Winter Time Catfish Tactics

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.
catching catfish in 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.

2. Cover:
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.

3. Navigation
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.


2. 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.

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.
catfishing spot

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.
catfish 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. 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.
2. Versatility
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.
tTechnique for catching catfish

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

Cover and Structure for Catfishing

Understanding the difference between structure and cover for Catfishing

Simply put, structure is the contour composition of the lake stream or river bottoms, such as ledges, drops, points, depressions, creek channels, flats and deep holes. Any natural change of the bottom contour is categorized as structure.
structure for catfishing

Catfish will use these contour changes to navigate throughout the river, lake systems using them as highways to move from one area to the next.

Cover is considered as add on’s to structure or bottom contour! Such as stumps, log jams, bridge pilings or even old sunken boat. Cover can be natural or manmade elements and is either manually placed or has been deposited by Mother Nature.
cover for catfishing

In addition to knowing the difference between the two elements, understanding that catfish are attracted to certain covers and structures for some particular reasons. Determining which cover or structures are the most attractive to the fish for any given time of year will improve your catch rate.

In the late spring, when the spawn is occurring, a good piece of structure that is located in the deep channel is not going as good due to the fact that catfish have moved to shallower water. The same type of structure near the shore will be a better choice for catfish at this time.

In the warmer summer months, structures which are in deep water can be very good for catfish anglers.
In lakes that produce a thermocline in the summer or fall, look for structures that are above the thermocline of the water, the best structures will provide shade and cooler water that the catfish will seek.

In addition, the baitfish will also be attracted to these types of structure also.

During the fall and winter months, the fish will move to the deepest parts of the area, where the water fairly stable and there is plenty of oxygen. It’s known that deep water structures may be great spots during these times, but there is never a guarantee when it comes to these whiskered adversaries.

Underwater structure plays a big part in fishing for catfish, but it is not the only factor that needs to be considered.

Catfish can be unpredictable however you can make adjustments to increase your odds. Another important part in finding the underwater structures is the food factor. If the structure has no baitfish, the catfish will move somewhere else where the food source is present.
Many anglers will just assume that if an underwater structure is present, there should be catfish down there waiting for their baits, and this is not always true.

Another element to finding a great piece of structure is cover.

Cover is like a bonus when locating structure, if you can locate a piece of cover on some structure, you have again just increased your odds of having a successful day.
Cover on structure will attract baitfish as well as give the catfish an ambush point to feed.

Understanding the migration of the catfish throughout the seasons, as well as the food sources and their locations, will help you find structures that produce good catfish.

Understanding the movements or migrations of the catfish and the baitfish, will help you understand where they will be at any given time, giving you an advantage when it comes to choosing structures to fish.

It’s like a puzzle, all of the factors must be considered together, to help pinpoint structures that have all the elements a catfish is seeking for the time of year and the specific weather and temperatures.