Experimental Catfish

Having just returned from Santee-Cooper Country (South Carolina), it occurs to me again just how frankly revolutionary are the tactics of my friend, Captain Marlin Ormseth. Santee truly is the catfishing capital of North America-- a massive two-lake system where catboats outnumber bass boats 5 to 1. That Santee continues to kick out fish like the 130-pound blue taken on a trotline late this winter is something of a miracle in itself. Particularly so when you consider that pretty much any hooked catfish here is a harvested catfish, including the 130.

Captain Marlin (great fishing name) releases everything over about 5-pounds, which the locals consider crazy enough. But it's not even close to wacky, when you consider that he also trolls for catfish using contraptions such as planer boards. Trolling in itself isn't particularly off-the-wall, of course, as many of the lake's guides employ drifting methods to cover water.

But noteworthy is that the good captain, having spent years trolling for walleyes on Lake Erie, brought with him a stash of planer boards when he moved to Santee Cooper Country many years ago. They worked for bigwater walleyes, so why not cats?

Two to four rods set in rod holders terminate with one of Marlin's special trolling rigs. Clipped to the line, 50 to 100 feet above each rig and cutbait is a Church Tackle or Offshore Tackle planer board. Two additional rods extend off the stern, each attached to another Ormseth original-- the Herbie Float. These are 2-liter bottle-sized styro floats adorned with visibility flags and line releases. Clip a cat rig to a Herbie Float and let it drift off another 50 to 100 feet behind the boat. On Santee and many other waters, gaining separation between the rig and the boat spells more catfish.

More recent Ormseth innovations include his noise-making surface rigs (yes, surface rigs for catfish) and his latest experiment-- a slow-release scent chamber rigged inline above a piece of cutbait.

We've talked often about the surface rig and Ormseth's "noise makers" in In-Fisherman magazine, and there's a piece online here, as well. The thing looks, well, a little goofy. But there's method to Marlin's madness, and I kind of dig the 'funky' aspect of his system, which feels like and is authentic catfishing. It's a 3-part contraption: small plastic hollow bobber drilled out, filled with several balls of steel shot and resealed with epoxy; a cylinder foam float for buoyancy; and a plastic tri-wing buzzbait blade for surface disturbance-- all rigged ahead of a 12-inch section of 50-pound mono or fluoro, and a 5/0 to 7/0 Rippin Lips Tournament Grade circle hook.

Think catfish won't explode on the surface? Think again bubba. Last time out, over 80-percent of our strikes occurred on top, with blue, channel and flathead cats rising from 15- to 25-feet of water to crush his surface rigs. Day after I fished with him recently, he boated a 50+ pound blue this way. And there have been plenty of 30 to 70 pound blues and flatheads in this and other years. You talk about crazy-- wait until the first time you watch or hear a 50 erupt on top. It's mayhem.

If more anglers experimented with surface rigs for catfish, the whole perception of catfishing might begin to unravel, slowly progressing into something resembling bass fishing . . . (Ok, maybe we'd better rethink this deal.) Still, if it works on Santee, it undoubtedly works elsewhere. Let me know if you have any surface catfish experiments you care to share.

Speaking of experiments, Captain Marlin's latest involves a hollow plastic "scent chamber" that he injects with a potent new product called Scent Trail. The chamber is rigged a foot or so above a trolled cutbait. As he moves along at .5 to .8 mph with his Minn Kota, the Scent Trail slowly oozes out a nice thick chum line of flavor. It's another ongoing experiment, and one I suspect we'll be hearing more about soon. Stay tuned catheads!

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