Discovering the quintessential rod and reel has been a perpetual quest for scores of anglers. And across the years, many divergent opinions have surfaced about what constitutes an ideal rod and reel. Rick Clunn of bass fishing fame, for example, began his pursuit for the perfect rod-and-reel combination well before most contemporary cat fishers wetted their first line. He contends that the best combo is one that works in a variety of situations. In essence, it's one that won't upset his rhythm, efficiency, and concentration, because if those three elements go awry, his casting and presentations suffer.
Doug Stange, In-Fisherman Editor In Chief, says the selection of a rod and reel for the serious angler is a matter of logistics and location.€‚He points out that the needs of catfishermen are strikingly different from those of bass anglers. Because the size of the catfish can range from a pound to a 100 pounds, Stange asserts that catmen require a diverse range of rods and reels, that they can't work with the one-rod scenario that Clunn desires — and Clunn agrees, saying it's a difficult proposition even for bass anglers.
Although Stange is a proponent of diverse tactics, he often shuns spinning outfits for catfishing, saying that casting tackle is the way to go 95 percent of the time. Likewise, Steve Hoffman, In-Fisherman Publisher, who also favors casting tackle, says: "I know guys who pursue flatheads with spinning tackle, but none that I would consider serious. The light-tackle stuff that guys do in Missouri and Kansas makes sense, but at some point most flathead anglers realize that baitcasting gear is better suited to big fish in heavy cover. Even English anglers fishing for giant wels catfish usually prefer casting tackle, and they are as hardcore spinning fans as you're likely to find."
Jeff Williams, Grove, Oklahoma, has considerable experience catching trophy blue cats from Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, and Grand Lake, Oklahoma. He says that for years most of his fellow catfish anglers have been wedded to the notion that baitcasting is better than spinning. He says they have a bias in favor of baitcasting, probably because few have given spinning outfits serious consideration.
Williams says that spinning tackle has always been the best option when pursuing gargantuan blue cats at reservoirs like Lake of the Ozarks or Grand Lake. He agrees with Hoffman's assessment about the effectiveness of casting tackle when dealing with flatheads in heavy cover. What's more, Williams says that in heavy current situations on some rivers, the winch-like power of a lower€‘gear€‘ratio casting reel works better than a spinning reel. But those are the only situations wherein Williams would opt for casting paraphernalia rather than spinning.
Stange lauds the effectiveness of spinning tackle at tailraces. He says: "Spinning does well in areas where flatheads are taken from the deep water spilling out of a scour hole. This is done with a jig-and-minnow combo in the same fashion as vertical jigging for walleye or sauger. Light casting tackle would work there, but probably not quite as well as spinning tackle." For a comprehensive approach to plying tailraces for catfish and for tips on how to make long casts with spinning tackle, anglers should visit distance caster Tim Smith's website (catfishin.net).
Besides the effectiveness of spinning tackle at tailraces, shorebound anglers at Lake Texoma regularly use spinning reels and 14-foot surf rods to make extraordinarily long casts.€‚ Cody Mullennix of Howe, Texas, for instance, used such an outfit to land the former world record 121.5-pound blue catfish at Texoma in 2004.
Although Williams fishes from a boat, he says spinning tackle allows him and his clients to make long and accurate casts — even into the wind — without worrying about backlashes.€‚ He finds that casting into the wind with baitcasting tackle is always problematic. And when anglers use lightweight baits, it's even more of a problem. By constantly executing long, accurate, and backlash-free casts, Williams says catfishermen can approach those elements of rhythm, efficiency, and concentration that Clunn hopes to achieve with his bass fishing tackle.
Williams notes that making lengthy pinpoint casts is critical to properly presenting baits from an anchored boat when anglers target blue cats on shallow mudflats. When anglers are working with large livebaits such as gizzard shad, it's essential that the bait isn't harmed during the casting process. To coddle his bait, Williams makes a lob cast, and he's found it easier to make a long and gentle lob cast with spinning tackle than with baitcasting gear. Bloodbait aficionados also find that spinning outfits do a stellar job of placing their bait, which is often a tender morsel, into a catfish's lair.
Williams also drifts baits for blue catfish, using the same spinning outfits he casts with, finding them superior to baitcasting equipment. Hoffman agrees, saying that drift-fishing is easier with a fixed spool reel. Whether Williams is casting or drifting, he uses a 7550X Pflueger Contender Saltwater Spinning Reel mounted on a 7-foot medium-action BWS 2200 Shakespeare Ugly Stik Tiger rod.
