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

Patterning Big Catfish in the Current seams

Current seams are created naturally by the obstruction of the water flow. Major structural elements in a river that create current breaks include points, wing dams, eddies, backwaters and deep holes. The diagram shows a cross section view of how current is diverted by a point extending into the main channel.

fishing for catfish

Bait placement on a current seam

Obstructions such as points and humps have developed on the river bank or river bed that will cause the water flow to slower, creating a seam between the fast flowing current and the slower diverted water.

In most cases deeper holes are created on the back side of these obstructions creating Eddy’s [dead mostly slower water] the water is funneled from the tail of the Eddie towards its head creating a whirlpool effect. Current seams and particularly eddies can concentrate drifting food. Small forage fish will use the current seam to pick through the drift, in turn these current seams will also attract the trophy catfish as they feed on the forage fish.

Current speed will effect the way the seam develops on each break or structure, so the trick is to learn and understand when each spot (or spot within the spot) will be productive and when the fish will use them and only concentrate on these areas and fish these them during the correct water flow.

If the flow is to slow, the seams will just disappear and look nonexistent and therefore not very productive in low water times.

In a nutshell, understanding where the catfish hold at during the different water levels and current speeds on this particular seam will help you catch them. When the flow changes the catfish will change so you should too.

However setting up or anchoring on these current seams can sometimes be tricky, boat placement is crucial.

If you anchor too far out in the fast side of the seam, this will cause your bait presentation to drift further out into the main current away from the seam, and if you anchor too far in on the slower side of seam, (the Eddie) will cause your boat to spin in the whirlpool effect the eddy produces. There is a fine line between these two transitions, once you find your positioning you will drastically increase your chances of hooking into a trophy catfish.

fish current seams for catfish

Catching big catfish on current seams

CURRENT SEAMS AND SHORE FISHERMAN

Current seams and eddy’s are not limited to guys who only fish from a boat, bank anglers can also fish these types of spots as there are many different size current seams created naturally from river bank erosion. Small points and cut away banks all create a current seam even in small rivers and streams. Setting up on a point with moderate current flow and casting your rig out, allowing the current to sweep it into the seam is the same as anchoring a boat on it.

HERE IS A VIDEO ON HOW TO CATCH CATFISH ON CURRENT SEAMS:

ATTENTION ANGLERS: Here is a video of some safety tips and possible dangers of fishing current seams.