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RESERVOIR FISHING FOR CHANNEL CATFISH
RESERVOIR (HOOVER) FISHING FOR CHANNEL CATFISH
Jim Horan 7/99 Copyright © All Rights Reserved. Updated 2013
On more than one occasion we've been asked, "why fish for Catfish?" There should be a really good single answer to such a question. We could offer several. Many would say, they taste so good. How about, they fight like crazy? Or maybe, they're so powerful in both their bite and after the hook up? Of course there's the obvious, they're the best shot at a big fish over 10 lb.. Here's a couple you may not have thought of. They're one of the most beautiful, well proportioned, intelligent fish in the lake. And another not so obvious reason. When Catfishing, one can relax and enjoy the stillness of the mornings/evenings and the ambiance of the environment. It's not a frantic, stressful activity while awaiting the bite. During the time spent Catfishing, one can enjoy the collegiality of a good friend and converse about a number of different thoughts.
What we're going to attempt to do in this piece is cover the basic information about what a Channel Catfish is and about what techniques are our favorite to catch these beauties. While we know almost everyone can say they have caught a Channel Catfish, this article is intended to assist those that would intentionally go out to catch Channel Cats specifically, and not by accident. This information pertains mainly to catching them in reservoirs and in particular, Hoover Reservoir. This is also directed at the person wanting to catch 8 -
I. WHAT MAKES CHANNEL CATFISH SPECIAL
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) are found throughout the U.S. and parts of Canada. The physiology of the Catfish is what makes it most interesting. While it is not our intention to present a scientific paper (that has already been done many times), we will cover some of the more salient features that allow us to be better able to understand the species. It has 4 pair of barbels (whiskers) around the mouth that are specialized sensors, useful in seeking out and identifying food. In addition they possess a highly refined set of sensory organs along their lateral line. Of course they have nareal openings that also act as a sensory receptor. You'll also notice that the eyes are not particularly large for their body size. These features tell us that it's likely this fish can exist in murky waters and can rely on the greater use of senses other than sight to succeed. In plain English this fish hunts it's food by smell and taste as opposed to simple visual pursuit. Hence we find that baits which stimulate these senses are more productive. These sensory organs also are able to detect sound and vibration, which will explain how sometimes artificial baits will be attack.
They posses a wide frontal centered mouth and a very powerful, elongated scaleless body, with a powerful thick peduncle preceding the tail. This tells us they can eat large objects, and in fact are an opportunistic predator that can pursue its prey in a very fast manner. Looking into the mouth of this fish reveals numerous small teeth in the frontal portion of the jaws. These are quite small and when matched up with a powerful set of jaw muscles, indicate that Catfish can grasp their food to crush it before swallowing. They do not have large incisors that tear, but their teeth should still be regarded as a formidable source of discomfort for one to have one's finger or thumb caught between the jaws of a larger specimen. The mouth also should be regarded as being exceptionally sensitive. This last feature is of vital importance in determining the proper tackle to fish with.
II. MYTHS ABOUT CHANNEL CATFISH
Before we go further we felt compelled to dispel some of the many myths about Catfish. Ever hear about the "divers went down to survey the dam and came out scared due to the enormous size of the Catfish"? That's called an "Urban legend" and has been retold in every community in the U.S. that has a dam nearby. Channel Cats simply do not get that big. The world record is around 50 lb., and the Ohio record is around 30 lb.. There are other species of Catfish that exceed 100 pounds and some European Wels Cats may exceed many hundreds of pounds.
The myth prevails that Channel Cats are scum sucking bottom feeders. The truth is that they will feed where ever the food is and at times are most selective about what they consume. As we will later divulge, they have a varied and seasonal diet. Ever seen large Channel Cats appearing on the surface in a relatively calm lake doing a "porpoise act" as they pursue Shad? That's quite an impressive sight.
We've heard the myth that the "whiskers" will sting you. Nonsense. Those whiskers are soft tissue. What will sting you are the stiff pectoral barbs just below the gills, and the powerful erictile spine of the dorsal. Smaller Catfish (squealers) are more capable of inflicting injuries with these weapons than larger Catfish as they thrash around much more erratically when brought from the water. While these barbs do contain small amounts of toxin, one might compare a puncture similar to a bee sting. However, specific allergies to bee stings have proven fatal on very rare occasions. Generally washing such wounds out with soap and water and applying a small amount of antiseptic salve alleviates most problems.
