May 21, 2014
By Ned Kehde
For over 20 years, In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange has regaled readers about the art and science of catching catfish. A goodly number of his words revolved around Ol' Zacker, Toad Smith, Sonny Hootman, and several other enchanting characters as they took their ease along the bank of a small stream or river. Stange and his friends discussed in a down-home way such things as the riffle-hole-run theory and how the In-Fisherman formula of fishing success (Fish + Location + Presentation = Success) relates to plying ponds, streams, and rivers for channel and flathead catfish.
Ultimately Stange's delightful stories and intriguing insights spawned a catfishing boom. And because he put the pursuit of catfish on the same level as the quest for black bass and walleye, he's often proclaimed the godfather of modern-day catfishing.
Of course, catfishing is no longer the bucolic and quaint endeavor it was when Stange penned his initial observations. Nowadays, scores of catfish anglers ply big waterways, probing offshore coverts with the same tactics and equipment that big-water walleye anglers use.
Even though the mad dog of modernity has focused the attention of many of today's catmen away from the small waters and shoreline tactics that Stange and his entourage of good ol' boys relished, much joy and many catfish can still be had along the banks of the streams, rivers, and lakes that grace our many landscapes. This can be accomplished through the tradition of bankfishing for catfish.
Proven for Big Catfish From Shore
When catfish anglers fish small waterways from the shoreline, they aren't precluded from tangling with specimens of humongous proportions. Ken Paulie of Caney, Kansas, for instance, caught the 123-pound world-record flathead catfish while fishing from shoreline along the riprap of the dam at Elk City Reservoir on May 14, 1998. Then on June 3, 2005, Rick Barnow of Humboldt, Kansas, caught the Kansas state-record channel catfish, which weighed 36.5 pounds, while fishing a small strip pit in the Mined Land Wildlife Area of Cherokee County, Kansas. Ten years before Barnow's record catch, the previous Kansas state-record channel cat was caught from shore below the Bowersock Dam on the Kansas River at Lawrence, Kansas.
Catdaddy Shumway of Topeka, Kansas, has caught three In€‘Fisherman Master Angler Award flatheads while fishing a deep hole from the shore of a Kansas River sandbar near Eudora, Kansas. He also has caught and released an array of trophy-sized blues and flatheads, ranging in weight from 30 to 88 pounds, while fishing from this sandbar.
For shorefishing, Shumway uses an 8-foot medium-heavy Trophy Cat Surge Rod and Wave Cast spinning reel spooled with 65-pound-test PowerPro superline. His rig is made of a 6-ounce No-Roll sliding sinker, 4/0 swivel, 24-inch leader, and a 6/0 Eagle Claw Kahle black-pearl hook that's baited with either a live gizzard shad or a piece of cut fresh shad. He also chums the hole with ground shad, saying that chumming should play a significant role in every shoreline angler's repertoire.
Besides the Kansas River and Mined Land Wildlife Area, Leonard Jirak of Hartford, Kansas, a fishery biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, has created a host of channel catfish nirvanas at some of the small lakes that he manages in eastern Kansas. Not only do these lakes have good access spots for shorefishing, Jirak suspects that state-record channels lurk in Yates Center Reservoir, Woodson State Lake, and Osage State Lake. He also recommends Osage City Lake, North Garnett City Lake, Melvern River Pond, and Lebo City Lake. Rumors have it that in 2007 Yates Center Reservoir yielded a 32-pounder and Woodson surrendered a 38-pounder.
When veteran shoreline anglers venture to Jirak's lakes or similar small waterways, one of their rods sports a slipfloat rig. Their second rod has a Carolina rig with a small foam float placed 6 inches above the hook. Punchbait, bloodbait, and green sunfish fillets, along with some internal organs, are three of the most potent baits that these anglers use.
Reservoir Catfish From Shore
Jirak's small lakes, which range in size from 3 to 250 acres, aren't difficult or intimidating to fish. But big reservoirs, such as the 59,200-acre Grand Lake in Oklahoma, can often overwhelm an inexperienced shoreline angler. Yet, for more than a half of a century, bank walkers have waylaid the channel catfish at Grand Lake. At times, bank walking is such an effective method for Grand Lake's channels that anglers who normally fish from a boat join the bank walkers.
