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Channel Catfish Biology Catfish Tips & Tactics

Channel Catfish: America’s Most Popular Cat

by In-Fisherman   |  April 15th, 2014 0

So we know the channel cat is a willing sort, too, a fish that likes to bite, therefore its loyal following from anglers of all ages and angling skills. Somewhere, four seasons long, channel cats are biting. At night and during the day—more so than catfish like the flathead and white cat. In deep water and shallow, particularly along current edges, and even in open water in reservoirs and ponds.

Oh, and The Boys did like to eat some of those old cats. Fixin’ a midnight jambalaya, a cajun catfish chowder, was a tradition, bankside under the midnight stars. Soon enough everything seemed just right in this old world. And soon enough, in one way or another, all of us pretty much found ourselves agreeing with what we already knew—that baked, fried, broiled, or in a chowder, a catfish dinner was the perfect ending to a day of fishing.

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As a side note in this regard, the demand for channel cats has even spawned a multimillion dollar aquaculture business, with millions of pounds of farm-raised channel cats being shipped to restaurants and grocery stores around the world. “Keeps commercial pressure off our wild cats,” Toad would observe.

And then he’d make the point that unlike other groups of anglers, where snooty has sort of become the rule of the day, catmen won’t begrudge you a stringer of smaller fish for the table, won’t look down their noses at you while you stand there cleaning your fish. Stange’s main point always was and remains that channel cats are a delicious, nutritious, and, when harvested wisely, renewable resource.

So, too, we came to understand that the modern catman understands his quarry and uses a variety of presentations to trigger fish. It was The Boys who taught us to survey long stretches of rivers, not just park by the first bridge hole we came to. The right spot in most rivers, they said, is near snags. Call ’em blowdowns, brushpiles, ­whatever you want, they attract channel cats, especially if the snag coincides with a hole.

Holes, you see, are the home of catfish in rivers. A snag—cover—in conjunction with a hole makes the best home. The better the home, the more likely that catfish will be present—lots of them and perhaps a monster or two, or more. But to find the best homes, it’s necessary to move—again, to cover lots of water in order to be able to make the right judgment about which areas are best, the better if the areas are far removed from the reaches of other anglers. Just as The Boys said.

Another special thing about the quest for channel cats is that shore-bound anglers can catch plenty of fish. Most anglers continue to fish from shore as a matter of economics. The Boys rode a reasonable line in that regards. They’d tell you that while shore-bound anglers can score plenty of cats, on anything bigger than a small stream, a boat increases the amount of water that can be covered. Of course, the humble flat-bottomed johnboat still serves as the flagship of the catfish fleet. And, often as not, The Boys were featured fishing from shore, or from Toad’s beat up and totally revamped 14-foot Lund, an old boat they affectionately called Old Sorta Red.

Stange, though, as editor in chief of In-Fisherman publications, had all sorts of battleshiplike craft available to him. And The Boys would use them when the situation demanded. Santee Cooper’s no place to be running around in a 12-foot johnboat, after all. Clearly, too, we all came to see, that boat designs for channel cats are as varied as the environments in which cats are found. Now, for the first time, a few forward-thinking boat manufacturers are designing new boats for catfishing. Yet an angler can transform almost any craft into a functional skiff.

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A Unique Sensory Package
The Boys were no slouches on the scientific front, either. They spent time teaching us about the senses of the channel cat, for understanding these senses provides insights on how to catch this cagey critter. Note that a more thorough discussion of these senses is provided by our resident fishery scientist, Steve Quinn, in the first section of this guide. We won’t cover that ground again here, except to suggest in passing that such information can help you catch channel cats.

Scientists believe, for example, that channel cats use their incredible sense of smell, which is capable of detecting minute concentrations of substances dissolved in water, as a social sense to locate members of their own species and potential spawning sites. Their sense of taste, on the other hand, powered by several hundred thousand taste buds covering their entire body, is more important for ­homing in on food. Toad always enjoyed telling folks that a channel cat could taste with its tail. So, too, can catfish taste at a distance. It is this sense of taste that must be stimulated in the right way at the right time in order to catch channel cats consistently.

For channel cats during spring, that may mean sour baits or live minnows. Crawlers, too, are effective at times. Cutbait, often The Boys’ most productive bait, especially for bigger channels, is effective all season. Meanwhile, prepared baits—pastes and dips—often become effective by early summer and remain so through early fall. And other natural baits such as crayfish, crickets, grasshoppers, catalpa worms, and others—particularly leeches—may also trigger cats, especially during periods when these baits are abundant in nature.

The channel cat’s hearing and lateral line senses, by the way, are even more closely related than smell and taste, and are equally advanced. The inner ear is connected to the swim bladder to amplify vibrations and allow catfish to hear higher-frequency sounds than most other gamefish. They detect low-frequency vibrations through their lateral line—a series of pores extending the length of the fish’s body. Each pore functions as a tiny ear, allowing fish to home in on the source of low-frequency sounds, like the rustling of a crayfish or the struggling movements of a baitfish. This is one reason lively bait is at times so effective for channel cats.

Then, too, the channel cat’s small eyes lead some anglers to wrongly conclude that they have poor vision. No, The Boys said. Actually, vision often plays an important role in the channel cat’s feeding strategy. Indeed, in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs with clear water where channel catfish pursue shad or other baitfish in open water, or pursue crayfish along the bottom, they frequently attack fast-moving crankbaits. Spinner rigs, too, with their flashing and thumping in conjunction with baitlike crawlers or leeches, attract and trigger cats. Their eyes also contain plenty of rods, which allow them to see well at night. Their ability to feed successfully at night and in turbid water is ample testimony of their ability to use their combined senses.

Continued after gallery…

 

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