Catching Channel Cats

Chum your intended fishing site for a day or two, before you actually go fishing, to get the fish’s appetites running on high. If you can’t do that., at least, chum just before, and during your outing, by tossing the mixture out into the fishing spot. Form balls out of the chum and throw them, or use a scoop or a large spoon. Putting small stones into the centre of the chum balls will make them sink faster, which may improve your accuracy, in areas with a high current. Sink your chum over the spot where your bait will be, by throwing the chum upstream of your fishing spot, so that it washes back downstream over your spot with the current. While you’re fishing, replenish the chum every half an hour or so, after the initial chumming, or more often, in high current.

On fishing day, or better, night, far and away the best time to catch Channel cats, bring a strong rod with either a star-drag reel, or a heavy spinning rig, loaded with 20 lb. test or better, and prepare to fight. While this weight of gear may be overkill for the smaller cats, a big Channel cat can pull like a tugboat, and will break a lighter rig, as soon as the angler pulls back too hard.

To rig up for battle, given the Channel cat’s preference for fast current, plus their strong tendancy to drop a bait, if the resistance is high when they grab it, the recommended system is a slipweight, or sliding ledger rig. To make one, you’ll need to find a “bomb” shaped, conical sinker, with a metal loop at the top of the body. You will also need an inline swivel, which you should check, to make sure that it is of a large enough size, that it can’t slip into or through the loop on the top of the sinker you want to use. Holding the sinker, feed your main fishing line through the loop at the top of it, and then tie the swivel onto the free end of your line, clipping off any excess, after the knot is pulled tight. Preferred knots for this application are the Improved Clinch Knot, or the Palomar Knot. Finally, tie an additional piece of fishing line, maybe 18″ to 24″ long, to the other end of the swivel, and then, to your chosen hook. Using a very slightly lighter weight of line for this short leader piece may save you some gear, if your line does break or snag, because it will likely break in this section, below the weight and sinker.

Use a hook big and strong enough to hold both the bait, and the biggest fish you might catch… and don’t be shy. A size 6 baitholder is a minimum. Too-small, or weak hooks will lose you catfish. Bait up, using the bait which you put small pieces of in your chum. Anything smelly, naturally sourced and dead seems to work best, though live baits have yielded some big fish, too. A caveat, if you use a “sloppy” bait: My experience is that a smaller bait holds on better, not tearing itself apart during the cast, as the bait will tend to rotate around the weight in a slipweight rig, when it is cast. Regardless of size, make sure your bait is firmly hooked onto your rig, before you cast. Hook your bait, so that the body of the hook is buried, but so the point of the hook is exposed.

Drop your baited rig down into your chosen hole, and set it up so that, when the rig is set, the line is tight to the weight (note that, with the slipweight, the bait is free to float about at the end, held in place, but not held down, by the sinker, and any pull on it, pulls directly at the rod tip, and not the sinker, which just “slips” on the line).

When you get a strike, it will often be a very hard, fast strike…. don’t panic. Instead, pick up your rod (or hold onto it), and, instead of pulling back right away, as you might with most fish, point the rod directly at the fish, at arm’s length, and let the fish take the slack up….. and then, pull back. Pulling too hard, too soon, will make the cat spit your bait out, before you can set the hook, most of the time. So, when the line comes tight, after you let the fish swim with the bait, set the hook. Circle hook users should pull slowly and smoothly, but most of the rest of us can just “jerk” the hook set, as the line tightens up…. and the fight is on. A big Channel cat will fight virtually forever, so it’s up to you to land it and claim victory, which will require strength, cunning, endurance, wisdom…. and a big net.

Channel cats offer the fight, sport and edible qualities of the finest game fish anywhere, and are a worthwhile pursuit, in the world of freshwater angling. Fishing for Channel cats, with the right setup, techniques and a bit of patience, can yield some of the largest freshwater catches, and the Channel Catfish’s higher than average landed weight and wide range make them a quarry of choice, to those fishermen who know best.

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Dan Eggertsen is a fellow catfish fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on catfish fishing since 2004.

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