Catfish like this massive Missouri River blue feed more actively as summer’s heat wanes and autumn’s coolness begins, making them ideal targets for anglers this season. (Keith Sutton Photo)
3 Strategies for Nabbing Cats When the Seasons are Changing
by Keith “Catfish” Sutton
As days grow shorter and cooler around summer’s end, catfish start gorging to put on fat reserves before winter rolls around. Be on the water then if you want to enjoy some of the year’s best action.
The late summer/early autumn transition period is a golden season for catfishing fans. Summer’s crowds vanish. Lakes, ponds, and rivers shimmer beneath canopies of vermillion and amber leaves. Summer-fattened catfish are in prime condition, offering exciting possibilities for action-hungry anglers.
Fortunately for the fishermen, catfish feeding activity increases as summer’s heat dissipates and days grow shorter. Cats gorge on their favorite foods in order to put on weight prior to the leaner winter months ahead. Here are three strategies for catching them as the action heats up.
Bottom Channels for Reservoir Blues
Transition blue cats in big reservoirs tend to be nomadic, following ever-moving schools of shad and herring. During this period, they often follow bottom creek and river channels when actively feeding, and drift-fishing provides an ideal means for catching them.
A float rig is ideal for drifting. The main line is run through the eye of a 1-1/2-ounce weight, and a barrel swivel is tied below it to keep the weight from sliding down. A 4-foot leader is then tied to the lower eye of the swivel. A 2-1/2-inch panfish float is added in the middle of the leader, and a 6/0 wide-gap (Kahle) hook is tied at the end.
The float suspends the baited hook above the bottom to help prevent snags. By sliding the float up or down the leader, you can adjust the depth at which the bait floats. The best baits are the ones the cats are following—shad and herring—cut into chunks.
Watch a fish-finder as you drift with the wind or move with a trolling motor, guiding your boat over and along the channels where blue cats are likely to be. Some days you’ll catch most fish on channel edges in shallower water. Some days most cats are deep within channels. Some days you’ll catch them shallow and deep. Regardless of where they are, however, drifting will nab them.
Log Rafts for Big-River Flatheads
Flatheads love dense woody cover. In rivers, this often comes in the form of log rafts—big platforms of floating logs and debris that form in backwaters during high water.
Common carp, bigheads and silver carp are attracted to the log rafts. And when they can be obtained alive (often from a commercial fisherman or caught on hook and line), carp of the right size (6 to 12 inches long) make great baits for trophy flatheads. If carp aren’t available, use goldfish instead.
To fish a log raft, anchor to one side. Flatheads often hold beneath central portions of a raft, but it’s easier to fish the edges where flatheads also feed. Present your baitfish on an egg-sinker rig—an egg sinker on your main line above a barrel swivel, with a 3-foot hook leader tied below. Use a sinker just big enough to carry your rig under the raft’s outer edge. After casting, hold your rod tip high and strip line manually from your reel, guiding your rig beneath the rotating maze of logs.
If a bite hasn’t come before you snag a piece of driftwood, move your rig and try again. If flatheads are present, they bite fast. Be prepared!
Rocky Pools for Small-Stream Channel Cats
Channel cats to 5 pounds are abundant in many mountain streams. In fall, they often hold in the upstream ends of rocky pools just below shallow riffles. Swift current in this part of a pool brings food animals such as crayfish, hellgrammites, suckers, and chubs into the hole. Catfish lay behind rocks, logs, ledges ,and other current-breaking objects, ambushing anything edible.
You can fish these holes from a canoe, from shore or by wade fishing. A bobber/drift presentation works well. Rig a large cigar float on your line so your bait hangs just above the bottom. Add a sinker big enough to hold the bait down, and then cast upstream and drift the rig through the pool’s upper end near cover and structure. If you use a long rod, practice will enable you to steer your rig past holding areas without worrying about hang-ups.
Each drift should carry your enticement past a different catfish hideout. And on good days in late summer or early autumn, each drift should entice another nice cat for the frying pan.