June 2020 Tackle Techniques

Great Summer Catfishing Tricks You Never Tried by Keith “Catfish” Sutton

Sometimes the best ways to hook up with gnarly old catfish are unconventional methods you never tried, like trolling for big flatheads using shad-like crankbaits. Keith Sutton photo.


Great Summer Catfishing Tricks You Never Tried

Savvy catfish anglers always have a few tricks to try on sulky summer fish.


by Keith “Catfish” Sutton


Want to catch more catfish this summer? Well, of course you do or you wouldn’t be reading this, would you?

You probably already know some good ways to entice these delicious, fun-to-catch sportfish. Catfishing isn’t an overcomplicated sport. You could just bait a hook with some night crawlers, stinkbait, chicken liver or shad, cast it into a lake or river where catfish live and probably catch a few whiskered warriors.

If you learn a few special tricks, however, you can increase the odds that an old whumper-jawed channel cat, blue cat or flathead will strike. That being the case, let me share three simple but effective ideas you should try this season .


Crankbait Flatheads

Right now, in many parts of the country, flathead catfish are spawning. These shovel-headed brutes will lay and guard their eggs almost anywhere they can find a properly sized cavity. But they’re especially fond of dark holes that form in the rock-covered (riprapped) banks created to prevent erosion on many man made lakes and waterways.

After their eggs hatch and the fry are big enough to survive on their own, the parent fish often remain near the spawning site for several weeks, feeding ravenously to replenish body fat and muscle lost to spawning activities. If the water isn’t too murky, you can entice these big flatties using deep-diving, shad-imitation crankbaits. Hungry flatheads are suckers for a tight-wiggling, fishy-looking plug darting past.

You can cast and retrieve the lures with some success, but to maximize productivity, troll with two to four rod-and-reel combos, each rigged with a different-colored crankbait until the fishes’ color preference is determined. Use your trolling motor to get up enough speed to drive the lures to the bottom on the outer edge of the rocks. Then reduce your speed slightly and allow the crankbaits to just skim the bottom, bumping the rocks occasionally. Flatheads can’t resist such enticing tidbits.

Be sure you keep your fishing combos properly secured in rod holders or hold them tightly. If you don’t you could lose them. Strikes are explosive!


Frog Baits for Channel Cats

There are a few states—Nebraska, for example—where avid catfish anglers often use live frogs to catch jumbo channel cats. Despite the fact that few baits work better for trophy-class fish weighing 15 pounds or more, however, many cat fans seem unaware of the effectiveness of frog baits. Don’t be among them.

Frogs make superb baits for luring big channel cats, especially when hooked through a front leg and allowing to remain lively in the water. Keith Sutton photo.
Frogs make superb baits for luring big channel cats, especially when hooked through a front leg and allowing to remain lively in the water. Keith Sutton photo.

You’ll probably have to catch some frogs first. They’re rarely available for sale in bait shops. But it’s not too difficult if you carry a dip net to a local pond or marsh at night, or drive wet rural roadways on rainy evenings. I like to keep the amphibians in a wet tube sock until ready to fish. Four- to 6-inch-long bullfrogs and leopard frogs seem to be favorites of those who use these baits. The end of the sock is tied off with a shoestring to prevent the bait from escaping.

Run your hook through one of the frog’s forelegs. Hooking the hopper here instead of the nose or thigh keeps the bait swimming freely, making it much more enticing. I prefer a 4/0 to 6/0 wide-gap, red octopus hook. A #5 split shot pinched on the line 12 inches above the hook completes the rig.

Flip the frog near lily pads, logs, brush or other catfish cover. A spinning reel is best for this because baitcasters have a tendency to backlash with the light spool-tension settings that are needed.

Nose your boat almost against the cover you want to fish. Then release a few yards of line and hold the excess in one hand. Now swing the rod toward the casting area with the other hand and release the excess line as the frog bait pulls the line through the rod guides. When you’re doing it right, the frog will land on the target without much splash, so it’s less likely to spook wary catfish.

Release more line and allow the frog to swim freely and attract the attention of any hungry catfish lurking nearby. If you don’t get a quick strike, however, raise your rod tip repeatedly to stir the frog into action. Swimming frogs are eaten frogs. Frogs on the bottom may be missed.


Blue Cats on Baited Jigs

In summer, big blue cats often gather in the roiling tailwaters below dams. Waters like this are well-oxygenated, cooler and full of forage—just what blue cats need to stay comfortable and well fed.

All sorts of fishing rigs have been devised to fish the fast current in tailwaters, many of them complicated and time-consuming to tie. But you don’t need to waste precious fishing time constructing rigs when fishing a tailwater. Use a baited jig instead.

I prefer bare football jig heads, which seem to snag less in the rocks usually found in tailwaters. Heavier sizes—1 to 2 ounces—are best, especially if gates are open and the current is strong.

Each jig is baited with a chunk of cut-bait no larger than 1-inch square. Blue cats gobble up any

A jighead baited with a chunk of shad works great for catching hungry blue cats like this one landed by Tennessee catfish guide James Patterson. Keith Sutton photo.
A jighead baited with a chunk of shad works great for catching hungry blue cats like this one landed by Tennessee catfish guide James Patterson. Keith Sutton photo.

piece of fish drifting by, and larger pieces of bait become difficult to present properly in the current. Smaller works better. Slip the hook through the bait once, leaving the point exposed to ensure a good hookset when one of the brutes strikes.

Jig fishing is boat fishing. Drift with the current a legal distance downstream from the dam and work the baited jig vertically beneath your craft. Braided line adds “feel” that helps you know when you need to raise or lower the jig to jump over a rock or other obstruction. Cats often hold on the downstream side of obstructions to stay out of the strongest current, so get ready for action every time you lift up and over something on the bottom.

Good areas to work in each tailwater include deep scour holes at the end of wing dikes, the downstream side of underwater boulders, deep outer edges of shoreline riprap, tributary mouths and lock-wall edges. Work each structure thoroughly, and once again, be sure your fishing outfit remains secure in your hands or a good rod holder. Blue cats strike ferociously when feeding in these fast waters, and if you’re not prepared, you’ll lose a rod and reel and miss a fish!


Sidebar Watch for Skippies

In summer, large schools of skipjack herring often churn the surface of the water as they pursue young-of-the-year shad. Big blue cats often lurk below them, gobbling up both skipjacks and the injured shad they leave behind. It pays, therefore, to watch for schools of baitfish creating surface disturbances.

For the savvy blue cat angler, this is a setting like no other. A 1/64- to 1/32-ounce silver or white jig cast toward swirling fish will usually garner a strike from a skipjack that can be used for bait. Cut the skippie in small pieces, run a hook through one, then cast it toward the swirls and let it fall enticingly to hungry blues waiting below. Better yet, come prepared with a few small shad ready to rig. They quickly entice big hungry cats.

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