An angler holding a nice channel catfish.

How To Catch Channel Catfish In 2020

There are many times when anglers will bring up how to catch channel catfish. There always tend to be disagreements and a little bit of hostility between certain individuals on the subject. Many have their reasons for choosing to target them a certain way. Most of the time, if you asked one hundred different people, you will often get one hundred different answers about how you are supposed to do it for the best results. The bait used is apparently the topic of discussion although controversy surrounds rigs as well. There will always be the one angler who uses a bait invented by his great grandfathers best friends cousins stepdaughter. They have used it forever.

They love to mention how it is better than everything else they have tried and how it caught more fish for them. If you ask anyone who fishes for blue or flathead, their answer usually ends up being the same most of the time. They basically say that natural oily baitfish catches the best blues and live bait catches the best flathead. Both of those are true for the most part. When we start talking about the most populated and targeted of the different species, however, things get a little more complicated because of the diet and habits of these creatures. Fishing for these fish is best looked at from a viewpoint of the used bait instead of the rig you tie to present it with.

What Bait Is Best For Catching A Lot Of Channel Catfish?

The natural food sources will always top the list for the best. The next issue is the rig choice and how you should rig up. That is a valid point, but good bait selection will often give you the most success regardless of your preferred rig. They do not care how the bait is presented most of the time. Just if it tastes and smells good enough to eat. The problem arises because of the diet of this species and what they prefer to consume. They are not picky eaters. If it smells or tastes halfway appetizing, chances are likely that is on the fish’s menu. Many whisker enthusiasts love to create stinky and potent baits or buy similar ones from the store to target this very species.

The problem arises because investing all your time and effort into creating, researching, and using baits like these will tend to complicate the sport for you and your success is only marginally better if any. You really do not have to do invest your valuable time and money on experimental baits such as these at all. It is pretty easy and straightforward. You do not need special gear or bait and you certainly don’t need to be a seasoned professional of any sort. In this tutorial, you will learn an easy way to start catching this species of fish. This particular method will work everywhere in the world no matter which body of water you decide to target.

A Bit of Biology Into The Life And Study Of Mature Fish

As a start, let’s go over how the creatures act in their behavior. This will help us catch them a lot easier. Like all catfish, they have barbells located on their face. This helps them find food when they cannot see it. They also have taste buds all over their bodies and they are particularly concentrated on and around the barbells. The fish tastes with these. Believe t or not, they are very sensitive at what they do. The senses of these fish is nothing short of exceptional, especially the sense of taste. They are like sharks. They can taste certain molecules in just drops of water.

Channel catfish laying on a wooden pier outside.

This is even when present in thousands of gallons of water. Juveniles start their life eating vegetation and plant matter in addition to insects, zooplankton, and small fish. As a fish grows, so does the size of their prey that they target. Their preferred meals are bite-sized. They also live and feed on the bottom classifying them as bottom feeders. This title is a bit misleading though. Almost all fish can be classified as bottom feeders at one point or another if they eat crayfish.

When they get older, the main diet shifts from plants and insects to small fish and a ton of it in addition to crayfish, snails, leeches, plant matter, and clams. They are also more active during the night time opposed to the day and classified as nocturnal. When shad is the natural source of food, they tend to fill up on these first. If that isn’t it, they opt for sunfish, carp, herring, suckers, and other rough fish. They tend to go after whatever fish is the most plentiful where they live.

Specific Catfish Tackle And The Recommended Setup

If you are out to target smaller individuals to have for the table, any stout rod with a fast action tip should work very well. As for the line, a braided line has no stretch and is also super tough.  It is quite simply the best. This is exactly what you need when you after whiskers of any species. Make that braid anywhere from a 30-pound test on up to 60. The brand doesn’t matter too much but make sure it is good, quality, fishing line that is very durable. There is also a lot of debate about using a spinning rod versus a baitcasting version. Many debate over which one.

The truth is that you can use both without any issues. Spinning rods will work well and baitcasting rods will also work well. Learning how to use a spinning rod is better for the beginning angler. For really big fish, using a baitcasting over spinning rod will be advantageous because they were created for big fish anyways. You get more backbone which is what you need and casting reels tend to hold heavy braid better. Also for the big ones, the rod you want a specially made rod that is a medium heavy or heavy action and created for this very purpose. As huge as they get, the big girls can rip your tiny bass or bluegill rod into the water with ease.

