Growing up in Indiana, my best friend and I used to fish a farm pond. We brought our sleeping bags and fished sun-up to sunset and then through the night. After dark we’d settle into our catfishing routine. We knew that pond and its fish so well that we gave some of them nicknames.

Our gear was anything but high-tech. While that pond was good to us, we probably missed out on fish because of our gear, which was cobbled together from whatever we could get our hands on.

Catfishing equipment has progressed a long way since then. These days we have access to so many well-designed products that assembling an ideal catfish rod and reel combo can require a bit of knowing where to start. That’s where these experts come in. Here’s a look at what some top catmen are using.

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Guide Brad Durick favors Abu Garcia’s Ambassadeur 6500 reel for winching channel cats from the Red River of the North. He also uses the Ambassadeur 7000 or Alphamar 12 when he’s targeting bigger fish. He primarily uses circle hooks and likes a soft-tipped rod so the fish don’t feel too much resistance before they make a run. If they feel pressure from a stiffer rod tip, they tend to reject the hook before it turns in their mouth and embeds. You also need enough backbone to handle big fish. The right rod-reel combo has taken Durick more than seven years to find.

“In 2008, I discovered the 8-foot Eagle Claw Water Eagle (2-piece) rod,” Durick says. “It has an almost perfect action and the blank is tough. It’s sensitive enough to catch a 2-pound channel catfish and stout enough to land a 25-pounder.”

Recently, Durick has been using Blackhorse Custom Rods made in Eolia, Missouri, by Lyle Stokes. He likes the 8-foot 10/25 medium one-piece custom. The one-piece rod is stronger and more sensitive. It also features strong stainless braced eyes. Durick has additional eyes added so the force of a fighting cat is distributed more evenly across the blank. And with additional eyes you don’t have to worry about braided line cutting into the blank.

In heavier current, he opts for the 8-foot 15/30 MH Blackhorse Custom. While this rod doesn’t have the tip sensitivity necessary to hook smaller cats with circle hooks, it does have enough backbone to fight large fish in current. If you’re not using circle hooks, the 15/30 MH is an excellent choice, especially if you’re targeting bigger fish.

Upper Mississippi River Guide Brian Klawitter also likes the Abu Garcia 6500 reel for channel cats. He spools with Team Catfish 20-pound-test Tug-O-War Electric Lime mono. For several years, he’s been setting hooks with graphite rods, but last season he switched to the 71⁄2-foot Team Catfish I-Cat Medium Heavy Carbon Fiber Rod. Since he also fishes flatheads and lake sturgeon, often on the same trip as channel cats, he needs a versatile rod capable of handling all three species. The I-Cat is light enough to make fighting channel cats challenging, but it has the backbone to tackle bruiser flatheads. Also, the I-Cat rod has a sensitive tip that is especially important when fishing for lake sturgeon, which are known for light bites. With stainless-steel guides and a hook keeper large enough to hold a 10/0 catfish hook, the I-Cat is made for catfishermen.

Klawitter says holding the I-Cat, rather than placing it in a rod holder, can improve catches at times. Watching the rod tip can make light-bite detection difficult. But holding the rod, which features improved sensitivity due to the through-the-reel seat blank, helps detect bites.


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In-Fisherman Managing Editor Rob Neumann likes Shakespeare’s Ugly Stik line of rods for most of his catfishing. For small- to medium-size channel cats, the Ugly Stik 71⁄2-foot CAL 1100 ML and 7-foot CAL 1100 M have soft tip sections for circle hooks, yet enough backbone to set hooks when using J-hooks and for fighting fish in current.

One of his favorite rods for float-fishing for channel cats is the Ugly Stik Lite MDS1186 MH, an 81⁄2-footer with good reach for dabbling float rigs around wood, and for mending line in current to help keep floats in place in eddies at a distance. While round reels match these rods well, low-profile bass casters, like the Pflueger President or Abu Garcia Toro, are light and comfortable and offer plenty of power and line capacity, especially on the wide spool models.

Klawitter also uses the Team Catfish I-Cat Medium Heavy Carbon Fiber rod for flatheads. The draw for him is the rod’s backbone. And there are times when the sensitive tip also is a plus for flathead fishing.

In early spring, when he’s searching for flathead spots, he matches the I-Cat with Team Catfish 80-pound-test Tug-O-War braid in Nuclear Yellow for added sensitivity. “The sensitivity of braid combined with the sensitivity of carbon fiber serve as my underwater eyes that transmit the feel of structure and cover, like wood, mud, rock, and sand,” he says. “By casting a hookless rig, this setup tells me if that’s an area I want to fish. If there’s too much wood, for example, I might not fish it because the bait often gets tangled before a fish is hooked. If the rocks are too large, the bait hides in the cracks and crevices and fish often can’t find it.”