Catfish can be caught all year long, even through the ice. Like other fish, catfish migrate with the seasons. Shallow in the spring then deep during the dog days of summer. Then back shallow for the fall before returning to the deep water during the winter. Understanding catfish habits is the best way to target them throughout the year and keep fresh catfish fillets ready for the fryer. Learning a few tips, like these, for fall catfishing will help you enjoy many days or nights of cool fall weather and as ole Hank says, catch catfish from dusk till dawn.
Locating Catfish in the Fall
- Creek channels
- Rip rap
- Large flats
- Shallow backwaters
Catfish travel from deep water to shallow during early spring. Like so many other species, catfish follows the food. As the baitfish begin migrating to the backs of coves in search of food and oxygen from the tributaries. Migration routes usually include creek channels. Fishing a creek channel in the fall is your best bet when looking for fall catfish. Anchoring along these creek channels is the best way to find out what section the catfish are hanging. Once you catch one you’re sure to catch more. Give each location at least 30 minutes to give your bait time to soak and get the smell out there in the water column. Catfish use creek channels to migrate to the shallow backwaters where the baitfish are migrating to in the fall.
As mentioned above, anchoring is a great way to fish creek channels for catfish in the fall, but there is another way to cover a little more water faster and that’s drifting. I can remember drift fishing for crappie all the time with my dad and late in the spring we would often catch as many catfish as we did crappie. It was a great way to cover water. Eventually I started rigging one rod for catfish while side drifting for crappie. The key to successfully drifting for fall catfish is slow drifting. You can use your trolling motor to do a controlled or assisted drift when the wind’s not right.
When the wind is right a drift sock, or a bucket with a few holes in the bottom, tied to the the side of the boat slows you down. This slow drift gives the catfish time to find your bait and eat it before zipping by. Drift too fast and you will not catch as many catfish. I like to drift super slow anytime I’m drifting for catfish. Water temperature dictates the maximum speed you should drift. However, a super slow drift works anytime of the year. You can’t drift too slow for catfish, in my opinion.
A good rig for anchor fishing for catfish in the fall or any other time is the egg sinker slip rig. This rig is as simple as they come. Slip an egg sinker or no roll sinker onto the main line then a couple beads followed by a swivel then a leader tied to the other end of the swivel. I like to use a Gamakatsu octopus circle hook to finish the rig. I like to use cut bait on most all my catfish rigs, but when anchored you can use a lot of other baits, like liver or stink baits.
Drift fishing for catfish calls for a different rig to fish effectively. There are several different catfish rigs that work with drifting. The most common I would say is the Santee Cooper rig. This rig is easy to tie and will help keep your bait off the bottom. Keeping your bait off the bottom also helps reduce hang-ups as you drift through various cover for fall catfish. The items you will need for the Santee Cooper Rig is listed here.
To create the Santee Cooper rig thread your sinker slider onto the main line followed by a bead. Tie the barrel swivel to the main line. The bead will help protect the knot as the sinker slides up and down the line. Tie a leader to the other end of the barrel swivel. You can use the same line as your main line to make the leader or use a little heavier line.
Some catfish anglers use a heavier line as the leader. The heavier leader can withstand more abuse than the lighter main line. The lighter main line helps you to cast further. That is the reason behind the difference. Next slide the peg bobber onto the leader several inches above the end of the leader. Make sure your leader is at least 18 inches long. This will make room for the bobber. The bobber is used to keep your bait off the bottom as you drift. Now tie the hook to the end of the leader, attach the sinker and peg the bobber and you’re ready to fish. The Santee Cooper rig is best used when dragging your bait as you drift. The Santee Cooper becomes a vertical drifting rig when you remove the bobber. Then you can drift vertically if you want.
Another great place to find catfish in the fall is along rip rap. Rip rap is chunk rocks that are used to prevent erosion along the shores of lakes and rivers. Many lakes and rivers use rip rap along their shores for this reason. Lake homes, marinas, bridges and dams all use rip rap and they are all great places to find catfish in the fall. Rip rap offers hard bottom and hiding places for many types of food sources for catfish.
Catfish will congregate around rip rap anytime they are migrating in or out of areas. Minnows, bluegill and shad all live among the rocks. These rocks are often scattered several feet out from the shoreline. Another great forage for catfish that live in the rip rap in most bodies of water is the crawdad. Catfish will gorge on crawdads in the spring then again in the fall and can be great bait when catfishing in the fall.
The best catfish rig for fishing rip rap is just a hook and your choice of bait. Using only a hook will keep your line from hanging in the rocks. In rip rap it’s not just the hook you have to worry about getting hung, but also the sinker. The sinker will often get hung more than the hook when fishing in rip rap. The hook will wedge and hang-up in the rocks and fray your line from the sinker pulling your line into the rocks. Even with chicken livers I only use a hook at that’s any time I am fishing any water shallower than say 10 feet deep. Besides, at least for channel catfish, the lack of weight when they pick up the bait will increase your hook ups. Channel catfish, I have found are extremely sensitive to any pressure they feel on the bait.
A large flat leading into the back of coves off the main lake can be a great place to search for catfish in the fall. This is especially true when the lake is turning over. The term, turning over, is used to describe a body of water cooling on the surface. The warmer water beneath rises to replace the surface water with warmer water. This depletes oxygen throughout the water column and fish will scatter seeking more comfortable water to be in. This is when large flats can be deadly for fall catfishing.
The scattered catfish are swimming around searching for better water and the best way to target them is by drifting these flats. Whether you use the wind to drift or just ease along with your trolling motor the key is keep moving. The catfish are all over the area and by moving you stand a better chance of running into a few fish than sitting still. Be sure to fish a flat that has some fish showing on the fish finder. You won’t know if they are catfish but usually if fish are present there is a good reason and catfish will be around too.
Shallow Backwater Fall Catfishing
Towards the end of fall, when the leaves have all turned and begun to fall, shad and other baitfish congregate in the backs of bays seeking food. There are bass and crappie chasing these baitfish along with catfish. Catfish prowl throughout these shallow bays gorging on dead, dying and live bait fish. Catfish are very aggressive, like many other fish during late autumn, in seeking nutrition. Winter is closing in and they all need the fat to get them through it. Catfish are no different. If flathead catfishing is your thing then never overlook the fall.
Targeting flathead catfish in the fall in these shallow bays can be productive and many serious catfish anglers know that the catfish can be concentrated in these shallow bays in the fall. These flatheads will devour any struggling bait fish that gets near them. Live bluegills or shad, if you can keep them alive, work great. It might be surprising where you might find an old flathead roaming during the fall but focus on logs, log jams and docks to increase your odds.