Shallow water Cats in the Springtime: Tactics for both bank and boat fisherman

Catfish are driven internally to move upstream for the spawn in the springtime and you can use this annual migratory pattern to your advantage. This is a great opportunity to look to the shallower water for success.

As the days are getting longer and the weather warms things up this will trigger the catfish’s biological senses to begin to moving from their wintering holes, to places that will allow them to feed heavily before the spawn.

The shallow water on sunny days can sometimes be 4-8 degrees warmer than the rest of the system there for drawing the bait fish as well as other fish including the cats.
In rivers the catfish begin to move up stream and as they do they will follow the underwater highways so to say, such as channels ledges, deep-water impressions, long points or other structure and contour irregularities but as they make their way upstream, they visit the shallower areas because they know it means food.

The shallow flats adjacent the deep water, north facing shallow banks or inside bends and tributary mouths are some examples of shallow water areas where you can cut the off at the pass as they travel up stream.

In reservoirs and lakes the catfish will begin to move and feed in the warmest parts of the lake as the warmer water will draw the baitfish and in turn will draw the predator fish such as a catfish. Again look to the north banks and coves these types of example will warm the fastest.

Other examples are shallow water with wood structure, mid lake flats or humps and feeder creeks. The spring rains will wash insects and other critters into the lake and the catfish have learned to frequent these areas , waiting for an easy meal.

Although the flats are featureless with little or no structure, they do attract catfish because of a flats ability to produce warmth and large amounts of algae from the suns energy attracting the shad and baitfish to the area which feed on the algae in turn creating a buffet for the catfish and other species as well.

THE RIG

3-way-rigsantee525

(Santee Rig for dragging baits)
Items needed for the basic 3-Way rig
Keep in mind item specs listed below will change according to the size fish your ‘re targeting.
Example below is a good all around combination of tackle required. It’s what I use to target trophy size catfish but is also effective on smaller fish also.
65lb braided or mono main line. (I prefer braid)
3- Way swivel
50 lb mono Leader line
20 lb mono drop line
#8-10 Circle hook
Bank sinker
*(Santee option- 3 inch peg float)

Tip: Notice the break rating on the drop line is less than the mainline. This is one option you may want to take advantage of to save tackle and time when fishing with any 3-way combination. It’s called a sacrificial weight, meaning it will break before the mainline when hung up on structure, keeping the rest of your rig intact so all you have to do is retie the drop line and weight instead of the whole rig, this saves a lot of time and frustration.

HOW-TO
3-way rig for catfishing

(Dragging the shallow flats)

Once you determine where you will fishing, just throw your baited rig behind your boat at different lengths of main line and place your rod in your Monster Rod Holder and begin to pull to drag your baits behind your boat.
I normally sling my first rod out behind my boat about 75 feet and the second one a little closer than the first and so on, keeping them staggered at different lengths.
The idea here is to drag your baits along the contour of the bottom using your trolling motor.

Although drifting with the wind will produce catfish, I prefer to control my (pull/drift) and target more precise contour structure, such as flats, humps and ledges.
The drag speed will be determined by the catfishes activity level the size sinker you are using; the heavier it is, the faster and deeper you can drag. After cold fronts and low activity levels I prefer to start with a 2 oz sinker and keep my speed at about .5 mph.
dragging4
As your dragging your baits across the contour of the bottom, your pole will go to bouncing, this is normal. At times, your pole will even appear to be getting hung up, this is ok, just keep dragging and most likely it will pop off of whatever it got caught on.
When dragging the flats for instance, there is just not a lot you can get hung on other that maybe small stones and the occasional water logged limbs and twigs and as I indicted, you will most likely just pull yourself out what ever small obstacle it got snagged on along the bottom and continue to drag your baits across the flats but this rod bouncing and occasional jerking action of the rods with this technique again normal.

THE BITE
The bite on this technique will look somewhat similar to getting hung on the bottom on the initial takedown in the aspect of the rod bending; however when you’re dragging the baits at certain speed, your rod tip movements will also move at that same speed.
The bite of the catfish will start to look different the rod after the initial take down but keep in mind, all take downs are not created equal. Some takedowns are slow and steady, just as it appears when you get hung on the bottom and some will just flat-out be fast and hard. But once you have him hooked, the rod tip will begin to continuously pull and bounce violently unlike being hung on the bottom which would be more described as dead weight.

