Little catfish bring big smiles to young anglers who participate in special mentored fishing events.
Getting Little Ones Hooked on Catfishing
By Brent Frazee
Want to get your kids started young? Seek places where the channel cats will provide plenty of bites.
Imagine your young son or daughter proudly posing with a giant catfish.
Now put that thought on hold. With any luck, that will come later.
If you want to get your kids hooked on chasing catfish, start with the gateway species of the whiskered-fish world. Start with channel catfish.
They are widely available, bite readily, can be caught from shore as well as boats, don’t require lots of patience and can put up one heck of a fight. In other words, they’re meant for kids.
In places such as Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri, the channel cat is so popular that it’s deemed the state fish. The whiskered fish are abundant everywhere from rivers and reservoirs to small stocked impoundments such as urban lakes and state fishing lakes.
The objective is to get bites. Lots of bites. Here are seven ways to accomplish that goal and get your little ones to become junior whisker chasers.
Fish Where the Cats Are Feeding
Find a pond or a reservoir with fish feeders that spray pellets into water at set intervals, usually morning and evening. Private landowners and some fish and game agencies use the feeders to provide supplemental food for the fish and a great place to fish for anglers.
Channel cats can actually be trained to show up once the feeders discharge their pellets. They boil the water in a frenzy as the food drifts down, and they can easily be fooled into biting.
Many fishermen use worms under a bobber to find success. Others find success on small brown jigs, which imitate the pellets the catfish are accustomed to eating.
Chum Them Up
In states where chumming is legal, catfish anglers often create their own “honeyhole” by ladling soured soybeans into the water.
They start by pouring raw soybeans into a 5-gallon bucket, covering them with water and adding a little yeast. Then they let that mixture ferment in the sun until the solution gets so smelly that the neighbors complain.
They toss scoops of the fermented soybeans into a spot for several days straight and get the channel cats into a habit of showing up. Then they return and use stinkbait or nightcrawlers for bait and enjoy hot fishing. Some Kansas guides use this method to get their clients into catches of 50 or more fish in a half-day of fishing.
It’s a great way to get kids into non-stop action. Most of the fish are small—1-1/2 to 2 pounds. But they put up a great fight on medium-action tackle.
Fish a Small Public Lake
Rural community lakes, county lakes and small impoundments on state wildlife areas often are stocked with channel cats and provide a great place for families to get started.
The big reservoirs and rivers get the most attention from experienced anglers because of the large catfish they produce. But many states have overlooked jewels that are ideal for introducing kids to catfishing.
Those small bodies of water are stocked regularly with channel catfish, and they are easy to fish from the bank. States such as Kansas make sure there are fishing opportunities throughout the state.
“Our studies have shown that anglers want a place to fish within 30 minutes of their home,” said Jeff Conley, a program specialist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. “We are able to meet that need through our CFAP (Community Fisheries Assistance Program) program.”
In that program, the state manages the fisheries at over 200 community lakes across Kansas in exchange for a leasing agreement.
No matter your state, make sure you check regulations before you head out. Some city lakes require a local fee in addition to a state fishing permit.
Fish an Urban Lake
State fish and wildlife agencies often stock small lakes in population centers to give urban residents who are unable to travel a chance to try fishing. They stock large amounts of hatchery-raised channel catfish and encourage families to fish for them.
In Missouri, the Department of Conservation stocks 30 urban lakes with channel catfish from April through September.
Kansas also has an active urban stocking program, targeting cities with populations of 40,000 or more.
“The fish we stock average three-quarters of a pound,” said David Breth, sport fishing education coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. “They’re super easy to catch.
“These are farm-fed fish that don’t have the smarts that wild fish have. Our goal is to get families started fishing and to provide them with something to take home for dinner.”
Midwestern states also stock channel catfish in small impoundments for special events such as Free Fishing Days (in which a fishing license isn’t required), holiday weekends and kids fishing days.
In some cases, volunteers are on hand to help families get started.
Watch the Weather
Plan a trip with your son or daughter soon after a heavy rain. Fish areas where runoff is flowing into a lake or pond. Channel cats often concentrate in those areas to chow down on food being swept into the water. A pool below a riffle is an excellent place to fish.
Fish off the bottom with a sinker heavy enough to keep the bait from being swept away from the best spots.
You don’t need heavy-duty tackle to get started when you’re catfishing. Those heavy-duty surf rods with big reels are great when you’re chasing trophy cats, but they aren’t needed when you’re pursuing stocker channel cats.
Equip your child with a basic medium-action rod and a push-button spincast reel to get started. Use 8-pound test line, a size-4 bait holder hook and a pinch-on weight just heavy enough to get the bait to the bottom.
Nightcrawlers are the best overall bait for channel catfish, but everything from stinkbait to liver to cut shad also will work.
And if none of that is available, go to the grocery store and buy the cheapest hot dogs you can find. Cut them into small chunks and thread one of the pieces onto a hook.
“You’d be surprised how much channel cats like those hot dogs,” Breth said. “I think they give off a scent that really attracts the fish.”
(Brent Frazee worked as the outdoors editor for The Kansas City Star for 36 years before retiring in 2016. He continues to freelance for magazines, websites, newspapers and newsletters. He lives in Parkville, Missouri, with his wife Jana and two Labrador retrievers, Millie and Maggie.)