Catfish Bait Matching

Catfish Bait Matching
A fresh cut piece of shad, sucker, or other oily baitfish drifted across flats teaming with live and dead shad is a proven presentation for channel cats during spring.

Ned-Channel-Catfish-In-FishermanMany hardcore reservoir catmen probably wonʼt read this article.'‚ This "match-the-hatch" stuff goes against the grain of those folks. They are from the same stock of good olʼ boys who wouldnʼt touch a quiche with their best buddyʼs 12-foot Ugly Stick.'‚'‚At heart, theyʼre dyed-in-the-wool bloodbait drifters who use massive hunks of congealed beef blood on big treble hooks, or theyʼre cutbait slingers who impale hunks of carp, herring, or shad, dripping with blood, onto circle hooks.


Their destinies revolve around tangling with blue cats of gigantic proportions, and the thought of messing around with a gaggle of two- to four-pound channel cats that are slurping grasshoppers or emerging mayflies on the surface is quickly deemed kid's play. Sometimes, even the thought of such fishing turns these trophy hunter's stomachs sour.

In their minds, this "match-the-hatch" gibberish is the domain of those folks who wave eight-foot bamboo fly-rods in pursuit of a 16-inch stream trout. But some astute observers maintain that these obdurate catmen might learn a thing or two from the fly-­fishing clan, giving them insights into the piscatorial world and making them better catfish anglers.


The same could be said for the legions of chummers who recently have discovered the joys of catching incredible numbers of channel cats per outing.'‚ Now a goodly number of these anglers have become so wedded to chumming that they can't even entertain the thought of trying another method.


In the eyes of In-Fisherman founder Ron Lindner, these unmalleable anglers are specialists. Lindner readily admits that some of these specialists are exceptional fishermen, such as the anglers whose names regularly appear at or near the top of the leaderboards at the big-time bass and walleye tournaments.'‚'‚For example, Denny Brauer primarily flips or pitches jigs to catch his ­tournament-winning bass, and scores more are exceedingly adept at employing one method to catch a single fish species.

Since In-Fisherman's founding, though, its hallmark revolves around versatility rather than specialty.'‚ Lindner contends that anglers can become better faster by pursuing a variety of species with multiple tactics rather than focusing on just one species and employing only one or two presentations. "What's more, Lindner notes, it's a more enjoyable way to fish.'‚ All it takes is an inquisitive mind."

When explaining the gist of versatility, Lindner often notes that he and his brother Al learned about one species by fishing for another.'‚ For instance, by trolling for steelhead on the Great Lakes, the Lindners learned a lot about suspended smallmouth bass and walleyes.

Lindner is not saying that versatility will make you a better tournament fisherman than Denny Brauer, rather that it will make the run-of-the-mill fisherman a better angler. He might also add that versatility might help Denny Brauer improve, too. Therefore, by learning about matching the hatch for catfish, a chummer might become a better chummer, and a drifter a better drifter.

Coldwater Shad

A fresh cut piece of shad, sucker, or other oily baitfish drifted across flats teaming with live and dead shad is a proven presentation for channel cats during spring.

In late winter or early spring, depending upon the latitude of the lake, catmen can take advantage of dead and dying gizzard shad that naturally occur during the Coldwater Period. Some years, like the hard winter of 2000-2001, the kill can approach astronomical proportions; other years it can be minuscule. Whatever the dimensions of these shad kills, channel cats relish them.

As soon the ice melts, the cats begin to leave their deep wintertime coverts and slowly meander to the mudflats to feed on shad carcasses in secondary feeder creeks and the upper third of the primary river feeding the impoundment.'‚'‚In addition, schools of gizzard shad roam these same mudflats, and channel cats prey on these shad, too.

If the water temperature is in the mid-40ËšF range, channel cats can be found gamboling about in two and three feet of water toward the backs of the arms of these feeder creeks.'‚ If the water is as cool as 39ËšF or even in the low 40ËšF range, however, they're likely found near the mouth of this secondary feeder creek.

What's more, the wind often determines the location of the cats.'‚ If a brisk wind is angling from the south, and the water temperature is in the mid-40ËšF range or a tad warmer, the preponderance of cats will be in the shallow areas of the northern portions of the mudflats. It is thought that the wind blows the carcasses toward the windward shores. Thus in a big feeder creek cove, where the mouth sits at the south end and the tail at the north end, a good number of channel cats will be rummaging around the north end of that arm in shallow water, in search of dead and dying shad.