CAUTION-
The Santee dragging rig is good method to search out feeding catfish, at the same time learning what your bottom contour is like and discovering new pieces of structure, however in the process you will get snagged and loose some rigs. (Don’t get discouraged), it just the way it is. I’ve fished places before where I’d lose 20 rigs a day and I’ve fished others and never gotten hung up. It is a proven fish catching rig.

Fishing from the bank?
For all of our friends that are bank bound anglers, this dragging technique is not going to help you at all.
However not to fret, as the catfish don’t know you are bank bound and you too can take advantage of the shallow water springtime phenomenon but you will just have to approach it differently.

Whether you have access to a big lake or small ponds or rivers, the catfish will have the same internal urges to do what it takes to complete the spawn just as these big river cats do and migration to feeding grounds or comfort zones is their first move. So with that in mind you will need to find areas in the waters you fish that will provide this type of comfort or activity.
In lakes I would look for the shallow north banks as they will be the first to warm in the springtime especially shallow coves on the north banks. This warmer water will definitely be a spot that can produce some real nice cats but other areas like the mouths of feeder creeks and shallow ditches are equally as good.

Going Old School
Since bank anglers don’t have the advantage of using the depth finders, we will have to determine the contour from observing the bank you can see above the water line. Most likely if you are seeing a small ditch running off the hill into the water, it more than likely will continue underwater and this type of areas can be very productive in the spring of the year. In farm ponds, use the same knowledge of fishing the north bank first in the spring to find the active catfish. Stay to the upper incoming, drainage or fill ditch area portion of the pond away from the dam to find the warmer water.

The Preferred bank bound Rig

The rigs I would opt for in this bank bound situation would be either a Carolina rig or float rig tied on a 7-8 foot spin or baitcast combos.

(Slip float)
bobberslip

carolina rig

(Carolina Rig)
Whether you’re fishing from a boat or the bank the shallow water springtime patterns are working now.
Remember though, the bigger catfish in the water you’re fishing will prefer cut bait over worms or stink bait but grocery shrimp, chicken livers, shiners and minnows are just a few other good bait choices for small lakes and ponds. Worms and night crawlers tend to be stolen by the pan fish and other small fish so I would avoid them completely unless you use them to catch pan fish with, to cut up for catfish bait.
This shallow spring action is the best times to get the family out for a fun, fresh spring day of catfishing.

Happy springtime folks. Let’s go catfishin’

Predicting the seasonal move: Catfishing

This is one of the best times for hooking onto a huge catfish along the Ohio River and its tributaries. Because of the catfish’s internal clock or seasonal patterns is hard at work and it’s easier to predict their next move.

In the dead of winter they will spend most of their time in areas where the conditions are most favorable for them, ideally where they can find the some sort of refuge from the harsh winter conditions or a food source. But now that the daylight hours are getting longer and their biological clock so to say, is provoking a seasonal move, they will be compelled to position themselves for the spring run. This is good because they continue to be predictable in their move and we can intercept them as they move up river.

winter catfish

Winter Catfishing


(Late Winter Bluecats)

Understanding what is motivating these huge fish to occupy an area can help you decide on the best locations ith the highest percentage of success.
Catfish will frequent certain areas of water ways for one of three reasons.
1. Food source
2. Cover
3. Navigation

Seasonal patterns will often help determine locations as well. Winter is probably the most predictive time to locate catfish.

In rivers, the deep winter holes are often along outside bends or old river channels that run alongside a hard bottom bank, in reservoirs, look for the old creek and river channels.
Channel confluences where the creek channels meets with the old river channels also tend to have deeper holes associated with them, run-ins or ditches will also provide some deep water habitat or HOT SPOTS.

Learning how to analyze the seasonal patterns, structure and cover to find the best winter time opportunity is the key to catching a winter trophy blue catfish. Here are three TOP HOT SPOTS to start looking for your trophy blue cats.