Learning to grip the smaller fish with the hand curled around the fish and the hard dorsal being held between the thumb and fore finger in a confident manner is desirable. Larger fish require 2 hands around the fish, just behind the pectoral barbs. Another tactic is to enclose ones hand in a thick towel and then just "lip" it by grasping the lower jaw in a very firm grip. For those just learning this skill, be prepared for a few very painful bites and extreme pressure on the thumb. If one should ever find ones unprotected thumb clamped in a large Cat's mouth, it would be best to remember NOT to try and extract it by jerking away. The flesh removed from your thumb could take awhile to grow back. Simply insert an object like a pair of Long Nosed Pliers into the side of the fish's mouth and gently open jaws and extract a really flat thumb.
A constant myth we've heard about Catfish at Hoover is that there are Blue Catfish. Not so, according to ODNR. Blue Cats, while they might occur from time to time in the Ohio River, would probably not thrive in the colder climates at Hoover in Winter. This myth likely comes from the metamorphous that occurs in the maturation of the Channel Cat. Young Cats have a "greenish" color with many black spots, hence the name "punctatus". Also they have a sharply forked tail. As they grow, their color darkens, their mouths widen, and their tails lose some of their pointedness, though remain deeply forked. Actually when Channel Catfish have entertained a high amount of Crayfish in their diet, which contain Carotene, they can be almost jet black in color. Hence, we assume these changes account for much of the myth. When in doubt, look at the anal fin. On a Channel Cat the anal fin is curved and has 24-
There are probably many other myths pertaining to Catfish, as this species, while one of the most popular sport fishes in the U.S., is also one of the most UNDER studied. Recent attempts by In-
III. FEEDING HABITS AND SEASONAL APPROACHES
It is not our intent to include every "bait" known to man in this discussion. We will simply list a great variety that we know others may use with some success. These include Liver, Hot Dogs, Cheese, Dip Baits, Sponge Baits, Chicken Blood, Lava Soap, Doughbait, Marshmallows, Clams, Dead Chubs, Catalpa Worms, Leeches, etc. etc. etc.. Obviously, many of these appeal to the compelling sense of smell possessed by the Cats. It should be also noted that the "attractants" sold in bait shops are not without merit.
At Hoover we are fortunate to have a wonderful forage fish base of Shad. This accounts for the richness of supply and the better size of many species of sport fish, Channel Catfish being no exception. It is without a doubt its' #1 food source. In addition Channel Cats feed on other small fish, i.e.: Minnows, Suckers, Crappies, Blue Gill, and Perch, to list but a few. Further items included in their natural diet include Leeches, Nightcrawlers, Crawfish and Carp Eggs. Carp Eggs? Yes indeed. More on this later.
Our year begins with the "ice out" at Hoover, generally early March. At this time the Cats are starting to stir and are setting out to fill up in a hurry on what I call "road kill". That would be dead Shad that did not survive the thermal shock of the thaw. Normally the first area to find this feeding activity is in the North section of the lake, around the convergence of the 2 creeks. At this time, normally in daylight hours, we find using cut strips of Shad to work just fine. It should be noted that the water temperatures are quite cold and therefore the fish are moving at a much slower pace. Letting them run a bit before setting hook rewards patience. Also one can discern an unquestionably less capable fight from the fish. Powerful, yes. Fast runs, no. We find these fish move around in the general area and move in and out of specific areas during the day. This activity likely occurs on down the lake as water temperatures rise. The North end, being the shallowest section of the lake, warms first.
The next really active time we have found for pursuing larger Cats is in May, as the water temperature heads towards 60 degrees. At this time a real phenomena takes place. If you're fishing around shoreline Willows, in 3 -
During this period we have been successful using a bobber, placed right next to Willows. Baits suspended 2 -
Another specialized feed that Cats go on is for searching for Crawfish. This generally occurs in June, depending on 2 happenings. The lake must be in a warming stage and the water should have started to recede from its Spring high, thus pulling the Craws down as water drops. We then go to riprap around bridges in early mornings and use Softcraws or Shrimp suspended 4 -
We digress a moment here to talk about Shrimp. Why Shrimp? It's not found roaming around Hoover. Hey…remember our discussion in the beginning about what a Catfish is about? He's about smell, and Shrimp stinks! What kind of Shrimp? We like the Green (in the shell with tails) Shrimp, about a 35-
The next three areas we'll discuss occur after we've had our fishing on riprap. These areas are where we'll usually fish the remainder of June, July, August and September.
