On August 30, 2011, we posted a blog about finesse tactics for catching channel catfish. It featured Dave Schmidtlein of Topeka, Kansas, and the In-Fisherman’s 2012 Catfish In-Sider Guide featured Schmidtlein’s tactic in a story entitled “Speed Fishing for Blues and Channels.”
In that blog, we wrote: “Nowadays we seem to incessantly chronicle the talents of the professionals and experts in the angling world, writing words galore about tournament anglers, guides, lure creators and developers, and others who work in the angling trade.
“Once upon a time, before many parts of our world became the domain of specialists and we became mesmerized by the opinions of the experts, we wrote many words about the ways of talented recreational anglers.
“We are hoping that this new venue, which we call a blog, will allow us to dedicate more words to exploring the recreational anglers’ universe. One reason why we want to do this is that many recreational anglers can’t afford to use the equipment professionals employ; nor do most recreational anglers have the time to travel and fish many of the renowned waterways that the experts probe. And by doing this we will feature a more frugal aspect of angling, but one that will show how recreational anglers can catch goodly numbers of fish.
“To initiate this quest, we will look at Dave Schmidtlein of Topeka, Kansas, who is a veteran and skilled catfish and crappie angler. He doesn’t participate in tournaments, and in fact, he fishes only when his large family and demanding job provides him with some time get afloat. And he often fishes with his father, Ben, who is 82 years old, or other family members.”
As Schmidtlein and I worked together on the blog and Catfish In-Sider Guide story, we vowed that we would post a synopsis of his yearly catfish endeavors on In-Fisherman’s blog site in hopes that it would help recreational anglers and their families find and catch blue and channel catfish.
On every outing, Schmidtlein and his partners catch and release astonishing numbers of catfish. On his most fruitful one, he and his two sons tangled with 403 channel catfish in 5 ½-hours. In 2008, he and his partners caught a total of 2,290 catfish in 13 outings; 1,398 in 13 trips in 2009; 1,756 in 11 outings in 2010; 914 in 8 trips in 2011; and 1,378 in 10 outings in 2012. Across those years that is an average of 140.6 catfish per outing.
In 2012, he plied two northeastern flatland reservoirs. He and his partners fished a 4,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ reservoir on July 28, Aug. 1 and Aug. 8, and on these three outings, they caught 276 channel catfish. They fished a 5,090-acre power-plant reservoir on June 30, July 4, July 7, July 11, July 14, July 21 and Sept 3, and caught 1102 blue and channel catfish. Their most bountiful outing occurred on July 4, when they caught 325 catfish.
Their biggest specimen in 2012 was a seven-pound blue catfish. Of course, Schmidtlein’s focus is on eliciting as many strikes per hour as is humanly possible. Therefore, he doesn’t want to spend a lot of searching for big catfish, because they are too rare, and it takes too much time to pinpoint their whereabouts and eventually allure them. Schmidtlein said: “It isn’t that we don’t like to battle big catfish. But many of the novices that I take fishing with me would quickly become bored and ready to call it a day after just 30 minutes of fishing for big catfish and not getting a bite. The big ones that we do catch are caught inadvertently as we are fishing for average-size catfish.”
In regard to his passion for eliciting scores of strikes per hour, he wrote in an e-mail: “I usually use two rods, holding one in each hand. Since I enjoy the strike more than the fight, I am not a fan of rod holders. (And speaking of the strike vs. the fight, has anyone ever queried anglers about their preferences?) Most of my fishing friends say they prefer the strike.” Several times during each outing, he will simultaneously garner a strike on each rod, and there are also spells when he simultaneously battles a catfish on each rod, and it is a sight and an experience to behold. Schmidtlein says “I have an advantage by sitting in the bow of the boat and running the trolling motor, because it allows me to easily fish out both sides of the boat. And while battling a catfish with the rod in my left hand, I place the handle of rod in my right hand under the thighs of my left leg and the rod is perched on the top of my right thigh. And, of course, the process is reversed if I am battling a catfish with the rod in my right hand. When I hook a catfish on both rods, either my partner can grab one rod and land that catfish, or I can place one of the rods in my leg-holding motif, and wait to land it after the other catfish is caught and released.