The Recommended Time Of Day To Go Fishing – Or Not

Any good guide that likes to catch these fish will tell you that the best action happens when the sun goes down. That pretty much goes for all species. The optimal fishing opportunity is in the dead of night when it is pitch black outside and hard to see the hand in front of your face. They have a deep love for the darkness and prefer to hunt in it. Naturally, it simply produces better fishing. Some people even say that they choose to be a bottom-dwelling fish because of their love for darkness. The night time is when the fish prefer to become the most active and hunt.

That is not to say that you cannot be successful in the daylight hours as well though. Many fish are regularly caught in the brightest of conditions in the middle of the day. The trick to catching them is to know why they come out at night. There is not just one solitary reason for it either. There are actually a few different reasons why they choose to avoid the sunlight hours. First, they are cold blooded animals that the sunlight can bother. Second, their prey cannot see well.

Body of water at night with moonlight and stars in the sky casting reflection on the water body.

If you understand it, you can regularly catch fish regardless of the time. They come out at night because the baitfish do as well. The baitfish come out at night to feed because other predators like bass and pike are almost exclusively sight feeders. They just don’t hunt at night very often. The bait takes advantage of this protected time and they start to come out in huge numbers. The baitfish never realize that some predators do not entirely rely on their sense of sight to hunt.

Since this is the case,  these fish love to hunt at night because of how vulnerable the bait happens to be. The baitfish really cannot defend themselves. More mature fish have adapted to a point where getting food off of these baitfish is rather easy. This makes them much harder to catch. The night hours make it easier because these fish cannot see during it. They cannot see your fishing line, rig, or other terminal tackle at all. This is why it is always a great idea to trophy hunt at night. It is even arguably more productive in terms of producing numbers. I have seen it happen. Consistently, it produces more fish as well as much bigger fish on average.

Finding The Fish And Locating Some Great Fishing Spots

Location. Location. Location. Where exactly do you locate them? The simple answer? You don’t. You let them come to you. You drop your rig down and start hugging the bottom. Since they are hunters by nature as well as foragers, a good practice is to let them find your bait by themselves. These fish are not like your traditional largemouth bass or muskellunge where you can just cast out a crankbait, reel it in, and consistently catch them on any day you choose in the broad sunlight. They love to hunt but the similarities abruptly end there. You should fish differently.

All fish are driven by their ability to find food and survive, but some species handle this a different way than others. Much how largemouth bass do not like to bite dead anything, these fish do not like to hit artificial lures very often. This affects their location in the water. You will not often see them spread out all over the pond or lake looking for random snacks along the way. Usually, the best technique for finding the fish is to cast your rig out to the deepest section of the pond, lake, or river with enough weight to stay on the bottom and wait. Simple but effective.

They will always inhabit deeper parts of the water that tend to be lower than the main level. If there is a drop off where it goes from shallow to deep instantly, instantly check the area for fish. Cast out your rod all over areas such as these. There will be a few places that you will almost always find them. The structure that is close to the bottom is your best bet. Look for when the water changes depth quickly or places where the natural bait inhabits. You can often find them hanging out where the food lives. They like to chase the bait around.

Normally, if you can locate their food, they are not too far off. Within this sport, you don’t have to put the rig right on top of the fish to catch them. Anywhere within 30 or 40 feet is optimal. Obviously, the closer the better, but it certainly isn’t required. They will find your bait eventually. The accuracy of putting your bait in front of them is more for catching motionless cats than it is for the species as a whole. Sometimes, the fish will just not come out of being lazy.

Putting a bait right in front of them and letting it sit there will often get you the strike from that fish who just doesn’t feel like hunting. Check places like drop-offs, ledges, deep holes, and structure within them. If these areas have sunken trees, rocks, docks, vertical structures, and the like, they are even better and are even more likely to house more and bigger fish.

How to Utilize Natural Baits For Maximum Success

Now that we have successfully covered some biology of the species and got some good and efficient tackle, we can now get into rigs and actually catching the fish. It is pretty easy to do. Basically, you are casting bait into the water and waiting for a bite like a kid would do on their first fishing trip. It’s an old method, but still the best. If you are fishing with bait, the only rig you need is the Carolina Rig. You don’t use a bobber most of the time because you do not need one.

