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.
(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
*(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.
(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.
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 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.
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’