Catfishing success is measured in many ways and means different things to different people. In fishing, anglers achieve success by catching fish, but there are many other reasons people go fishing — to get away from the crowds, to experience nature, to be with family and friends. In some angler surveys, one of these reasons often ranks higher than catching fish. Fishery agencies often conduct such human dimensions surveys so they can get at this information and know better what makes anglers happy. Yes, social sciences often are an important part of the fishery management process, as are economics, biology, and other disciplines.
On the biological side of things, the number of fish you catch is fairly easy to estimate. Social factors can be more difficult to define and measure. So biologists use an index like the number of fish caught per hour of fishing as a measure of angling success. If you've ever been interviewed by a creel clerk and were asked about how many fish you caught and how long you've been fishing, you became a data point.
I did some digging in the scientific literature for numbers on angling catch rates for catfish. In small Missouri lakes, for example, a study showed the average is about 0.24 channel cats per hour, ranging from 0.01 to 1.43. In Lake Fork, Texas, anglers catch about 1.9 cats per hour. Another survey showed that in stocked urban fisheries it was about 0.79 fish per hour. So if you're catching a fish or two an hour, that's a good day. How about flatheads? One study I found for the Pee Dee River in the Carolinas reported a catch rate of 0.22 fish per hour. That's darn good flathead water, so catching one every five hours seems like a solid benchmark for success.
Looking at more numbers, many catfish anglers are experiencing fantastic fishing. At Wilson Lake on the Tennessee River, a phenomenal fishery for numbers of big catfish, the angler catch rate is about 1.5 cats per hour (blues and channels combined). How fortunate are Wilson's catfish anglers? At Lake Fork, a trophy bass factory, catch rates run around 0.40 to 0.45 bass per hour. At Lake Kissimmee, Florida, it's slightly less at about 0.35 bass per hour. So when you compare catfish and bass catches at some world-class fisheries, catfish anglers are doing well, maybe much better than they realize.
Although these numbers give you an idea of catch rates, don't set expectations solely on them. Many variables affect catch rates — the water body you fish in, weather, bait, presentation, and where in a water you choose to focus your efforts. Some of these you can't control, others you can. But, factoring in any or all of these improves the outcome of success. That's what's behind In-Fisherman's Formula for Fishing Success (F + L + P = S). Know the fish you're after (F), fish in the right water body and in the right locations (L), and with the right bait and presentation (P), and more success (S) will come.
That's what this Catfish Guide is all about — helping you catch more and bigger fish. To start, there's coverage of the top waters for channels, blues, and flatheads, along with advanced tactics covering environments from small streams to big rivers, ponds to large reservoirs. Learn about the emerging tools that electronics offer, rigging options, fishing tailraces, science coverage about the fish we seek, new gear, catfish conservation, cat boats, how to pick a guide, and more.
Fishing success is measured in many different ways, but catching more and bigger catfish is where we promise to help. From there it's up to you to put things into practice. Catfishing is breaking new frontiers, with lots still to learn and fine-tune. It doesn't have to be complicated. Sometimes simple brings success. Good fishing, and let us know how you do.
Classic Spinner Rig for Cats
The classic tandem-hook spinner rig (or harness) tipped with a crawler or leech. Typical blade sizes: #2 or #3. But #4, #5, or #6 blades are an option for cats in warm water, especially the open-water portions of large lakes and reservoirs. The spinner rig is most often presented behind either a bottom bouncer or a two- or three-way swivel rig.
Leadhead Jig Option A
Classic bucktail jig tipped with a strip of cutbait, an option for cats feeding on shad, minnows, or other baitfish.
Leadhead Jig Option B
A 3-inch strip of cutbait fish fillet — one of the best all-around options for channel and blue cats in almost any situation, whether the fish are on bottom or suspended.
Leadhead Jigs, Cranks, and Spin Options
Leadhead jigs can be fished as a classic lure for catfish, as when a bucktail jig (with or without bait) is cast into a tailwater area teeming with catfish. Or they can be used as a tool (a sinker) to anchor livebait or deadbait in position so a catfish can eat it.
One of the most prominent jig options was written about by In-Fisherman Field Editor Ned Kehde, who described how some Kansas anglers flip jig-and-crawler combos for flatheads spawning in holes in riprap habitat along causeways and at the face of dams. This tactic is a potent option anywhere cats hole up during spawntime, not just in reservoirs, but in rivers once cats move into holes in either snags or cutbanks.
A jig also can be coupled with a slip of cutbait or a livebait. Doug Stange sometimes uses a 2-, 3-, or 4-ounce saltwater jighead to anchor a big baitfish (hooked in the tail) right below the boat when he's anchored near a snag that holds flatheads. This rig also provides good control when you're flipping and dipping a big bait right into a snag for flatheads, a tactic that sometimes even works during the day when flatheads are really cranked during Prespawn, once water temperatures have shot up into the 70°F range for the first time in the year.
Leadhead Jig Option C
A livebait anchored by its tail, so it struggles away from the weight of the jig.
One Hot Combo For Cats?
A combination of crankbait tipped with a portion of 'crawler, a common choice for walleyes during the 1950s and 1960s, has enjoyed a recent rebirth of popularity in some areas.
Spin-Drift Rig for Big Blues