Throughout 2012, one of his rods was an 8 ½-foot, medium-light-power, fast-tip spinning rod that sported a Pflueger 9730 President spinning reel. That reel was spooled with 30-pound-test Berkley Big Game cabo-white braided line. Onto the braided line, he threaded either a 3/16- or 1/4-ounce slip sinker. He attaches an Eagle Claw L774 4X No. 6 treble hook to the braided line with a double Trilene knot. When he is ready to start catching the catfish, he coats the treble hook with his homemade punch bait. He accomplishes the task of baiting the hook by using a pair of long-nose pliers to poke and twist the hook into a container of homemade punch bait.
His second outfit was a nine-foot fly rod and Pflueger 9730 President. This combo was spooled 20-pound-test Power Pro yellow braided line. It was dressed with the same terminal tackle and bait as his other rod.
He prefers to use white or yellow braided lines, because they are easy to see, and they absorb and readily exhibit the ink from a black permanent marker. He uses the permanent-ink marker to mark the depth that the catfish are inhabiting, and then he presents the bait to them vertically at that exact depth. And if the bulk of the catfish around a lair are abiding in two different depths, one of his rods will ply one of those depths, and the other rod will be used to probe the other depth.
Schmidtlein suspects that somewhere between 70 and 90% of the time, he has his eyes glued onto his sonar, and partners monitor another sonar in the back of the boat. This allows them to keep track of the depths that the catfish are abiding in, and he finds that the depths can change from minute to minute.
Day in, day out, Schmidtlein and his partners catch the bulk of their blue and channel catfish at least two feet above the bottom. Then there are spells when he and his partners catch them milling about four to five feet below the surface and 15 feet above the bottom of the reservoir.
He has been known to execute a variety of vertical presentations. One presentation is the deadstick motif, which he periodically enhances with a delicate twitch or a minute lift and drop. Of course, there are enough waves and wind during most outings on northeastern Kansas flatland reservoirs to keep every vertical presentation undulating and hopping up and down. He also performs a slow lift, which he accomplishes by using his rod to slowly lift the bait vertically six feet. When it is at the apex of the six-foot lift, he executes a three- to five-second pause, and then he allows the bait to slowly and methodically fall six feet to where the lift began. In addition, he employs a 12- to 15-foot pitch, allowing the bait to swing with a pendulum motion towards the bottom and into an aggregation of catfish. Schmidtlein says that the pitch tactic is best when the blue catfish are suspended about 10 feet below the surface and 10 to 20 feet above the bottom. He notes that they rarely garner a bite when their lines are slack and their baits are on the bottom.
Schmidtlein noted that they used their homemade punch bait 98% of the time in 2012. But he also experimented with his homemade dip bait, as well as a 2 ½-inch Z-Man Fishing Products’ ZinkerZ, which was soaked in the juice of the punch bait. He said: “I caught fish on dip bait, but it is much too tedious and messy compared to our punch bait. And the ZinkerZ didn’t engender as quick of a bite as the punch bait.”
Before he starts hovering over a lair of blue or channel catfish and employing his vertical presentations, he surveys the underwater terrain with his 1995 481VS Ranger that’s bedecked with a Humminbird 787c2i and a vintage Lowrance 1240 flasher on the bow and a Humminbird 797s2 SI, Lowrance X-55 and a Lowrance 1240 flasher on the console. A vintage Minn Kota Maxxum Pro 80 trolling motor graces the boat’s front deck.
Then once he locates a significant aggregation of catfish, he hovers over them, using the electric trolling motor on the bow of the boat to keep his and his partners’ vertical presentation of baits in and around the edges of the concentration of catfish. There will be outings when the catfish mosey around a lot, and that movement can encompass an area as big as a football field, and on those occasions he uses his trolling motor to keep pace with them or if he loses track of them, he uses it to search and eventually relocate their whereabouts. But there will be other days when the catfish are sedentary, and all he has to do is deal with the wind. He is a virtuoso at manipulating his boat with his electric trolling motor. Perhaps the only time that he would think about utilizing an anchor is when he finds a mother lode of blue and channel catfish abiding on an extremely wind-battered lair. Then, he would use an anchor with a long rope and his trolling motor, which would allow him to move the boat from side to side and towards the anchor, following the catfish as they meander around the lair.
Many observers say that Schmidtlein is the most talented crappie angler in Kansas. In fact, most of his outings throughout the year are focused upon catching the white crappie that abide in the same reservoirs where he fishes for blue and channel catfish in late June into early September. Schmidtlein describes himself as “a vertical fisher.” Therefore, he uses the same vertical presentations for catching crappie and catfish, and in addition, he catches walleye, sauger, saugeye, temperate bass and black bass with the same vertical tactics. Schmidtlein says knowing how to properly manipulate the boat with the electric trolling motor, as well as how to use and interpret the electronic devices on the boat, lie at the heart of being a proficient vertical angler. And except for the bait, sinker, and treble hook, he catches blue and channel catfish the same way that he catches crappie.