Some anglers attempt to fish these mudflats by making long casts from shore, but the most efficient method is to drift the flats in a boat at 1 mph, using fillets of shad or chubs festooned on a 2/0 circle hook.'‚ Besides the fillets and circle hooks, anglers should opt for a baitcast reel affixed to a medium-heavy glass rod with a soft tip. The other components consist of 15-pound line, a 30-inch strand of 15-pound leader, a one-ounce egg sinker, and a #7 barrel swivel.

The Freshet Connection

Heavy rains often draw channel cats into small feeder creeks, where they're easily tempted with a nightcrawler rig.

This phenomenon can occur anytime of year, but most heavy rains occur in spring and early summer, and also occasionally in early fall.'‚ The heavy rains cause tertiary streams and dry branches that feed a reservoir to run like a torrent. Apparently the rush of the current in these small streams attracts channel cats, and they migrate upstream.'‚ As cats migrate, they feed on nightcrawlers and similar creatures that heavy rains wash into the stream.

One of the finest places to fish on small streams during a freshet is at the downstream side of a culvert.'‚ The culvert narrows the stream and increases the pace of the current, which stymies the upstream migration of many cats. Thus a significant concentration of channel cats can be found moseying about on the downstream side of the culvert.'‚'‚Work the eddies and quiet water at the edge of the current with a nightcrawler on a split-shot rig for one- to three-pound channel cats.

The Crappie Spawn

A light jig tipped with a cutbait hopped through crappie spawning areas is an effective presentation for nest-raiding channel cats.

Many of the reservoir channel cats that abide in the flatland lakes of northeastern Kansas exhibit a fondness for the eggs and tender fry of the white crappie.'‚ In these waterways, the crappie spawn can commence as early as April 27 and last until June 13. But the most intense portions of the crappie spawn normally surrounds the full and new moons in May, when the water temperature ranges from 62ËšF to 67ËšF.

Crappies spawn in two to four feet of water along rock and gravel shorelines, as well as on hard clay banks graced with stumps, scattered brush, and laydowns. Shallow humps, points, and riprap areas also attract scads of spawning crappies. These are the same areas where marauding channel cats cruise about, looking for crappie nests to ravage.

At times, some enterprising catmen use crappie eggs and organs wrapped in a porous cheesecloth and suspended a few inches off the bottom with a bobber.'‚ The eggs and organs are easy to obtain from crappie fishermen after the fillets have been removed from the carcass. But to impale this sack of eggs-and-organs on a treble hook is too troublesome a task for most.

According to the cognoscenti, one of the easiest and most fruitful methods is to employ a medium-action spinning outfit adorned with a 1/16-ounce jighead tipped with a small fillet of fresh fish flesh. A piece of shrimp works, too. The jig-and-bait combo is slowly hopped and dragged across nesting sites.

Stinkbait aficionados like to use Sonny Hootman's Super Sticky dipbait on a small sponge.'‚ In these catmen's eyes, the small sponge dripping with Sonny's dipbait replicates the crappie eggs-and-organs rig.'‚ This redolent catfish bait is suspended several inches off the bottom with a bobber and is slowly retrieved across spawning nests.

During the crappie spawn, covering a lot of water is essential. Seldom are more than two channel cats raiding one nesting area.'‚ Therefore, the catman must copy the bass fisherman's motif of using the electric trolling motor to move the boat rather quickly along the shorelines, making lots of casts and seductive retrieves.

The Gar Spawn

A similar relationship exists between channel cats and spawning gar, though most anglers prefer to tip jigs with shrimp or crawlers rather than cutbait.

Decades ago at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, and Grand Lake, Oklahoma, such talented and versatile fishermen as the late Guido Hibdon Sr. of Gravois Mills, Missouri, found that channel cats relish gar eggs, and ever since that marvelous discovery, a coterie of savvy fishermen eagerly await the gar spawn.

This is a sight-fishing tactic that takes place in May in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.'‚ The catmen merely cruise the lake searching for schools of gar frolicking on the surface in the grips of procreation. Rock slides along bluffs and riprap, causeways, and dams are traditional spawning areas for gar.

Upon finding a school of gar, the catman uses his electric trolling motor to control the boat and keep it a short cast away from the gar. Then he picks up a spinning outfit spooled with eight-pound line and adorned with a 1/6-ounce jig festooned with a piece of shrimp.'‚ The jig and shrimp are cast into the school of gar and allowed to fall to the bottom.'‚ And as this offering falls, a channel cat sometimes engulfs it. Some days, however, the cats prefer the jig and shrimp slowly hopped across the rocky bottom.