There are the flats. We fish these normally from early morning throughout the day into the evenings until the water warms an excessive amount and lower oxygen levels cause the bigger fish to seek more favorable conditions. This high heating also generally equates with a lowering of the water levels to 2 -
We've found that moving around a general area and fishing 20-
The next area that we explore is along the Eastern Shore in both Middle section and South section of the lake. Early mornings and late evenings we've found fish come up on the shoreline in 6 -
We've been asked if we ever fish deep for bigger Cats. Sure, sometimes. Right off drop-
It should be noted here that in no way are these areas we mentioned to be considered the only good areas. Hoover is too big for that. We've just listed a few we like and one can take the pattern and apply it to other areas of the lake that will produce every bit as well. In all honesty we must confess that we prefer the North end and the solitude it sometimes offers to the most actively boated areas of the Mid and South ends. Maybe we're just getting into our "Curmudgeonhood".
One last specialized fishing period comes in late Fall. Prior to first hard freeze, we find a very interesting occurrence. On mud flats, in 2 -
IV. CAST NETTING FOR BAIT
As mentioned earlier, Shad represents the main forage for Catfish at Hoover. Last year, late in the year, we added the use of a Cast Net. This offered a whole new fishing experience with both rewards and challenges. In Ohio a Cast Net must be 10' diameter (5' radius) or less and only forage fish may be kept for use as bait. The rewards are obvious, in acquiring a fresh, lively and decent size bait at a most economical cost. For the first time we were able to actually hook up a live 8-
Now to the challenges. Learning to throw the Cast Net is challenge #1. Fortunately, we had learned a technique (there is more than 1 technique) years ago while in Florida. Our technique, and note we're right-
Another challenge will confront you. Now you have learned HOW to throw it, so you'll next need to find out WHERE to throw it for best possible results. In the early part of the year when the reservoir is full and water temperatures have hit the 60's, we find Shad in shallow (4-
One last note. When Cast Netting, be well aware you will net other species of fish from time to time. Please use care to return these unharmed to the lake. It's not only the smart thing to do, it's the law!
V. TECHNIQUES AND TACKLE
So far we've discussed what the Cats are about and where they're likely to be. Now comes the critical area of "how" to catch them. We've used a variety of techniques over the years, starting with "tight lining" them when we were small boy back in Iowa in the 40's. That's how everyone did it. Of course, as we look back, we don't ever seem to recall having Dad show us how to get a Cat larger than 18". Mom must have really loved Dad as she always said, "Bring me home some of those smaller ones as they taste best." It took me years to appreciate the love in that message, 'cause that's the only size we ever caught.
Today through vastly improved technology we have some extraordinary tools at our disposal. Before we get into the specifics of the tackle, please recall some of the physiology of the Cats we talked about back at the beginning. Remember we talked about their intelligence and also their sensitive mouth. Therein lie the keys to successfully fishing for bigger Cats. They didn't get old and big by being dumb and not paying attention to the tools that Nature provided them.
The most importance element in presenting the bait to the Cat is to not identify it as something foreign. In all the years we've fished with others, we've constantly out caught those that didn't understand the importance of terminal tackle. We've had folks come aboard with snap swivels, wire leaders, clamp on sinkers. All the stuff you don't want. Keep it simple. Remember that sensitive mouth. This fish got old by being careful and if it doesn't feel right, he'll drop it in a flash. We've found you've got to let 'em run and get the bait inside the mouth before you can set the hook. And they won't run if it doesn't feel right. Oh sure, you could happen upon a great big Cat on a frenzy feed and maybe you'll get lucky with piano wire line and a sash weight for a sinker. But time and time again, we've found the less tension you have on the line the more likely the big ones will run with it.