In a Jan. 15 e-mail, Schmidtlein composed a short treatise about the lines, hooks, reels, sinkers and rods that he and his family have used across the years to implement their finesse tactics for catching catfish in the flatland reservoirs of northeastern Kansas. Here’s what he wrote:
“We almost exclusively have used braided line from 15 to 50 pound test. The more brush in the area the heavier line. In open-water areas, the lighter lines are preferred. We much prefer light-colored line, because it is easier to see, and it holds a depth mark very well. The mark, which is made with a permanent-ink marker, is really handy especially when fish become suspended over deep water. I have not tried the metered braid line that is fairly new to the market. We have noticed almost all colored line does fade to a ghost-dirty-white color, but that doesn’t seem to matter. The braided line is very durable, but I usually cut off a few inches of line and re-tie after catching 75 fish.
As far as brands of line, I really cannot say I have a strong favorite. I have used Power Pro, Tuff Line, Spider Braid, Big Game and Suffix during the past year or two. I have also tried Zebco’s Omniflex braid, and while some anglers say it is not as castable as others, for the money it seems to be just as good as the big-name brands for vertical catfishing. The Omniflex’s light gray color is a perfect tone for applying a permanent-ink mark. Three brands I have not had success with and will not use are Gorilla Braid, Fireline (both tend to “thread” apart) and Ripcord, which has memory and is very stiff.
“I believe the braided line is a key component in our technique. It detects the faintest of bites, which occur often with prepared catfish baits like our homemade punch bait. I am usually so busy handling the boat, watching the sonar and helping the others anglers, that many times I cannot watch my rod tip; so, I route the line over my forefinger and detect many strikes on my finger via the no-stretch braid.
“On rare occasions, when the vertical catfish become very temperamental, we have gone to four- and six-pound-test monofilament line, and either no weight or a tiny split shot rigged with a No. 8 or No.10 treble hook. The obvious downside with this rig is that it is not effective around brush, and it is very challenging to land big fish.
“During the last few years, I have gone exclusively to the Eagle Claw L774 4X No. 66 treble hook. It is a very, very durable hook and allows an experienced fisher to release small fish without risk of being finned as the small ones are so apt to do. I release them by holding the line in one hand and needle-nose pliers in the other. I hold the fish over the water; then I use the pliers to grasp the hook; once the pliers are firmly a hold of the hook, I twist or rotate by wrist 70 to 120 degrees, and 75 percent of the time, this tactic will liberate the catfish from the treble hook.
“The Pflueger President has become my favorite. I still have some older Mitchell and Shimano reels. But after trying a Shimano and Abu Garcia in the last few years, I am done experimenting.
“For a vertical presentation with punch bait, we have tried just about every type of sinker, but invariably go back to the bullet-shaped slip sinker that is flush to the hook eye. I actually think the slip sinker on top the eye protects the line knot from fraying. We have tries steel leaders and barrel swivels, but after a twisting-turning cat gets through with them, they become a frustrating mess.
“When it comes to weight of sinker, I think the lighter it weighs the better it is. If we are fishing less than 15 feet of water, I like to use a 1/8-ounce or lighter or even no sinker at all. When are fishing in 15 to 25 feet of water, I prefer a 3/16- to 1/4-ounce sinker. In water deeper than 25 feet, we have used a 3/8- to a 1/2-ounce. Of course when it’s windy, we go heavier than we would normally use.
“I prefer light and fast tips of a fly rod in vertical catfishing. I also like the handle on the fly rod and the position of the reel on the fly rod. Some angler might think that it would be difficult to get enough leverage with the fly rod to handle a hefty catfish, but I have landed 15- to 20-catfish on fly-rods. I simply grip the rod further up above the reel and place the rod against the underside of my forearm.”
In the months to come, we hope to post more of Schmidtlein’s ways at employing finesse tactics for blue and channel catfish. And around this time in 2014, we will post a summary of his 2013 endeavors.
For more information about Schmidtlein’s vertical tactics for catching crappie in the flatland reservoirs of easternKansassee this blog: http://www.in-fisherman.com/2011/12/17/cold-water-crappie-in-kansas-an-update/