Shallow water Cats in the Springtime: Tactics for both bank and boat fisherman

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.

THE RIG

3-way-rigsantee525

(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
Bank sinker
*(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.

HOW-TO
3-way rig for catfishing

(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.
dragging4
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
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.

(Slip float)
bobberslip

carolina rig

(Carolina Rig)
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’

Target anchoring for big cats.

The winter time Bluecats become predictable and will school up or congregate in wintering areas that offer some sort of thermal or stable comfort zone and food availability. February one of the best times for hooking up with one of them monster cats along the Ohio River or its major tributaries like the Green or Kentucky rivers. Other areas like outside bends, drop-offs, creek beds and deep ledges. Look for the deepest contours and water depths that have been carved by nature. Blucats remain fairly active and aggressive in the winter months and will travel in and around these deep lairs looking for its next meal.

Target anchoring is my preferred method for wintertime catfishing. It involves the use of a GPS/Depth finder to find, mark and fish areas such as natural or manmade structure or cover, places where catfish will frequent for food, travel or spawn.
Anchoring on specific spots known to be high traffic areas such as ledges, humps or holes will increase an angler’s success, but if an angler can find certain that spot within the spot such as a big log laying among some rocks along the edge of a channel break, then you will more than likely have a productive day.

fishing map

Custom Mapping your favorite fishing spots

(Custom Mapping your favorite fishing spots)
Gps mapping lake charts has made fishing more productive as it allows the angler to discover, map, mark and return to these spots like clockwork. The mapping card technology in fish finders makes it a lot easier to understand, pinpoint and mark certain underwater structure, cover and contours that will most likely produce some action. Most lakes or impoundments map cards are very well defined in the contour terrain of the bottom which gives an angler the edge by taking of a lot of the guess work out of finding certain types of structure and it can position an angler precisely on a ledge or other obvious mapped contour changes.

Marking and setting up on specific fish that have been spotted on the sonar is another good use for this GPS technology. However the Rivers maps are not as defined in the contour terrain but more concentrate more on the navigational aspects. But with effort spent manually mapping the rivers bottom contour changes, an angler can still reveal those same productive types of contour or structure changes that are so well defined in the lake cards. Combining the depth finder and GPS to determine depth changes and GPS co ordinances to precisely mark spots to give anglers a blank canvas to personalize their own mapping charts of favorite locations either recently found or previously mapped. This is useful when scouting new areas marking the data that the angler inputs from their mapping also serves as a fishing log.

Find and anchor above your target about 80 to 100 feet and then cast the baits out of the back of the boat into the target area, staggering or fanning them out behind the boat in different depths. Lift your rod tip up and down a few times with the bait/sinker tension. This will straighten the line and remove any un wanted slack.
Channel bends in a river are great wintering holes and the best place to start your search, the river continuously keeps the bottom cut out and creates deep holes or runs in the bottom contour with lots of ledges, wood and irregularities, in general a catfish magnet.
Fan cast your baits to cover a wider areas, Anchor the boat closer to the bank so that it’s in the positioned in middle so to say of zero or the bank and its deepest point which is 50 feet. This way we can cover more area by spreading the baits, throw one rod out of the side of your boat in the deeper 50 ft. section, a couple straight out of the back of the boat one In the 40 foot section the other in the 30 ft section and the last one out of the opposite side towards the shallower 20 foot of water.

anchor for big catfish

Target anchoring for big catfish.

(Target anchoring)
In rivers, the deep winter holes are often found along outside bends or old river channels that run alongside a hard rock bank. In reservoirs, the old creek and river channels or in the reservoirs’ lower reaches. Channel confluences where the creek channels collide 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.
Once you’re anchored on a spot, give it 30-35 minutes to see if you get any interest. If it’s been inactive it’s time to move down river a bit, but you don’t want to go far. The idea is to keep the scent trail close to the structure your fishing for the catfish to follow but to move just simply pull your anchor up and move your boat 40-50 feet down and re-anchor where you last placed your baits on the previous anchor and cast out again, keeping your bait in the same scent trail just a little further downstream. Because some of these channel bends can be up to a half mile long, you may need to bound down 4-5 times until you find the concentration of catfish.

Target anchoring

Aaron Wheately Director of Monsters on the Ohio with a nice winter time blue cat.

Using fresh bait
Big Shad and skip jack is the popular baits among trophy blue cat anglers, but cut or whole pan fish will also work well.
When finding and catching bait is not an issue, I like to have enough to re-bait on every move to keep the bait and scent trail fresh. Re-baiting often doesn’t seem to be as important in the spring or summer when the water is warmer as much as it does in the winter months.
In the frigid winter water the scent trail doesn’t seem to dissolve or disburse as well as it does in the warmer months, so keeping the freshest bait on each anchor in the winter time will attract the best results.
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.

Steve Douglas