Catfishing Tips And Tactics

Catch Catfish Before the Spawn
Catch Catfish Before the Spawn Photo by Fishing the Fifty

Fishing Tips To Catch More Catfish

Catch Catfish Before the Spawn

Early spring is a time when the outdoors comes to life and most anglers begin to prepare crappie poles and sharpen jigs for some jigging or spider rigging. This is a great time for cruising crappies but it can be a good time to catch catfish before they spawn as old man winter loses ground. It wasn’t long after moving to Indiana that I found that the lakes are full of catfish. I was amazed at the number of catfish and quickly began targeting them often. I learned that a great time to pursue these big cats was during early spring. Here are a few tips for how to catch more catfish.

The important thing with early spring catfishing is water temperature. Finding warmer water on any lake will be the focus during early spring and just a few degrees can make the difference.  Water 1 to 5 feet deep, with a mud bottom, is a great place to look as the sun is drawn to the dark mud bottom causing the water to warm quicker in these areas. The warmer water stimulates the cold-blooded cats causing them to feed more aggressively but what brings these fish to these shallow coves is food!

In the winter there is a natural die-off of fish that occurs and if your lake has shad then the amount of food floating below the surface of the lake can be extraordinary. This die-off provides catfish with a much needed food source before time to spawn. Instinct will prevail and the catfish will find these wind swept coves with lots of dead shad from the winter kill and take advantage of this natural occurrence.

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Tips For How To Catch Catfish in the Wind

Wind to an angler can be a nuisance or a great ally. In the case of early spring and catching catfish, wind is your ally. Wind mixes the water helping to warm these shallow coves while at the same time pushing dead shad into these coves. The important thing is to find the combination of a large shallow cove and a wind that blows directly into that cove. If the wind is not blowing directly into the cove then at least locate the bank being lapped with the wind blown water and start there.

Catfish Baits and Rigs

The choice of bait seems obvious. Cut shad is the way to go for this time of year but try mixing it up a little. Most of the fish will focus on dead shad so you definitely want a rig with cut shad. But, you should rig a pole or two with something different just in case. Sometimes the different baits will outperform the shad but always have cut shad in the boat. It works best most of the time. Some other baits I use is shrimp, and where legal, fresh bluegill fillets and heads.

Some will argue that the smellier the bait the better. Fresh bait has always worked well for me and seems to attract the larger fish. I keep the stinky stuff out of my boat and stick to fresh or fresh frozen. I have caught fish on the rotten stuff but I seemed to waste a lot of time with smaller fish. Since going strictly fresh the bite action has slowed but the hook-up action on bigger fish has increased as I waste little time worrying with those little fish and more time fighting nice size catfish to the boat which brings us to the tackle you want to use to catch these catfish.

The Rod and Reel

You want to start with a medium-heavy rod as big catfish can put up a great fight.  I set all my rigs to free spool. If I miss a bite he can keep running until I get to the rod. If I see the bite I set the hook immediately.  A lot of anglers like to tight line their rigs, but it seems as though this results in dropped bites when they feel the rod, leaving no time to set the hook. 

One stick is all it takes. A common mistake that I used to make was to stick the bait numerous times and cover the entire hook with the bait for fear the fish might feel the hook and spook. I now leave the hook point uncovered and stick the bait only once so that when the fish inhales it the point is exposed and even if it decides to spit it out there is a better chance for a hook up. This may seem trivial but really does make a difference in the number of hook-ups you will have.

Tips For How To Catch Catfish And Catfish Rigging

Terminal tackle should consist of a solid hook and a monofilament leader of 20 to 30-pound test. Attach a barrel swivel between the leader and main line. On the main line, above the swivel, should be a sinker swivel. Then a single bead to protect the knot. These sliders are inexpensive and are much less abrasive to your line. They allow you to easily change sinker size as conditions dictate. The sinker’s ability to slide on the main line is very important. Catfish are very sensitive to pressure. If they feel any resistance at all they will drop the bait.

I choose mono for my leader for its ability to withstand the abrasion of heavy brush better than braid. My main line is a 50 to 60-pound braid. This allows more line on a more compact reel which I like to use.  I set the hook hard on these big cats so I choose the octopus over the circle hook. Quick hook sets are important to get big cats away from cover that they are sure to head for. This is the reason I use a compact rod and reel, to have more control of the fight. 

Catfish Hook Setup

There are a lot of hook styles out there for catfishing. Here are a few Tips For How To Catch Catfish and things to consider when choosing a hook to catch catfish.

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The size of your catfish hook should match the size of the catfish you are pursuing. If you are fishing for small channel catfish then a small hook will do. If you are chasing giant blue cats or flathead catfish then you need a bigger hook. Yes, a small hook will catch big fish, but most catfish anglers use big tackle when fishing for big catfish. Heavy rods and heavy line call for heavy hooks. A small hook usually are not near as strong as larger hooks. Large hooks have a thicker shank that can withstand the force needed to fight a big and strong catfish.

Sharp hooks are important for any species but especially for catfish. Catfish have extremely tough mouths and a sharp hook is needed to penetrate it. Always start with a quality hook that is sharp out of the pack. Check your hook point often to be sure it is sharp. Use a quality hook sharpener to maintain a sharp hook point on your catfish hooks for greater hookups.

As mentioned above your catfish hook needs to be strong. Quality hooks are tested for strength and have a certain amount of flex. You don’t want a lot of flex in your catfish hooks, but a little flex will keep the hook from breaking under pressure like low-quality hooks.

There are many styles of hooks for catfishing. The most popular is probably the circle hook, the octopus, and the octopus circle hook. There are many other styles, but these have become the go-to hooks for catfishing. I like the octopus circle hook myself. It is an excellent hook for catfishing and strong enough to fight a giant catfish.

Tips For How To Catch Catfish In The Summer

Knowing how to catch catfish in the summer is what so many catfish anglers want to learn. When the spawn is over catfish, like a lot of the other species, will seek deeper water. This is to escape the rising temperatures in the shallows. Keep this in mind when targeting catfish in the summer. If you fish during the day you will find catfish in deep holes and you will catch more catfish in deep water for sure. Now when I say deep water I’m not saying the deepest hole in the lake you fish I’m just saying that deeper water will hold more catfish in the summer. This could be 15 foot in your lake or maybe 30 feet deep it just depends on the lake or the area of the lake that you are fishing.

One thing to keep in mind when learning how to catch catfish in the summer is that catfish will move up shallow to feed at night. So if you prefer to beat the heat when catfishing by fishing at night then shallow bays can be a great place to fish. The one thing I have noticed is that the wave of catfish choose when to move shallow so you could be soaking your bait for awhile waiting for them to move up. Night fishing for catfish in the summer in shallow water usually include a camper nearby. I love a night of camping while I fish for these catfish.

One way I love to catch catfish in the summer is with a small Jon boat with a blacklight and some chicken livers. Anchoring alongside the bank at night and casting to the bank with a chicken liver a hook and fluorescent line and no weight. The blacklight allows you to easily see a bite with the glowing fluorescent line. Channel catfish are especially sensitive to pressure. If they feel too much pressure they will drop the bait. This is exaggerated in shallow water so by not using any weight the catfish will not feel any pressure and will swallow the bait. Leave a nice bow of slack line and when the catfish runs with the bait you will have time to grab the rod and set the hook.

This is also a great way to catch flathead catfish in the summer too. I normally will use a large bobber and a live bluegill on one of my rods to try and catch any big flathead that might be cruising the shoreline. Check out this great way to keep your chicken livers on the hook and how to keep them fresh and handy when the bite gets crazy.


About Ken McBroom 215 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.

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