During the past decade, more reel manufacturers began producing saltwater spinning reels that fitted the needs of anglers like Williams. Hoffman finds that the bait-clicker system on most of these spinning reels is better than those on baitcasting reels. In addition to the Pflueger that Williams uses, Stange and Hoffman suggest that catfish anglers examine the reels produced by Penn, Quantum, Shimano, Daiwa, Shakespeare, Silstar, and Mitchell, among others.
Because Williams uses circle hooks, he doesn't employ the spinning reels' bait-clicker system; rather, he prefers the line to tighten as a catfish takes a bait, which helps set the hook. He likes the retrieving speed of spinning reels, saying that they do a better job of quickly putting line on the spool than baitcasting reels do. When there's a hot bite and a blue cat steals a bait, it's important to get the empty hook back to the boat, rebaited and returned to the water quickly.
Fishing guides work in an excellent arena for scrutinizing the effectiveness of various products. But because Williams focuses only on using spinning tackle for catching big blue cats in reservoirs, it's important to consider the spinning rods and reels of guides who fish for channel catfish and smaller blue cats.
Jerry Martin hails from Stephenville, Texas, and is the proprietor of J Pigg Stink Bait. When he and his clients pursue channel and blue catfish in the reservoirs of central Texas, they use spinning and baitcasting equipment. But Martin readily confesses that his favorite outfit is a 7-foot medium-light-action vintage Garcia spinning rod and a 2000RG Shimano Solstace spinning reel, spooled with 10-pound-test Ande monofilament.€‚ He describes it as his "search rod" because it's extremely easy to cast, making it a great tool for locating schools of suspended blue cats. He also calls his spinning outfit his "joy stick" — a delightful way to do battle with scores of 18-inch blue catfish per outing.
Clyde Holscher, Topeka, Kansas, guides on flatland reservoirs in eastern Kansas, and during summer his primary quarry is channel catfish. He agrees with Stange that spinning tackle is the best choice for vertical presentations, and he agrees with Hoffman that "the light-tackle stuff that guys do in Missouri and Kansas makes sense."
Holscher's a chummer, using fermented soybeans for channel cats. His favorite chum holes are usually situated on the edge of a hump, adjacent to a drop-off or along a submerged creek channel edge. The depth of these locales ranges from about 12 feet to 30 feet. To fish these areas, he fishes from an anchored boat, vertically probing the chummed area with punchbait on a #8 barbless Gamakatsu treble hook.
Holscher's clients often catch and release fish at a hand-over-fist pace.€‚ Even though the action can be fast, Holscher describes the typical chum bite as a subtle one. To detect bites, he's found the best outfit to be an 8-foot medium-light action Pflueger DR 4780 rod paired with a Pflueger€‚Trion 4735 reel, spooled with Shakespeare Supreme 8-pound-test blue line. Holscher designed his outfit for catching oodles of small catfish, but he says a deft angler can eventually whip a 15-pounder and have the time of his life doing it.
While Williams, Martin, and Holscher acknowledge that baitcasting equipment works in reservoir situations for blue and channel catfish, they all agree that spinning is the best option for the situations they fish. Carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of spinning versus baitcasting for the situations you fish, and you're likely to choose a winner.
Abu Garcia 7000i
- No flatheader worth his salt hits the river without one of these classic round bait-casters. Armed with a synchronized levelwind system, brass gears and dual anti-reverse, the old 7000 is as tough and reliable as reels get. An oversized power-handle supplements the reel's muscular 6-washer drag system — enough torque to drop the hammer on the planet's toughest catfish. The 7000 has one other unforgettable feature — an extra loud line-out alarm; what catmen call a 'clicker. ' When a big fish grabs the bait and bolts, the reel grudgingly yields line while audibly alerting you that something awesome is about to happen. Load it with 300 yards of 20-pound mono or 600 yards of 30-pound braid and brace for impact. Retail price is $150.
Bass Pro Shops CatMaxx
— Another fine no-frills spinning reel, the CatMaxx CM80 features an aluminum long-spool design that holds almost 300 yards of 25 pound test mono. Built on a tough graphite body, the reel's guts include a 4-bearing system with PowerLock instant anti-reverse. At 26-ounces, this big fish brawler dishes out almost 40 pounds of drag pressure, or enough to winch small trees out by the roots. An oversized paddle reel handle offers comfort and leverage over big cats. Retail price is $45.
