Catfish bait:How to catch and preserve catfish bait.

The best bait for the trophy cats is fresh skip jack herring and shad but at times these bait fish can be hard to get and you’ll spend more time and energy in trying to catch the bait as you do actually catfishing.
winter catfish
Big trophy catfish require big fresh baits, just using an easy to get tub of night crawlers or chicken livers just won’t cut it if you’re looking for the big boys.
This is why this spring time bait run is an important time for catfisherman. It means, great trophy cattin and the abundance of bait that is easy to catch!
The cycle of fish/bait movement or migration happens generally twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. Both of these windows of opportunity allows me to collect and preserve some natural bait for later use.
In the spring from April to June the skip jack will start migration to the tail waters to initially feed and stay to spawn and during this time frame, they are schooling by the thousands and this is the easiest time for a catfisherman to collect some bait. When they’re running good it’s not uncommon to catch 2 or 4 every cast.

I like to take a couple of days to catch a few hundred for stocking my freezer with bait for the coming season when the skip jack get scarce in the hot months. Packed in 2 gallon Zip lock bags the fresh frozen bait will generally last me until the fall when the skip jack return to the tail waters in the fall to feed.

HOW TO- The Skip Jack Rig
To catch skip jack you’ll need a med action rod with a spin casting reel spooled with some 14 lb mono.


Tie a barrel swivel to the 14 lb main line and tie a 3 foot piece of 20 lb mono leader to the other end of the barrel swivel. Now you will need to tie a marabou jig or other types of jigs on the leader about a foot below your swivel leaving a 2 foot piece of leader exposed, now come down anther foot and tie another marabou jig below the last jig leaving 1 foot of leader exposed and once again tie one more jig at the end of your leader completing the skip jack rig.
Look for skipjack along the faster current seams running close to the bank along rocky shores or rip rap. Cast your rig out and retrieve in quickly and steady the jacks will smash it. If quick and steady isn’t working, try to pop it and drop it. If the jacks are in there you will just have to find that patter or retrieve they want.

These fast action, hard fighting, acrobatic bait fish are an average weight of a pound and a half but it’s not uncommon to catch loads of 2-4 lbers in the spring.


Freezing/Preserving baitfish for catfishing

Some will disagree and say freezing bait will make the mushy and fall of the hook to easy. I can agree to that if the freezing process is not done properly. Frozen bait is only as good what you put into it and the process should be started as soon as you catch it, If not the bait will start to decompose very quickly, causing it to become soft and mushy.
The key to this freezing process is being able to drop the baits core body temperature quickly, as soon as it’s taken off the hook or out of the net. This will preserve the bait better as the decomposing process will be postponed immediately due to being exposed the sudden cold temperature. I never let my bait sit in a bucket for any length of time before I put ice to it.

My procedure for preserving bait is a little more involved than just catching it, putting it in bags and freezing it. It takes a bit more time but I think it well worth the time spent to have the freshest frozen bait possible.

Items needed
2 large coolers –
Cooler #1=brine solution
Cooler #2=Bait/ice
Zip lock bags (1 gal bags for shad and 2 gallon bags for skipjack)
Crushed/cubed ice
10 lb. Granular 100 % pure rock salt

A little preparation goes a long way in this process.
The key like I stated above is, dropping the baits Core body temperature quickly to postpone the decomposition cycle and this process should be started as soon as the bait is caught I do this by preparing a brine solution of super chilled ice water in one of the large coolers I’ve provided to immediately put the bait in after it is caught. . It doesn’t matter what type of bait you’re catching, shad, skip jack or other, this super chilled brine solution will work for all bait types.
Mixing the solution.

