Who says you need to fish slow and stinky for catfish? In the wild, these barbel-bearing beasts chase live prey as often as any other freshwater predator. And as anglers are increasingly discovering, catfish can be caught with a whole array of active methods previously ascribed to their more glamorous aquatic brethren.
Driven by broad powerful tails, forceful frames and muscular mandibles, the catfish clan—channels, blues and flatheads—is entirely capable of kicking bass and waylaying walleyes in any underwater arena. Believe it, catfish can often be caught in tremendous number and size by employing the following active approaches.
Hard minnow-immitating baits will often call cats in for the strike. Keeping a healthy assortment on hand will lead to more angry-kitty hook upst.
Trolling Up Tons
Born and bred trolling for walleyes on Dakota reservoirs and the Great Lakes, Capt. Marlin Ormseth moved to Santee-Cooper, South Carolina years ago where he became an instant cat convert. But he wondered why big lake catfish should be any different than their marble-eyed counterparts. Turns out, they weren’t.
Today, he endlessly trolls across Santee’s watery expanse, pulling planer boards, spinner blades and other eccentric catfish concoctions.
His hottest tactic of the past season is something he calls a surface scent rig. He adorns a leader of 50-pound test mono with a triple-wing buzzbait blade ahead of a cylindrical foam float and a hollow plastic scent chamber device. Trailing a foot behind is a snelled 1/0 to 3/0 Rippin Lips circle hook and a small fillet of shad, sunfish or herring.
The scent chamber is a hollow plastic bobber drilled with small holes, filled with a cotton ball and injected with Scent Trail—a potent scent and flavor attractant made for catfish. Trolling between .4 and 1.0 mph with his Minn Kota, the buzz-blade churns the surface a foot behind a planer board, while the Scent Trail gradually releases a steady stream of chum.
Surface explosions are awesome, and to date, he has boated topwater flatheads up to 50-pounds, blues over 70 and voluminous numbers of channel cats.
Ormseth’s topwater rig fills the water with scent and forces big catfish of all species to eat on top. It’s an exciting and very overlooked method for catching catfish.
Think trolling only works on major catfish factories? Think again. Decades ago, when Michigan walleye pro Mark Martin first caught heavyweight flathead catfish on crankbaits, it was a serious surprise.
Countless cats later, Martin no longer bats an eye. At times, he says, while nighttime trolling with #13 Original Rapala Minnows in lakes Muskegon, Manistee and White, as well as the Grand and Saginaw rivers, flatheads can be so aggressive that they literally drive walleye anglers off the water.
On average, his flatheads run 20 to 25 pounds, with plenty over 40. “You’ll catch numbers of flatheads all summer,” he continues. “But we definitely get our biggest fish from late August through early October.”
Besides Rapala Minnows, the key to catching cats, he reports, is to locate substantial log piles near breaklines. In waterways attached to the Great Lakes, these log piles are plentiful, thanks to lumber barons who operated during the late 1800s. Flatheads that live in the timber, he says, love to venture out to snap jaws over a well-placed crank.
Lest you think Martin’s Great Lakes flatheads are a fluke, consider that countless anglers casting crankbaits for other species regularly tangle with big cats.
While prefishing a 2009 B.A.S.S. tournament on Wheeler Reservoir, Alabama, pro angler Stephen Browning boated an enormous 51-inch flathead, casting a Rapala DT-10 at the end of a creek arm.
Nebraska’s Daryl Bauer shore-casts Nebraska reservoirs with crankbaits, regularly landing flatheads from 20 to 50 pounds. His favorite lures? Number 10 Husky Jerks, #9 Shallow Shad Raps, Smithwick Rogues, and even Berkley Power Swim Shads rigged on ½-ounce jigheads.
Who says you need to fish slow and stinky for catfish? In the wild, these barbel-bearing beasts chase live prey as often as any other freshwater predator.
Fake ‘Em Out
Going against the grain of traditional fish-catching presentations often yield anglers with tremendous results. It’s no surprise that catfish rely on their predatory instincts to hunt and chase their food. Further, it’s only natural that savvy anglers understand this and work more artificial presentations into their cat arsenal.
Watch this interesting video of a few crazy anglers who are also on the artificial presentation for catfish. There are a lot of smoking reel drags here, not for the ultra-lite toting feint of heart!