water is especially productive in clear water conditions and during high light conditions because it offers security to the cats. He generally targets trophy cats deeper in the winter than in the summer.
Deep Water Techniques
Konkle’s tackle was no different for the two jumbo cats he caught in November than he normally uses. His B’n’M Silver Cat rods were equipped with Team Catfish Gold Ring casting reels. He spooled up with his favorite 30-pound Team Catfish High-Vis yellow mono.
“For my terminal tackle I add a 50-pound mono leader,” explained Konkle. “I use a Team Catfish sliding sinker clip with 3- to 5-ounce sinkers, depending on current. I complete the rig with a Team Catfish 8/0 double action circle hook.”
Konkle has a general rule about bait. He includes the popular skipjack, bluegill, crappie, and other legal finfish varieties as his bait of choice.
“Really I just go with the bait that is easiest to acquire in the area I am fishing,” advised Konkle. “I tend to keep baits small in the summer and large in the winter and especially the spring.”
Konkle normally suspend fishes in the deep-water gorge when the structure is super rocky. He reports that the rocks can be 10 to 15 feet high and it is difficult to effectively anchor.
“Anchoring is a challenge,” advised Konkle. “It can be hard to get positioned correctly on a long anchor rope. Anchoring ends up getting my baits too far into the crevices where fish don’t get at them. A GPS trolling motor with an anchor function will allow you to suspend fish. Fishing the baits suspended keeps them in a strike zone better.”
Getting the bite is one thing, fighting them is another. Konkle is one who insists on taking care of the health of the fish. One challenge is to make sure that the fish properly decompresses as they are brought up from deep water.
Konkle watches expectantly for the air that big cats expel from their bladder when nearing the surface. Not only do those bubbles give an indication of the size of the fish, seeing those bubbles come to the surface is an indication that the fight is about over.
“I’m always careful to have clients bring the big deep-water fish up slowly,” offered Konkle. “That’s the best way to decompress. Bring them up slowly and don’t land the fish unless it has bubbled.”
Big blues can behave differently according to Konkle. Some will pull straight down while others will go up or downriver pulling drag all the time. Either way, a good reel with a good drag is needed. If the drag ever fails, there’s a good chance you could lose a fish of a lifetime.
“For 12 years I’ve been hunting for that legitimate 100-pounder,” concluded Konkle, recalling his November experience. “Then on a trip with clients, I get 2 in one day! The first came within minutes of beginning our day. When I saw the first massive bubbles come to the surface, I knew it was an extremely large fish. Then a few hours later on the last drop of the day, and a slow afternoon bite, the second triple-digit blue came to my other client.”
The good news is, Konkle thinks there are plenty more of the massive blues where those came from.
Konkle’s Tips for Deep Water Blues
- Get a GPS trolling motor. Anchoring in deep water with huge structure does not give the best presentation for deep water blues. A trolling motor with electronic anchoring capabilities allows you to fish vertically and keep the bait in the strike zone.
- Put in your time. Give up some fishing time to identify the structure. Bumping the bottom with a sinker along deep stretches of the river will help feel out the rocks, boulders, and other structures. Many times, deep water is a collection point for trees and other debris. Finding structure helps create your plan of attack.
- Concentrate deeper in winter and clear water at mid-day. In the winter fish typically head to deeper and more sheltered waters. Often the bait fish are found deeper too. As usual, follow the bait. On warm winter days the blues will sometimes move shallow if the bait fish move out of the deep water to shallow warming water as the sun rises.
- Bring a big net. Once you fight one of these monsters of the deep to the boat you will need a big landing net. Konkle’s fish grips would not even start to go over the jaw of the triple-digit blues. If you want to finish the landing in the most efficient manner, be sure to have a big enough net.
- Reliable scales. If you are interested in recording your trophy’s weight with precision a reliable set of scales is a necessity. Konkle’s first giant blue on that faithful day in November smashed the 100-pound scale he had on board. Not a problem if you’re happy enough with just joining the 100-pound club.
Editor’s Note: A full rendition of Capt. Konkle’s double triple-digit blues can be read next month in CatfishNOW. Capt. Richard Simms chronicles the adventure in the February 2021 issue. Watch for it.