In Kentucky the catfish spawn occurs in June and are generally finished by the 4th of July. however all catfish will not spawn at the same time some may go a bit early and some of them may be late bloomers, it will depend on the temperature of the body of water being fished. Generally speaking though, most will be done by the first week of July.
I do believe there is a transition period of about 7-10days from the time they have spawned, to their post spawn gorge, that catfish will be sluggish and inactive because of the vigorous spawning rituals. This inactivity gives them time to recuperate from the stress of the spawn and to migrate to the post spawn feeding grounds.
Mid July thru August is one of the best times for catching numbers as well as big catfish. The post spawn catfish have worked their way to the feeding areas to gorge on anything dead or alive to regain their body weight and energy levels. This activity will generally last for about 30 days before they start to scatter throughout the system, leaving there schools and roaming alone or in small pods in the depths looking for other areas that will sustain them for the summer.
Best places to look for post spawn catfish in lakes and rivers:
One of my favorite types of post spawn areas to look at first is the flats, meaning the bottom contour has no special features, just a consistent depth and a flat bottom with little or no contour change. The flats can come in many shapes and sizes, whether it’s a shallow point that extends out to the main channel in a lake or a muscle bed in thirty foot of water in a river. Although the flats are featureless with little or no structure, they do attract catfish because of a flats ability to produce large amounts of algae and other crustaceans and invertebrates, attracting the shad or baitfish to the area which feed on the algae in turn creating a buffet for the catfish and other species as well.
Cutting them off at the pass:
Other types of areas I will target in the post spawn time frame are the ditches, ledges and depressions in the lake or river bottoms, intercepting them as the travel. Catfish will use these types of places as highways to feed and or to just navigate throughout a body of water after spawning and throughout the summer. The ditches are more prominent in lakes and reservoirs and the depressions and ledges are found more in rivers but both types of water systems can possess either type of structure and will produce catfish. The ditches are easy to find in the lakes, look to the banks, they are generally made up of an old feeder creek or run off ditch that ran to the channel before the lake was built and filled with water.
One popular rig used to catch catfish on the flats is a santee cooper rig, it gained its name popularity in the 80’s by catfisherman that fished the vast flats of the Santee Cooper chain of lakes in South Carolina.
The Santee drift rig is a catfish fishing rig that is gaining popularity in the catfishing world, when targeting blues or channel catfish in lakes and some rivers when the current is very low to non-existent. It’s a great go to rig to catch catfish and is very easy to do.
There are a number of different variations but here are the basics.
To make one of these for catfish fishing you are basically using a slip sinker rig with a longer leader and adding a float. Weight – Use a 1-2 oz. egg sinker or other types of slip sinkers such as the slinky weights or the one i prefer the pencil weight, but to be honest i will use what i have on hand. The 2 oz. sinker will generally get the job done in most all situations but amount of weight you use is going to depend on how deep you are fishing, the amount of wind and your line resistance as you drag the rigs through the water. If you are not sure what size weight to use start with one ounce and you can work your way up or down in size from there.
Equipment- I use a medium action 7.6 ft tangling with catfish rod along with an Omoto bait caster reels. I get most of my equipment and terminal tackle from renegadetackle.com they are simply a one stop shop for catfisherman.
Main line– For my main line I like to use 60-80 lb test FINS situational braided fishing line.
Swivel – Tie a barrel swivel onto your mainline below your slip sinker weight, just like you would with a slip sinker for catfishing a Carolina rig.
Leader – Cut a length of 50 pound monofilament leader line at roughly 24 in. use your favorite knot and tie one end of that line to your swivel. the most common leader lengths are anywhere from 18 to 36 inches. I have used leaders shorter and longer and didn’t see and advantage one way or the other on the length leader used.
Peg your Float – The peg float is used to hold the bait somewhat off the bottom of the contour to reduce snags and to raise your bait a little higher in the water column as you drag your baits across the bottom contour.
Tie your hook on the end after you have slid the peg float on. If you are fishing for smaller Chanel cats i recommend you use a number 3/0 or 4/0 circle hook. If you are fishing for trophy catfish (like big blue catfish) then go with a bigger hook like a number 8/0 to 10/0 circle hook. I like the 8/0 Mustad brand hook for my rigs. Once you have tied on your hook, go back and slide the peg float anywhere from 3 to 6 inches from the hook and insert the peg back into the peg float.
Now you’re ready to start fishing for catfish with a Santee Cooper setup. Don’t be afraid the spice it up a little and experiment with different weights, different sizes of hooks and different leader line lengths and determine what works best for you when catfishing and you can make modifications from there, I’ve just given you the basic tools and solid information to get started, you can always improve on anything, tweak it for the way you fish.
Once you determine where you will pull your drift, just throw your baited rig behind your boat at different lengths of main line and place your rod in your rod holders and begin to drift . I normally sling my first rod out far behind my boat and the second one a little closer than the first and so on, keeping them staggered at different lengths. The idea here is to (drift with the wind), draggin your baits across the contour of the bottom or (pull your baits) across the contour 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 humps and ledges. Draggin your baits through a more likely lair will pay off more times than not, increasing your chances for a trophy catfish.
CAUTION- The Santee 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
Post spawn catfishing techniques can pay off big, id just like to add that these fish are a blast to catch but also they are at a vulnerable stage and can be caught in great numbers. Please practice good conservation and return the trophies back into the water, you will catch plenty of 10-15 pounder for that fish fry, by the way the smaller one eat a lot better that the bigguns.
Next month I will be discussing a great and fun summer time tactic for catching night time channel cats and flatheads from lakes and reservoirs. I discovered this technique years ago in my bass fishing days and have had lots of fun with it in the summer months.