Finesse Fishing for Cats

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 81 years old, or other family members.

Years ago in In-Fisherman's "Catfish In-Side" magazine, we wrote about Schmidtlein's talents at wielding ferment-soybean chum and his homemade punch baits with which he caught astronomical numbers of channels catfish every summer at four of  the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer reservoirs near Topeka.

Schmidtlein at the age of 57 is still at it. On every outing, his mission is to garner lots of bites and catch more than a 100 catfish an outing. Once he and his two oldest sons landed 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; and  914 in 8 trips in 2011, which is an average of 139.59 catfish per outing across those four years.

Most of the catfish are small, but he has tangled with many 8- to 15-pound brutes. His biggest channel catfish weighed 16 pounds and biggest blue catfish weighed 19 pounds.

To accomplish this task, he simultaneously uses two eight-foot fly rods that are fitted with small spinning reels and spooled with 35-pound-test braided line. To the braid, he ties a No. 6 L774F-6 Eagle Claw treble hook. For bait, he uses a pair of long nose pliers to poke and twist the hook into a container of homemade punch bait. There are times when the blue and channel cats prefer the treble hook laden with punch bait to be presented without a sinker. Most of the time, however, a bullet-shaped slip sinker is treaded on the braid and it rests on the knot that attaches the braid to the hook. Depending on the depth of water he is plying and disposition of the catfish, Schmidtlein uses a 1/16-ounce, 1/8-ounce and 1/4-ounce sinker. In essence, Schmidtlein is finesse fishing for catfish.

Nowadays, he spends most of his time fishing a 5,000-acre power-plant reservoir, and this summer he primary plied the upper third portions of the reservoir, which contains some of the lake's warmest water. And at this reservoir, chumming with fermented soybeans isn't as important as it used to be in Schmidtlein's tactics for finding and catching summertime catfish at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers'reservoirs.

He starts every outing by surveying the underwater terrain with his sonar.  He never drops his bait into the water until he spots a significant aggregation of what looks to be blue or channel catfish.

He always presents his baits with a vertical presentation.  He has one rod in left hand and another in his right, which allows him to test two depths.  As he fishes, he uses his electric trolling motor to keep the boat on top of the catfish, and he constantly monitors his sonar to determine if the catfish are stationary, moving, suspended off the bottom or lying on or near the bottom. If the catfish move, he uses the trolling motor to scout for their new location. There will be spots and times where he rarely moves, and there will spots and times when he will use the trolling motor to follow the catfish as the meander across an area the size of a football field. In sum, he is a master at controlling and manipulating his boat with his electric tolling motor. Thus he rarely employs an anchor unless the wind howls, and then he uses a bow anchor, as well as his trolling motor, which allows him to move side to side and towards the anchor if the catfish move.

Even though the surface temperature at this power-plant reservoir can reach as high as the mid-90s, Schmidtlein finds his best fishing usually occurs from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. What's more, the best time of the year stretches from mid-June to early August.  He also notes that current seems to be a critical element in catching summertime blue catfish in this power-plant reservoir.

This year Schmidtlein has been working on catching catfish with a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man ZinkerZ on a jig. He soaks the ZinkerZ in a gravy that he makes by mixing water and his homemade punch bait. So far, Schmidtlein has found that the blue and channel cat often strike this combo vigorously, but he rarely hooks them. So during the winter of 2011-12, he hopes to work on developing a stinger hook rig for the ZinkerZ and jig combo.  He also hopes to use it to replicate the way that Gary Dollahon of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, uses a Gene Larew Lures' Long John Minnow on a jig to catch suspended blue catfish in the dead of winter at Tenkiller Lake, Oklahoma.  (Anglers who are interested in reading about Dollahon's finesse methods can consult the December/January 2010 issue of In-Fisherman for a story entitled "Winter Tactics for Suspended Blue Catfish".)

Both Dollahon and Schmidtlein participate in the Finesse News Network that we noted in our first blog on August 23.  In future blogs, we will explore Schmidtlein's new ways with the ZinkerZ, and also examine how he uses it for catching crappie galore in the reservoirs around Topeka, and we will feature Dollahon's insights on white bass fishing.

We are working on a story featuring a minute-by-minute account of a day on the water with Dave and Ben Schmidtlein for the 2012 In-Fisherman Catfish Guide.

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