Our basic bottom fishing setup is a 3/8 -
Tension? Yeah, I forgot to mention that the other end of the line is attached to a Shimano Baitrunner reel. This is beyond a doubt the most important piece of tackle we use. It has a patented feature that lets one keep the bail closed but allows the line to feed out continuously by freeing the spool with a lever on the back of the reel. This is in additional to the conventional fighting drag that all reels have. We don't understand why Shimano doesn't market this reel especially to Catfishermen. We've been using older models of the Baitrunner model 250 for almost 14 years. The newer models have improved aluminum spools. We acquired a model 3500 and find it great for the task of Catfishing. Another feature is the clicking sound when a Cat begins a run. This is most valuable when fishing early morning or late night. The tension can be adjusted on the Baitrunner to allow for free swimming live bait. However, when using dead baits, we set the tension to the least allowable. In addition we always make sure that the pole is setting in the boat with an eyelet resting on a railing while we await the bite. Again we do this to make sure that no unnecessary tension is put on the line and the Catfish can run feeling no resistance. At a point during the run, we flip the Baitrunner drag off and allow the Cat to take out all slack. When the pressure of the run pulls the pole tip down, we simply bring the pole back in a sweeping motion and not a jerk, so that the Circle Hook may engage itself in the lip or side of jaw of the fish. If one does not use this particular reel, one should arrange the reel being used to either be set with bail open or if it's a bait caster type, release all tension on the drag. Of course to set a fish in this manner, one must make allowances to reset the drag before the hook is set. There are several good bait caster reels on the market that have built in "clickers" and spool releases. The pole we prefer is an 8' MH fiber glass.
We have found over a period of time that due to the sensitive receptors of Channel Cats, the further we fish away from the boat, the better the catching. This possibly could be as simple an explanation as having them driven off by the lapping of waves against the pontoons.
Another tactic that we have used in helping us locate Cats from time to time is jugging. We take 1/2-
Lastly, we have been known to troll for Cats. Troll? With artificial baits? You bet. When the Cats are being elusive there are times that trolling a 4 " Shad Rap (Perch color), tipped with a Nightcrawler has been productive. The largest Catfish we've heard caught in past couple years at Hoover was 36 " and was caught on a White Spinner bait by a Bass fisherman. Many are the trolling Walleye/Saugeye fishermen who have caught big Cats while trolling Erie Dearys, Worm Harnesses and the like. Recall we said this specie was a predator and had a keen sense of sound and vibration, as well as smell. Also drifting for Cats with long lines and weightless baits (Shad, Shrimp) is becoming popular.
Unfortunately today the Channel Catfish does not receive the respect it is due. Nor does it receive the protection it deserves. This is a fine eating fish, no question. However with no restrictions placed on daily catches it's becoming harder and harder to find larger specimens. We understand that the State of Ohio is considering placing some restrictions in the future on Catfish. This will be a good thing as it could help insure there will be some for us tomorrow. Until restrictions are studied and put in place we are urging everyone to only keep a few of the smaller (under 21") for table fare. Those big Channel Cats need to be put back safely and carefully in the lake so that everyone might have a chance at experiencing the thrill and fight that these beauties can offer. A large 15 lb.-
In conclusion, catching Catfish is fun. Whether you go out to just "fish" for anything and come up with a Cat or whether you intentionally set forth to go after larger catfish on a regular basis, it's fun. We hope some of the information provided herein will enable you to enjoy the sport a bit more. We only ask for everyone to be responsible as stewards of this valuable resource and make sure that future generations of Catfish anglers have the opportunity to enjoy this form of recreation.
For those wishing to read further on the topic of Catfishing, we would encourage you to acquire a copy of "Fishing For Catfish", Keith Sutton, 1998, Creative Publishing International. (ISBN 0-
VII. CATFISH HUMOR
Give a man a Catfish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to Catfish and you get rid of him on weekends. …. (My Wife)
Q: How to ID a good Catfisherman?
A: By his/her flat thumbs.
Q: How to conclude a person is a good Cat angler?
A: If he/she licks fingers after baiting hook.
Q: Why is Catfisherman like a Ghost Buster?
A: They've both been slimed.
Q: How to determine a good Catfisherman?
A: If they smell worse than their bait!
Q: How to tell a Catfisherman?
A: Are you kidding? You can always tell a Catfisherman, but you can't tell him much!