Daiwa Black Gold
— What can you say about a reel that's been with you through small fish and monsters, thick and thin, for over a quarter century? If you're smart, you call it one of your favorite catfish reels. A classic saltwater tool, the Black Gold is a throwback — a simple collection of reliable components and proven parts that perform so well that the company simply can't retire it, despite the reel's slightly old-school facade. It's not the prettiest, nor the lightest reel you'll ever own, but buying one is like making a longterm can't-miss investment. All metal construction envelops three stainless steel ball bearings and a high performance drag built with Teflon and stainless steel drag washers. The BG 30 and BG 60 hold plenty of 14 to 25 pound test line and pick up 36 and 39 inches of line per handle turn, respectively. Retail price is just over $100.
— A tremendous value in line-counter reels, the Convector sports a lightweight, corrosion resistant frame with a machined aluminum anodized spool. A ratcheting star drag allows the angler to dial into precise drag settings. A patented Mechanical Stabilization System maintains parts alignment over the long term, while a self-lubricating gear system enhances smoothness and overall performance. The reel's mechanical line counter function measures in feet, perfect for drifting, trolling and bait-walking applications. Six reel model sizes include both left and right handed retrieves. Retail price is $85.
Okuma Epixor Baitfeeder
— Featuring affordability and high level performance, the Epixor Baitfeeder is a tremendous tool for light to medium duty catfishing situations. Nine stainless steel ball bearings and 1 'quick-set ' anti-reverse roller bearing provide seamless operation. A waterproof drag seal and a 30-percent larger drag system bolster the reel's stopping power, despite it's dainty weight. The Epixor's special on/off auto trip bait feeding system provides measured resistance to biting fish, and disengages simply by turning the reel handle. Spools are extra wide machined aluminum and are topped with a titanium coated lip for smooth casting. Four models from a size 30 to 80 are available. Retail prices range $100 to $110.
— Any reel labeled 'workhorse ' more or less describes those intangible elements catfishers seek. Built with 6 stainless steel ball bearings and weighing much less than you'd expect, the Trion provides years of no-frills performance. Cast, set hooks, and deliver catfish beat-downs — period. An aluminum handle and spool is complemented by a smooth multi-disc drag system and instant anti-reverse. Trion 135 and 140 sizes match most medium catfish scenarios. Retail price is $40.
Quantum Bill Dance Big River
— Built to tackle freshwater monsters, this tough reel torques hard pulling cats with its powerful 4.2:1 gear ratio. Two stainless steel ball bearings keep things running nice and smooth, while a synchronous levelwind prevents line from 'piling up ' on the spool. The high-capacity aluminum spool (360 yards / 20-lb test) holds plenty of line to outlast even the most extreme drag screamers. While an extended power handle gives you extra leverage over your quarry. The reel's selectable bite-alert rounds out a list of fine features, making this reel a good value — iconic Bill Dance baseball cap not included. Retail price is $55.
Shimano Baitrunner OC
— Perfect for set rigging from shore or in a boat, the Baitrunner OC allows cats to strip line freely from the spool without disengaging the spool. This saltwater-approved reel offers ample power, durability and toughness to tame any catfish. Key features include a fully repairable bait-clicker, stainless steel ball bearings and Shimano's amazing Varispeed Oscillation. Baitrunner models 6000 and 8000 provide 20-pounds of drag and retrieve up to 36 inches per revolution. An essential tool for every serious cat-head. Retail price is approximately $130.
— Palm-sized line-counter reels may be the best kept tackle secret in catfishing, and Shimano's Tekota tops the list of proven performers. This tough-as-nails, full metal weapon is loaded to the gears and beyond: diecast aluminum frame, sideplates and spool, an oversized clicker button and anti-rust bearings. The TEK300LC and TEK500LC are perfectly suited to medium to heavy-duty catfishing situations, boasting max drag ratings of 18-pounds and 3 +1 ball bearings. Line counter mechanisms are smooth and work with all types of fishing line. Hundred-plus-pound blues have fought these reels and lost. Retail price is $180.
Team Catfish Gold Ring 400
— Putting power and smoothness at your fingertips, this specialized catfish reel performs reliably while proudly trumpeting your passion for barbels and adipose fins. Custom specs include one-piece aluminum frame and side plates, 5 stainless steel bearings and a dual magnetic cast control with a special dial for tossing extra heavy baits. A recessed, low-profile bait clicker prevents accidental activation. Extras such as an aluminum power handle and extra heavy reel foot ensure seasons of flawless operation. Retail price is $140.