February in Kentucky is one of the best months for tying onto one of monster cats along the Ohio River and its tributaries. They will spend most of their time where the conditions are most favorable for them. Finding locations throughout the river system that will provide some sort of thermal relief from the extreme temperatures is the key to finding trophy blue catfish. Another factor is to finding huge catfish in the winter months is locating the food source or ideally, where they can find both comfort and the food source. Once you figure out where the cats preferred winter areas are in any given river or lake, you often can find fish in the same general areas day after day throughout the winter.
Catfish will frequent certain areas of water ways for one of three reasons.
1. Food source:
Locating schools of bait fish will help determine where you should fish for catfish. This could be in deep open water or a shallow point.
Catfish are attracted to cover within the structure and deep water lairs. Wood log jams, boulders or manmade elements, all attract bait fish and allows the catfish to rest and wait for an ambush of unsuspecting prey.
Catfish will use underwater structure contours such as ledges, channels and ditches to navigate throughout a body of water. Think of these types of structures as under water highways.
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.
1. 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 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 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.
3. 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.
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.
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.
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.
3. The slip feature allows the catfish to take the bait without detecting any resistance from the weight.
4. The sacrificial sinker feature
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.
This rig is great for catching all three species; Channel, Blue and Flathead catfish.
Bounding down is the best technique for locating and patterning winter time blue catfishing, Once you’re anchored on a spot give it 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 time is a great time to land some huge trophy blue cats and there fun to catch but they are also kind of vulnerable this time of year as they are easily patterned.
Please remember to keep conservation in mind and put the big ones back after you’ve snapped some braggin pictures. Keep the smaller cats for fryin! Selective harvest works.