The thermocline and catfish

When fishing the thermo cline – is there a certain rig that works better for Catfish than the others?

Almost any time you read something about fishing for catfish, the basic suggestion is, catfish are bottom-feeding fish, and are generally most easily caught using a bottom-fishing rig, such as a slipweight or tightline. However, there’s this little thing called the thermocline, which is a scientific term for the boundary point between the warmer surface water, and the consistently cooler deeper water. The thermocline can vary in depth, from as little as two feet down, during the cold months, to forty or more feet in depth, in the hottest weather. Noteably, in the upper layer, “above the thermocline”, water temperatures are inclined to change very slowly over depth, and remain nearly the same throughout the layer, while through the thermocline, the water temperature will tend to fall off very rapidly, often several degrees with each few feet deeper, and so, the easiest way for a catfish to regulate the water temperature it is in, is to stay near or in the thermocline layer, and then move either just above, at, or below it, to get into the most comfortable temperature zone. So, even though cats are referred to as “bottom feeders”, frequently, they can be found in schools near the thermocline boundary.

The optimum rig for controlled fishing of a specific layer or depth of water, is a jug fishing rig, which will always hold the bait at the same depth. Other good choices are drift-fishing setups, and, for shallow thermoclines, a float and leader, set to the right depth. To find the fish, use a fish-finder, if you have one, or, set up as many rigs as you can (legally, of course), each one using a different length of line and/or weight, as appropriate, to place your baits at different depths. Once you get a hit, start gearing up the other lines to the “successful” depth.

The thermocline can be a highly productive zone for catfishing, so take advantage of it, and your catches will improve.


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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