Though not as popular as bass fishing or flyfishing for trout, the
sport of catfishing is still a serious pursuit, engaged in by many
anglers. In fact several catfishing tournaments are held every year,
with substantial prizes, attendance and participation of anglers.
Catfish in the neighborhood of 100 pounds are caught almost regularly
during these tournaments, so the sport is no mewing matter, so to speak.
The following tactics and techniques are gathered from empirical information by catfishing anglers of the most serious kind, regarding the areas on which concentration of effort is required.
Tackle. Catfishes of all varieties are the bulldogs of the freshwater fishes. When they are hooked they simply bull their way off as much as they can. Therefore you must use appropriate tackle, often those used for saltwater bruisers. For catfish of the 100-lb varieties, deep sea conventional trolling reels from 4/0 to 7/0 size spooled with 60- to 80-lb mono or braid, and served by medium heavy glass boat rods are needed, if only to head off the catfish from the deep parts of the river or away. At any rate, consider the heaviest tackle you can find for catfishing.
Baits. Most catfishes prefer live forage fish served naturally – alive or fresh-killed and filleted —and this should be the first priority. Professionals advise hooking the chub, carp, minnow, shad –whatever-- at the base of the tail to allow it to move naturally in the water. Trim the tail to reduce bait friskiness if necessary.
When using stinkbait, cover the hook completely with the bait.
Terminal rig. Most serious catfishermen use the sliding sinker rig or the three-way terminal rig. In the first, a 6-oz. sliding egg sinker is threaded into the main line above an appropriate swivel and then the leader, attached to a 4/0 to 9/0 circle hook or hooks. Size the rig to the expected catch but err on the bigger option.
Three-way rigs combine a 6-oz. bank sinker attached to a 3-way swivel by a thin 10- to 20-lb. mono to facilitate sinker breakaway on snags. The leader may go from 18 to 24 inches of 50-lb. mono or as desired.
Location. Like many other predator fishes, catfish ambush prey and are opportunist feeders. Thus the largest catfishes often lie at the mouth or upstream of the largest depressions in the river or lake bottom, sometimes as deep as 90 feet. The smaller ones have to content themselves at the rear parts of the slough, or at the sides. When channels or depressions are few, look for places where structures slow down the current, such as behind stumps, sandbars or shallow banks, where the fish can lie in ambush position without tiring.
Best fishing times. Fish feeding activity is influenced much by the tidal movements. Not many predator fishes want to fight a strong current, so active feeding usually occurs during what is called ‘turn of the tide’, when one tidal phase has ended but the other has not yet began. Here, catfishes may chase preyfishes in the shallows, pushing them against the bank for easy ambush. In the same principle, the times of half moons produce slower tides and therefore enable catfishes to prowl farther and less strenuously to feed. Consult your solunar tables for the best times to catfish. Fishingreminder’s tide tables and charts would likewise tell you about tidal flows, very useful in river catfishing.