Big catfish

The season for catching trophy class blue catfish is underway. Lake Tawakoni guide Tony Pennebaker (front) shows off a big one landed by Jeff Rice.

  The same cooling weather that triggers the fall migration of waterfowl and gets deer up and moving also kicks off one of the best big bites in freshwater.

  About this time each year when the water temperature begins to drop in areas lakes, big catfish go on the prowl. I and, most fishermen I’ve visited with, attribute this to the fact that the fish’s internal clock knows it’s about to get cold and their metabolism will slow a bit. It’s time for them to put on the feed sack and fatten up for the winter months ahead. Huge schools of threadfin and gizzard shad have dispersed widespread in our lakes and it’s a time of plenty of every fish species in fresh water.

  Just this past week, I was fishing off a deep water boat slip at an area lake and enjoyed solid action on a mixture of both channel and eater-size blue catfish. My buddy was fishing with live perch and landed a 23-pound blue. Several friends that have been drift fishing from boats reported catching trophy-class blue cats up to 40 pounds.

  It seems the colder the weather gets, the better the bite is for big blues. One of the best big fish bites occurs after a hard freeze, usually in late December, January and into February. The frigid waters cause shad to die by the thousands and catfish to gorge themselves on the abundant and easily accessible food source. Savvy anglers wait for the steady winds that often follow the passage of a cold front and fish shallow water where wind and wave action have concentrated the baitfish close to shore. This is a great time to fish from the bank.

  Targeting eater-size blue catfish in the 2-to-10-pound range requires smaller hooks and baits but when experienced trophy catters go for the big ones, they use bigger hooks. Usually circle hooks and big pieces of fresh shad or fillets from rough fish such as buffalo, carp or drum. Big blue catfish prefer fresh fish and the fresher, oiler and bloodier the better. A great many big blues are also landed by anglers rigging up for smaller fish, assuming their tackle is up to the task of holding a really big fish. A reel with a good drag system and stout rod with plenty of backbone is required for consistently catching the big ones. Many a trophy blue has been lost by anglers using tackle better designed for catching bass or crappie.

  When I’m fishing for blues during the cold weather months, I use a medium heavy rod and reel by Catfish Pro. The reel has a clicker that sounds off when a fish takes the bait, which allows me to detect bites from smaller catfish that I might not feel with the heavier rod. But, even 2-pound blues are very aggressive and detecting the bite is usually not a problem. Even the smaller eaters strike with a vengeance. A No. 5 razor-sharp Catfish Pro circle hook is small enough to land the eater-size fish but strong enough to hold the big ones. If targeting strictly big blues with big chunks of bait, it might be better to go with bigger circle hooks but I’ve caught some big ones using a No. 5. Good tackle is the key to catching big blues so don’t skimp when it comes time to your rod and reel choice.

  Circle hooks have become the choice of most blue catfish anglers. Most place the butt of the rod in rod holders, either on the boat or on a dock or if fishing from the bank, one of the holders that push down into the ground. I’ve found that more blues are lost by fishermen holding the rods than those that place the rod in holders. Circle hooks are designed to twist in the fish’s mouth. When the fish swims away, the hook twists and hooks the catfish in the corner of the mouth.

  Blue catfish tend to suspend in the water column more than channel catfish but most are landed with a few feet of bottom. Santee Cooper rigs work very well when drift fishing. These rigs are constructed with a small floater that attaches to the line a few inches above the hook/bait which keeps the bait suspended up from bottom. Just how far up depends upon the length of the leader from the swivel and barrel weight down to the hook. I like the Santee rigs even when fishing from the bank or a dock. Having the bait suspended above bottom makes it easier for the catfish to pick the bait up from below.

  I liken blue catfish to bird dogs because they too use their olfactory senses to find and track bait. Where a pointer casts into the wind to pick up the scent of a game bird, a catfish senses allows him to detect blood or food in the water from a great distance. It is common for blue catfish to follow a drifting bait for a great distance before finally deciding it’s time to eat.

  I know deer season is underway but if you can pull yourself out of the deer woods for a morning of catfishing, you might just catch the fish of a lifetime. The action is good now and only getting better!

  Plans have been made for fourth annual Outdoor Ron De Voux in Greenville on March 4. Mark your calendar and make plans to attend this fun-filled event on the grounds of Top Rail Cowboy Church in Greenville. This event features campfires, chuck wagon cooking, live music and a chance to celebrate the outdoors with Luke, Larry Weishuhn and a host of friends. For more information or to reserve a booth space, contact Pastor Charlie Nassar 903-217 3778 or email Luke at lukeclayton1950@gmail.com

 

  Check out Luke’s weekly Catfish Radio radio show at www.catfishradio.org and watch A Sportsmans Life at www.carbontv.com or YouTube.

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