Rather than using the jig and shrimp, some catmen prefer to use a slip-­bobber-and-nightcrawler rig, which works well and gives anglers absolute depth control. Hibdon also discovered that channel cats lingered under schools of surfacing gar during the heat of the summer, where they could be lured to engulf a shrimp or shad as it slowly fell toward the bottom of the lake.

The Mayfly Hatch

Mayfly hatches are difficult to mimic, but some anglers believe a piece of nightcrawler freelined on a light-wire hook presents an accurate representation of the emerging insects.

On the evening of June 26, 2000, Mike Smith of Lawrence, Kansas, was chumming and using a punch-bait rig along a shallow ditch on a mudflat in the upper half of Clinton Lake, Kansas.'‚ The water was eight feet deep, and the ditch was lined and surrounded with flooded timber.

As twilight approached, Smith witnessed a colossal mayfly hatch.'‚ Thousands of insects emerged from the water, and in the last rays of the setting sun it looked as if the air was engulfedwith shards of cathedral glass, and the flooded timber looked as if it were covered with budding leaves.'‚ A multitude of channel cats got into the act as well.'‚ They rolled and slurped on the surface, ingesting the emerging larva and fully hatched flies.

On the next evening, the hatch wasn't as massive, but the channel cats fed with gusto.'‚ But Smith found, as he'd found the evening before, that the fishing was trying. He struggled to catch a dozen each evening.'‚ He tried a slip-bobber rig. He flipped his punch bait on a weightless #10 treble hook to the slurping cats and attempted to keep it afloat for a short spell, and then he worked it a few inches below the surface.'‚ He also allowed it to fall slowly to the bottom, and then he slowly retrieved it back to the surface, parroting a mayfly larva ascending to the surface.

But the number of cats that he enticed was meager compared to the large number of cats that he saw devouring mayflies. So matching the mayfly hatch is still a work in progress for Smith. Next time he encounters a mayfly hatch, he plans to flip a small segment of a nightcrawler on a light hook to the feeding cats.

The White Bass Connection

When white bass attack schools of gizzard shad, channel cats often move in to consume the leftovers. A compact jigging spoon hopped across the bottom resembles a dying shad and often accounts for larger cats than natural bait.

Summer after summer, white bass anglers at the reservoirs on the southern plains have witnessed a symbiotic relationship between channel cats and white bass.'‚'‚During the hottest days of midsummer, multitudes of white bass haunt main-lake humps, where they forage on gizzard shad that meander by.'‚ Many channel cats also inhabit these humps and forage on gizzard shad.'‚ White bass anglers believe that channel cats also consume the crumbs and leftovers after the white bass have engaged in a feeding frenzy and torn a school of shad asunder.

These anglers arrived at this conclusion by probing the humps with 1/2-ounce spoons, hopping and dragging them across the contours.'‚ When white bass are actively feeding, a spoon can catch them at a quick clip — about 60 per hour on the best of outings.'‚ But as soon as the white bass bite peters out, white bass fishermen often enjoy a donnybrook or two with hefty channel cats that engulf the spoons.'‚ It's the white bass fishermen's opinion that the channel cats are scavenging the shad residue from the white bass rampage.

The best humps for this white bass and channel cat exchange have recently been chummed.'‚ At these chum-laced humps, a spoon periodically will catch a bigger cat than bloodbait, punchbait, or even fresh shad. And that's why some knowledgeable chummers nowadays employ a spoon on every outing.

Grasshoppers and Cats On Top

Grasshoppers on the surface at twilight means hot action for anglers willing to experiment with topwater baits like the Storm Chug Bug.

Paul Mauck, south central fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, is a savvy multispecies fisherman.'‚ His vocational duties include the management of Lake Texoma's magnificent catfish populations.'‚ And one of his avocational passions erupts in September when the autumn winds scatter grasshoppers across Texoma.

On these late-summer and early-autumn occurrences, Mauck is there as the wind dies down during evening's last light.'‚ Then he slowly cruises around the lake, searching for signs of channel cats slurping grasshoppers off the surface.'‚ Once Mauck spies a good concentration of hoppers and foraging cats, he picks up a medium-action spinning outfit adorned with a yellow 21⁄2-inch Storm Rattlin' Chug Bug.

He makes a long cast, and the Chug Bug lands amidst the hoppers and slurping cats. Then he begins a retrieve that simulates a grasshopper afloat.'‚ And when all goes as planned, Mauck says,'‚ he has the time of his life, catching one cat after another.

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