Fishing for channel catfish is quite popular in several states. It’s actually the official fish for Kansas, Tennessee, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.
Along with bluegill and crappie, channel cats are not very difficult to catch, which makes them a great choice for anyone who wants to introduce their children to fishing. On top of that, fishing for channel catfish does not require expensive tackle and lures. You can actually catch specimens up to 10 pounds with ease, using the most inexpensive tackle.
Now, if you haven’t had the chance to catch channel cats before, here are a few things to know regarding their fishing, tackle and baits.
Channel Catfish – Habitat and Habits
Southern Canada, and nothern / eastern United States, as well as certain rivers and lakes in northern Mexico, comprise the highest concentration of channel catfish in North America. They’ve been also introduced in certain waters in Europe, and can also be found in Malaysia and Indonesia. They prefer a variety of habitats, and can be found in both large and small rivers, natural lakes and ponds, and water reservoires. They’re bottom feeders, and prefer bottoms with muddy composition, but also seek places with structure, weeds, snags and log jams, where they can hide and rest.
Although channel catfish can be caught during daytime, they’re actually nocturnal. In other words, if you’re looking for big ones, it will be more difficult to catch them during day, as they won’t bother coming out of their hideouts, no matter how smelly and appetizing your bait is. On the other hand, smaller catfish (and the ones that are also better choices for the frying pan), up to 6-8 pounds, can easily be caught during daytime, as they spend more energy and time looking for food. So, if they pick up a scent that seems appealing, they will seek for the source, and honor you with their bite.
One of the most important things to know about channel catfish is that they have keen senses of taste and smell. Their nostrils are endowed with a much higher concentration of olfactory receptors than other fish, and when it comes to taste buds, they have many distributed over the whole surface of their body, with higher concentrations on their barbels. They are extremely receptive to certain amino acids released by their food, that’s why it’s best to fish for them with cut bait, and stink baits.
When it comes to their feeding habits, there are also a few important aspects to know about channel cats. In early spring and up to April, their main diet consist of dead fish and other aquatic life forms that haven’t made it through the winter. Sometimes you can actually catch channel fish with their bellies stuffed with decomposing shads and fish parts. Once life re-takes its course, from spring to late autumn, their diet diversifies and they will take basically anything from worms and larvae, to live fish.
Fishing Methods for Channel Catfish
The most used and most effective fishing method for catfish, is still fishing with rod-and-reel, from the shore or boat, using medium or medium-heavy tackle, depending on the size of the targetted fish. Wade fishing or fishing with a bobber and smaller weight can also be very entertaining.
Trotlines and bank lines are also popular methods for catching channel cats. Other methods consist of various traps, such as “slat traps”, and even catching them with bare hands. “Noodling” is actually a method quite popular in the southern part of the U.S.
Baits for Channel Catfish
Channel catfish are omnivorous, and can be caught with many different baits. But the most used and most effective bait is cut bait, which can include strips of various fish, small fish cut in half, strips of meat or bacon, pieces of liver and other animal organs. Enriching your cut bait with some dip stink bait can considerably increase its effectiveness. Also, you can use various ready-made for the hook stink baits available in bait and tackle shops, or you can prepare your own at home. Many catfish anglers have their own recipes for stink baits, but most of them use canned cheese, meat or fish, decomposing meat of any kind, blood, chicken livers or intestines etc.
Of course, channel cats can be caught with other baits, such as maggots, worms, nightcrawlers, leeches, eels, crickets etc.
Tackle for Channel Catfish
Rods. The best choices in terms of rods for channel cats are medium, or medium-heavy action rods, within 6-8′ range. If you’re targetting smaller cats, a medium-light rod will also do just fine. Some of the best quality/price ratio rods to go with, are Ugly Stiks, such as the Ugly Stik Bigwater Cast 7′ Medium Heavy, or the Ugly Stik Tiger Elite Spinning 6’9″ Medium. Catfish Sumo Rods are also a great choice.
Reels. Some of the best baitcasters to pair with a cat rod similar to the ones mentioned above, would be an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6500, or a PENN Senator 1152.
If you prefer spinning reels, you can’t go wrong with a KastKing Megatron 6000 or Tempo Persist 6000 for smaller or medium fish, or a Shimano Baitrunner OC 8000 for heavier fish.
Line. If you don’t target prize-size catfish, the best line to go with is monofilament between 20-30lb. pound test. In case you choose a spot with snaggy bottom and plenty of submerged logs, braided line may be more indicated. Evidently, heavier catfish require heavier line, 60 or even 80 mono. In this case though, make sure you choose a heavier reel, with a bigger spool, and of course, a medium-heavy rod, with a decent backbone.
Rigs. The Carolina Rig, the 3-Way Swivel Rig, the Bait-Walker Rig or the Santee Rig, are some of the most used rigs for channel catfish. Use 40-50lb. test mono for your terminal tackle.
Hooks. For smaller cats, No 2 or No. 1 hooks are the most appropriate choice. If going for bigger catfish, requiring bigger baits such as bluegills, you might have 5/0 – 6/0 hooks. Anyway, depending on the baits you’re going to use, it’s a good idea to have various types of hooks in your tacklebox, including, O’Shaugnessy, Round Bend, Kahle, and Circle hooks.