I will put one a large bag of crushed or cubed ice in the cooler and spread 2-3 handfuls of rock salt on top of the ice and repeat the process with another bag of ice on top of the first layer. Now I will pour water in the ice to make a slushy type ice mixture. Adding salt to the ice water changes the melting point of ice therefore making the solution colder preserving the bait better.
To be honest I’m not really sure about the physics of this process of changing molecules and equilibriums. So I’m not going to try to explain it, as I’m a catfisheman and not a scientist, I just know it works and take full advantage of this phenomenon, however if you want to know how it works, here is a link to the topic I found on the subject.
Once you’ve prepared the ice brine solution your ready to put the bait in it as it’s caught, always push the bait down into the solution allowing it to super chill never leave it on top exposed to air for any length of time.. The idea is to postpone the decomposition process as bait fish are very quick to decompose. You will have to add more crushed ice to the solution as you add more bait.

Now that you’ve caught enough bait to last several trips, it’s time to bag it out. I will always wait until I get home to do this so I will always top off my brine solution with more crushed ice and another handful of salt for the ride home keeping the bait super chilled until bagging time as I don’t ever want to give the bait time to warm up before I freeze it. I prefer to take it straight from the super chilled cooler to the bag and in the freezer within minutes. The salt based super chilled ice brine that the your bait is soaking in, is an old school preservative that has proven to be effective over the centuries in keeping human food fresh, it’s just as effective in keeping the bait in perfect condition for future use.

Bagging the bait for the freezer
Now it’s time to bag your bait for future fishing trips. Depending on the baits size I will fill each bag with a certain number of pieces to know what I will have for each trip.
For instance, if I’m bagging out 6-8 inch shad, I’ll use the 1 gallon bags and put 2 dozen pieces per bag but if I’m bagging 12-15 inch skip jack I will use the 2 gallon bags and only put one dozen pieces per bag.
As I’m bagging I will add more rock salt to the bait in layers so that all the bait has been touched by the salt. Put half of the bait in the bag and then a hand full of salt on it, then the other half of the bait and another handful of salt and seal the bag with the air in it and begin to tumble or mix the bait and salt thoroughly. Now open the bag and remove all the air from it and reseal the bag for the final freeze. This will preserve the bait in the best condition possible. Be careful not to get salt in the zip lock grooves and only fill the bag half way with bait; leave a little room in the top so it’s easy to close.
Some anglers choose to vacuum seal their bags of bait but I find it unnecessary for me personally as I use my bait a bit quicker than most so it really don’t have time to freezer burn but if you will not be using your bait on a weekly basis I would suggest you go through the same preserving process and vacuum seal for freshness.
Keep repeating this process until you’ve packed out all your bait.

Now lay the bags out and spread the bait flat within the bag and put it in the freezer so they all freeze quickly and evenly. You’re now all set with excellent bait for your next fishing trip. Just grab the number of bags that you’ll need, put them in a cooler with some ice and go fishing.

If you happen to take too much bait not to worry, by leaving it in the cooler on ice you can refreeze it when you get home and use the rest on your next fishing trip. The salt you used when packing it out will keep the bait in good shape even though you thawed it out some.

CATFISHING TOURNAMENTS: How to Enter a Catfishing Tournament?

Catfish tournaments are gaining popularity among sport fishermen throughout the US and are steadily progressing in recent years. Anglers have become conscientious about the resource and practice catch and release and promote the sport through catfishing tournaments. If you like to catfish and have a little bit of a competitive edge, catfishing tournaments may be just what you’re looking for.

1st step is to find a tournament in your area or region. You can accomplish this a few different ways.
1. Google (catfishing tournaments in your state or region)
2. USCA has active and up to date information by state. Find local events in your state.
3. American Procatters has up to date information on regional and national events.

Once you have found a tournament that may interest you, call the tournament coordinator and get a feel for the type of tournament they will be conducting. There are three types of tournaments that you can find in most states throughout the US. Depending on your level of interest, there is a tournament for you.

1. Local buddy tournaments/ throw togethers: These tournaments are often started by a group of local guys that like to fish tournaments but there was nothing in their area to fish.

