With young anglers, a simple plan and steady action are more important than big fish.
Catfish Young Anglers Can Bank On
by Jeff Samsel
A shoreline approach keeps thing simple while providing outstanding cat catching opportunities.
My children share a common experience. Each has discovered catfishing from the bank of the same small pond, where the plan has been simple: Cast. Wait for the tell-tale tug. Set hook. Reel in catfish. And the wait has never been long because I intentionally have taken them to a state-managed “family fishing pond” that stays well stocked with channel catfish and bullheads. The fish aren’t big, but success comes quickly, bringing big smiles.
“The catfish pond,” as we call it, is only good for a few early outings. It’s sufficiently small that catching fish would feel like less of an accomplishment with a bit more fishing experience. But for the newest and youngest anglers, it’s spectacular, and our basic approach doesn’t change dramatically as we move to the banks of larger ponds, lakes, and streams.
Bank fishing provides major advantages for taking young anglers catfishing, with the first simply being that it is accessible to everyone. No matter where you live, there is most likely a river or lake not too far away with some publicly accessible shoreline and cats within casting distance. You don’t need to own a boat, hire a guide, or get a friend to take you.
Bank fishing outings also can be as long or short as you want them to be, which is especially important for newcomers. Without the need to launch a boat, ride to a spot, and get anchored and set up, you often can be fishing (and sometimes catching) within minutes of arriving, and all the emphasis can be on the fishing itself. Of equal importance, when your youngest angler has had enough, you can pack up with everyone still happy and without much invested.
A stretch of shoreline also accommodates a group of any size, so if your children want to bring a couple of friends, that’s no problem. In truth, in the world of catfishing, more anglers simply means more baits spread out to help find the fish!
Because bank-fishing offers less mobility than a boating approach, the most important factor in finding success is picking the right spot, which has two major aspects. The first step is to pick the best waterway. The second is to pick the best specific starting spot along the bank.
Waters to Fish
An excellent place to begin planning for bank-fishing outings is on your state fisheries agency’s website. Several states manage small lakes primarily or exclusively for fishing, and stocking catchable-size channel catfish and creating good shoreline access are typically high management priorities. Many of these waters are not open to boats – or a least not to boats run by large outboards – which makes for more pleasant bank fishing and often provides shoreline anglers the best opportunities.
In addition, many states – if not most – use channel and blue catfish stocking to enhance recreational opportunities in city and state park lakes, municipal reservoirs, state and national forest service lakes, and other waters that already provide public access. Identify lakes (especially smaller lakes) where catfish get stocked on a regular basis, and then investigate which offers the best bank access. If a lake offers shoreline access in several spots, that increases your opportunity to strategically move a time or two, if necessary, to find cooperative fish.
While ponds and smaller lakes commonly rely on stockings, many streams naturally support good catfish populations. The key to finding a good stream or river destination is to identify an area with good bank access where fish are apt to be concentrated. Good examples include tailwaters of hydroelectric dams, pools beneath spill dams, bridge crossing with riprap banks, creek confluences, and notable stream bends.
Although you certainly can move in a day (and should if the fish aren’t cooperating) family outings sometimes involve a bit of extra stuff to keep everyone comfortable and content, which makes each move a bit of a task. Plus, you want your best chance to find action from the start. With that in mind take time to survey the shoreline and sections that provide reasonable access before toting your gear to a spot and setting up shop.
Points and mouths of creeks are likely hotspots in ponds and lakes because they offer a good range of depths in relatively small areas. Pond dams are also regular producers, with dam corners and the area near the old channel being likely hotspots along dams. You can often get a good idea where the old creek channel is by lining up with the creek beneath the dam.
Other features to watch for are a change in the slope of the shore, which often will continue beneath the water and hold fish, riprap along the shore, or a big, downed tree or other defined cover. Catfish are more cover oriented than they are often given credit for, and they’ll commonly congregate around the branches of a big laydown.
A shoreline catfishing plan with young anglers allows for the simplest of strategies and basic gear. In most instances, it’s tough to top a simple sliding bottom rig, with a slip sinker, swivel, section of leader and hook. The sinker provides casting weight. The sliding rig allows fish to move with the bait, giving young anglers their best chance to get a good hookset.
If the bottom is stumpy or grassy or if inexperienced anglers have trouble recognizing bites, an alternative rig includes a slip float set to suspend the bait just off the bottom and just enough weight to keep the bait down.
Whatever the rig or locations, chicken livers or nightcrawlers are tough to top as a bait choice when you are targeting catfish from the bank.