by Wesley Mann
Knowing where to look and how to catch trophy catfish.
I first started seeking out the trophy catfish in the productive waters of Tennessee about four years ago. More specifically I was probing the waters of the Cumberland River learning how to catch the trophies that swim there. To shorten the learning curve, I sought out advice from some of the oldest and wisest catfishermen around. I am talking about men that have thirty plus years of experience in trophy catfishing. And some that professionally guided on the rivers in the region for the monsters I wanted to catch.
All the experienced anglers agreed that the big fish are on the ledges and there is one basic technique that a successful trophy catfish angler must know to catch them. Anglers must know how to bound back.
First and foremost is the need to understand that most of the fish in a river system are going to travel what is called the ledge. Catfish will both travel and sit on a ledge waiting to ambush prey. They will move up and down the water column along the changing elevation of the river channel.
Also, along this ledge where the drop off of the river is, you will find most of your structure. It will include changing elevation and little knolls that shoot out from the ledge providing a hiding spot for the predator catfish to attack its prey. Baitfish succumb to the flowing current and it pushes them down the ledge or the eddies created underneath the surface to the waiting fish.
Most of the fallen timber will also be right on the ledge as the currents will wash it against the base of the ledge over time. Also, trees fall straight off the bank and sink to the bottom of the ledge creating another ambush spot.
Understanding that the fish will be somewhere near the ledge of the river identifies where anglers need to present their bait. The presentation to use is the technique I call bounding down. Bounding down is a simple technique that has been proven to work more often than not, and is basic to catfishing a river with flowing current.
How does it work?
Anglers use their electronics to find a series of trees, changing elevation marks, or knolls along the ledge of the river. Maybe you even mark a few fish. Finding the structure, say a tree, makes me think that there is a massive flathead hiding in the middle of those branches.
Suppose you find a segment of the river that is full of structure and it reaches downriver about 400 yards or so. Suppose also that you mark fish everywhere. The next step is to throw your anchor above the last marked structure and set out your rods. Spread your casts out as wide and as far as you deem necessary. Place one bait shallow on top of the ledge, cast multiple rods right along the down slope of the ledge, and cast one, just for fun, out in the middle of the river. Now you have baits at short, long and medium distances and baits in different depths.
Say you get one or two good bites and a fish off the first anchor point. Just remember that you marked all of those fish and the structure over a range of 400 yards. I would normally sit there between 30-45 minutes per stop unless it was one bite after another.
Instead of vacating the entire bank, try bounding down. That means you just move the boat 50 to100 yards or so. Position the boat for the second anchor right at the end of your furthest cast from the first anchor spot.
This procedure does a couple of things. For those big fish that you just know are down that stretch, maybe they are not wanting to come out and play. Bounding back is bringing the bait back to them. Now you might catch those fish that you missed or just couldn’t reach on your last setup.
Second, and most importantly, you are creating a scent trail through the water with the current and your bait. Now you are reaching those catfish further down the river and they starting to search for the bait. They are trying to figure out just where their next dinner might be lying.
If the stretch gives you a decent fish, a fish that you are happy with, you can bound down again. For me a 15-pound fish or higher and one fish per anchor point is good enough for me to trust that this specific bank is productive enough to keep fishing and searching for that monster in the structure.
I will continue to bound back until the fish either stop biting or I run out of structure or specific ledge features that I think will be productive.
Finally, I give almost every anchor spot at least one bound down. If I do not get a single nibble for the first set I might just go ahead and move on.
Sometimes the bite is slow and you get them after sitting for more than 45 minutes, and patience works at times. Other times, when they are extremely active, 30 minutes might be all that I will give them.
Bounding back on river ledges is a basic principle in river fishing and more often than not my go to method when tournament fishing, as long as there is a bit of current to carry that scent down river, attracting fish as it goes. Don’t forget to spread your lines out along the ledge. Set lines on the top, middle, and bottom of the ledge. Cast long short. This spread guarantees that you are covering 90 percent of their predominant travel lanes along that bank.
Good Luck to every one!