The local buddy tournaments are pretty laid back, when you arrive at the tournament location you may be just looking for a couple guys standing around there truck or boat with clip boards taking registrations. These tournaments are great starter tournaments but can be just as challenging and competitive as any other tournaments. The entry fee on these tournaments is usually under 100.00 and can be a great learning experience if you plan on stepping up a notch. Depending on the interest in your area, these local tournaments you can expect 10 to 30 participants or boats.

2. Regional and annual events: Once you arrive at the tournament destination you will probably notice that other anglers are showing up also, look for a place to park your rig and begin looking for the registration location. Most well run regional tournaments will have a very noticeable designated area with a table set up along with sponsor banners for registration and information. These tournaments are generally ran by organized clubs that are actively promoting the sport of catfishing and holding events on several bodies of water throughout a certain region. Members will follow a regional trail to compete for points to recognize top anglers for angler of the year bragging rights. A good regional trail will draw 20-50 boats or more and the entry fee can exceed 100.00

3. National tournaments: you approach these well organized catfishing tournaments a little differently than the other tournaments. The concept is the same as any tournament, but the registration and entry is handled a different way because of the large number of anglers that will follow the trail from one area of the country to another on several bodies of water throughout the US.

National trails will require some travel time, hotel time, and some practice time for those who haven’t ever seen the tournament waters. Anglers fishing these national events will start pulling in to these towns 2-3 days before the tournament to get familiar with the body of water and find a pattern or method that will catch quality catfish that will allow them to compete with some of the best cat anglers in the nation. Entry fees for these events can exceed 200.00 and can be pre paid with a check or credit card in advance, however they will accept entries the night before the event at the mandatory captains meeting at a designated site, generally it will take place at the host hotel.

It will not matter which type of tournament you fish, all tournaments large or small will have a waiver attached to the entry form exempting them from any mishaps that may occur during tournament hours. This waiver must be signed when registering.

After registering you will receive a boat number, this number will indicate the position in which you will take off. The number you received will indicate the number in which you registered. First come first served. The tournament director will call out numbers for the tournament morning blast off in a timed order from number one to whatever, until all the boats are released. When your number is called your free to go fishing.

Live well check: Once you’re registered in local and regional tournament you will need to get a live well check, which most all tournaments will require this before you launch your boat, a flag or sticker will be placed on your boat as a confirmed check. Be sure you have one. This just keeps everybody on the up and up. The national trails will very seldom require a live well check because they will give polygraph test to the top finishers along with some ransoms.

Live well requirements: most all catfishing tournaments are catch and release.

Whether they are at a local or national level, they will require all fish to be alive at the time of the weigh-in. a proper live tank is essential to maintain five healthy fish for a long period of time.

Your live tank should be able to accommodate the size fish you will be catching. example … if your fishing in waters that just support channel cats you can get away with a 40-60 gallon live tank, if your fishing in waters that trophy blues inhabit you will need a much bigger live tank, 80-125 gallons. The live tank should be equipped with a recirculation pump and a spray bar for aeration, other products on the market that go above and beyond a spray bar, sporting features such as filtration, purification and aeration.

Blast off:
Once you’re registered and have had your live well checked, you’re ready to launch your boat. Anglers will be hovering around the launch site awaiting their number to be called at the official tournament start time. You are free to go fishing when your number is called.

Weigh in:
Just as there is an official start time there is also an official stop time also. Anglers must be in the weigh-in line or launch site by a certain time to avoid disqualification. All fish to be weighed must be alive and is compliant with all state and local laws, meaning size limits. When it’s your turn to weigh your fish, tell the tournament director your boat number and start off loading your catch in the designated weighing containers provided. In most local and regional tournaments the weight is documented and the fish are returned back to your live tank to be taken back to the body of water and released. The national tournament trails will have someone to return the fish for you. Once the last angler weigh’s in, the weights are reviewed and a winner is determined by the most weight.