The best shoreline fishing normally commences around May 1. It takes place along either riprap causeways or boulder-strewn shorelines where the gar mill about near the surface as they spawn. Channel catfish are situated under the gar, where they forage on the gar eggs sinking to the rocky bottom.
To catch these egg-consuming channels, most anglers wield a spinning outfit with a float rig baited with a shiner minnow; the float is usually set 5 feet above the shiner. Anglers cast the rig several yards beyond the gar, and then slowly retrieve it or let the wind and waves move it towards the shoreline. Most strikes occur when the shiner dangles a foot or so above bottom.
After the gar spawn subsides around the middle of May, the channel catfish are about two weeks away from beginning their reproductive rituals. The period between the gar and channel catfish spawn is the most fruitful time to be a bank walker at Grand Lake. Anglers use the same spinning outfit and presentation that they used during the gar spawn, except nightcrawlers replace shiners as the bait of choice. Because the channel cats often move into water as shallow as 3 feet, anglers experiment with different depth settings with floats, from 21„2 feet to 5 feet.
Throughout May, Grand Lake anglers walk and probe riprap causeways and boulder-littered shorelines for foraging channel catfish. These same locales are where many of the channel catfish spawn, which normally begins around May 30 and runs until mid-June.
Once the spawn begins, anglers work with 9- to 12-foot spinning rods. Reels are spooled with 30-pound-test Stren Super Braid. A 3/0 Eagle Claw 84 hook is attached to the braid, and a 3/8-ounce rubber-grip sinker is placed immediately above the hook, which is dressed with a shrimp.
Anglers slowly walk along the rocky shoreline, searching for spawning channel catfish in the crevices between the rocks. They don't cast or pitch the bait. Instead, they vertically dabble baits, allowing the sinker, hook, and shrimp to fall vertically into the crevices. It's similar to using a cane pole with about 6 feet of line hanging from its tip, with anglers plumbing the bottom by slowly lifting and dropping the pole as they move along the water's edge.
Unlike Grand Lake, the 171,000-acre Santee-Cooper reservoir system in South Carolina isn't graced with riprap or boulder-strewn shorelines. Doug Stange says that Santee-Cooper's 6.5-mile-long diversion canal is an ideal area to tangle with blue and flathead catfish of significant dimensions from shore.
Several years ago, Stange watched a shoreline angler land a flathead that exceeded 70 pounds. After witnessing that impressive donnybrook, Stange returned, along with In€‘Fisherman Publisher Steve Hoffman, and filmed a segment for In€‘Fisherman Television covering shorefishing tactics and equipment. They caught two flatheads up to 30 pounds.
Tailraces Catfish From Shore
The tailrace below the dam of a big reservoir also is accommodating to shoreline anglers. When massive volumes of water are being jettisoned through the dam, vast numbers of catfish migrate upstream to the tailrace. Likewise, scores of anglers arrive and catch untold numbers of catfish.
After heavy rains in June of 2007 raised Truman Lake to 19 feet above its normal elevation, for example, water gushed out of the dam at volumes as high as 51,625 cubic feet per second for many days. Of the throng of anglers who plied the tailrace and tangled with blue catfish galore during that summer, Don Forester, a guide from Windyville, Missouri, was one of the most successful.
Forester wielded a 12-foot rod and an Abu Garcia 6500 baitcasting reel spooled with 25-pound-test P-Line monofilament. To the line, he affixed a 5/0 Kahle hook, which was baited with a head of a gizzard shad. A 4-ounce bank sinker was attached to the line 3 feet above the hook. Many other anglers opted for an 8-ounce sinker. But, according to Forester, the secret to plying the heavy current is to make accurate casts to the best seams and eddies in the current, and an 8-ounce sinker often inhibits accurate casting, as well as adversely affecting the way the shad head is presented to the catfish.
For more information about fishing and casting tactics at tailraces, consult "Tiny" Tim Smith's website. Smith, of Keystone Lake, Oklahoma, is a guide and an expert at distance-casting. Mark Edwards, a competition caster and catfisherman, discusses distance-casting in the December 2007 issue of In€‘Fisherman magazine. Shoreline anglers who want to delve deeper into Doug Stange's insights can read his new book, Life and Times in Catfish Country, available in fall 2008.
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