Channel bends:
A Channel bend is just simply a turn in direction of the river flow and usually associated with hard bottom and deep water as the current flow is constantly cutting the structure contour of the bottom and ledges and undercuts are formed, giving these trophy blue catfish a comfortable environment to take up residents.

(Channel bends make good fish attractors)

channel bend

Channel bend for catfishing


Channel bends will also get cluttered with big trees and logs that get washed down river and deposited over the years during high water periods, which gives the blue cats just one more reason to hang out. Now there’s a Hot Spot! Look for the cover that has lodged in the channel bends along the deep water ledges. Finding the spot within the spot is golden and will increase your chances of catching a trophy blue catfish.

Holes
Holes are most often going to be associated with current of some kind. Look for holes around the channel bends, below dams, around the mouths of tributaries and current breaks such as points and manmade structure like barge cells or bridge pilings. Current breaks will create scours holes down river of the break which is attractive to the big blue cats, as it makes an ideal spot to hang around and wait for food to flow by. Use your depth finder to locate the head of the hole and start there. Set up on these spots by anchoring above the holes and casting your baits back into the deeper water. Deep water holes of any structure type are always a good spot in the winter because catfish seem to stack into the deep water wintering holes making them easier to locate.

Mouths of tributaries

Tributary mouths are pretty much a year round hot spot. They provide many elements throughout the catfish’s seasonal patterns from staging to ambush and feeding areas. But in the winter months, the catfish will relate to the deep water at the mouth where it intersects the main river.
Bait fish along with several other species of fish will gather in these deep water areas to over winter and feed on what is washed out, in turn attracting the catfish to also take up residents for the duration.

There are many structure elements that that make up a tributary giving the catfish some options in the winter months, current breaks or ledges allows them sit and wait comfortably on food to pass by out of the current.
The Deep holes associated with the tributaries provide a place to escape the current with some thermal comfort. The shallow points along the tributary will warm up on sunny days attracting the blue cats to the baitfish that have moved up on the point to the warmer water.

Bait:
The best bait to use for a trophy winter time blue catfish is cut bait. Big baits equal big catfish. Use shad; skip jack herring, sunfish-bluegills, suckers and chub minnows. The best bait size for blue catfish really depends on how big the fish grow in the waters where you are fishing! But it’s not uncommon to use a 1-2 lb piece of bait cut in half or used whole.

skip jack

catfish bait


Cut skip jack for late winter action

Big Shad and skip jack is the popular baits among trophy blue cat anglers, but cut or whole pan fish will also work well. In the winter months you can obtain shad and skipjack around hot water discharges found around factories on the Ohio River.
But most anglers will anticipate the winter time trips and will catch these baits in the fall and freeze them for the winter time use.
Rig:
The Three way slip rig is great for fishing in current. It is one the most common catfishing rigs used for winter time catfishing for a few reasons. 1. Easy to tie up.
2. Versatility
3. The slip feature allows the catfish to take the bait without detecting any resistance from the weight.
The sacrificial sinker feature

catfish rig

Catfish rig


3-Way Rig

This rig is very versatile for catfishing a number of different situations. one feature I like about this rig is the sacrificial sinker. It allows you to pull the rig free from most snags, saving the hook and swivels which saves time and money.

Method:
Anchoring is the best technique for locating and patterning winter time blue catfishing, Once you’re anchored on a spot, sling about four baits out behind the boat and place them in your rod holders and hang on, the winter time take down will be just as massive as the summer time bite.

Once you have spread all your baits out, give it about 30-35 minutes, to see if you get any takers, if you get no bites it’s time to move but you don’t want to go far, the idea is to keep a scent trail for the catfish to follow, so bounding down is the best method, what this means, is pull your anchor up and move your boat down and re-anchor where you last placed your baits on the previous anchor, and cast them out again, keeping your bait in the same scent trail just a little further downstream. Because some of these areas can be up to a half mile long, you may need to bound down 4-5 times until you find the fish.

winter catfishing

winter catfishing


Anchoring up on some late winter catfish
But once you have found them you can catch several on just one anchor.
Tributaries to the Ohio River like the Kentucky and Green rivers offer some excellent late winter time action for big Blues and channel cats but unfortunately the flatheads are mostly dormant this time of year.

Good Fishin’
Steve Douglas