The example below depicts a basic Carolina Rig that can be used for any species that has barbels as well as all other species of fish that love bait like eels and Pike.  Before you tie on a swivel, thread an egg sinker on to the main line first, and then add a plastic bead.

Let both of them travel up the line a little bit and then tie on your swivel using a Palomar Knot. The sinker will help your rig sink in the water to the right depth. The plastic bead will protect the knot that is connected to the swivel from getting damaged so you don’t break it. As for what type of swivel, a barrel swivel is usually the most common and popular choice for targeting bigger fish.

A better option though is a ball-bearing swivel especially if you are after the biggest ones in the lake. Ball bearing swivels offer unparalleled performance in allowing your bait and rig to spin freely. Barrel swivels can work well when the load isn’t very much. If you are after the really big girls though, it is better to be safe than sorry.

A picture of a basic Carolina rig with labels. It has a sinker, a plastic bead, a barrel swivel, a length of line, and a baited hook in that order.

They are tough creatures with a feisty attitude and a tough mouth. I also recommend deliberately purchasing an abnormally large swivel. A larger one than you would normally use for freshwater fishing. Larger swivels that are often used for saltwater will often be rated at a higher pound test rating even if they are the same size. That provides you the extra insurance you need when reeling in those huge monsters. Coming off of the other end of the swivel, is a leader line attached with another Palomar knot. The line should be monofilament.

Since monofilament stretches, it makes one of the best leader materials out there. This is what is called a shock leader. What it does is allow your line to stretch when the situation calls for it. How much fishing line do you need for your leader? It depends. You can vary the amount of leader you want to use to adapt to the situation. Normally you want enough to get to the bottom of the water or close to it since they are bottom feeders. The final part of the rig is your hooked bait. Depending on if you want to set the hook or not, you can use a standard hook, a treble, or a circle hook.

Whenever you hook your bait always leave plenty of hook point exposed so you can tag the fish when it bites. Bait your hook with the main forage of the water body or the next best thing, cast it to a deep patch of water preferably with structure, and wait for a bite. Now you are really fishing! If you cannot use the main forage as bait, consider using a great alternative. Try using some of the best baits for Channel Catfish that proven over and over again to work pretty much everywhere. These consist of chicken liver, cheese, hotdogs, corn, crayfish, pet food, and other things. Some of the best dipbaits for Channel Catfish have these flavors available and can be very effective too when properly presented.

 

Lure In Some Whiskers! Use A Lure

Fishing with lures is not a very common method of catching them. It isn’t a very popular way of doing it either. That isn’t to say, however, that you cannot be successful despite. There have been many caught on lures when anglers are throwing swimbaits and jigs for largemouth bass in addition to many other lures. Keep this in mind before you start though. It can be very difficult. Smaller ones will wreck a well-fished lure without hesitation, but when it comes to slightly older fish bigger than a three pounds or so, the chances of getting them to hit lures are greatly diminished. You can catch small ones on them pretty consistently if you know what you are doing. Bigger fish will often only hit natural food which is about 90 percent of their diet. This is why it is so crucial to match that forage as close as artificially possible. Get as close as you can to it. When you are using lures, a good idea is to use a scent of some sort for obvious reasons. Fish attractants work well for these fish. Try match that scent to the main forage. If the main food source is shad, adding a shad oil scent to your lure can mean the difference between fishing and catching. Big individuals didn’t get that way by accident. Likely, the bigger ones are also the smarter ones of the hatch. The main forage will likely be shad, sunfish, crayfish, etc. When it is hard to tell if a lure is a real bait or not at first glance, then it has big whisker potential. Give those a try first. The bigger fish will actually go after realistic lures like swimbaits, crankbaits, jigs, and other offerings if you fish them right. Few things are more fun than catching them on lures. Stay true to the formula. Use your gear, utilize the right time of day, get your location down, and you can smoke them on artificial too. Remember to choose a lure that stays on or near the bottom for the best results.

Catching Fish Need Not Be Difficult

Fishing for many species (especially this one) is often made complicated by many fishermen. While it isn’t a bad thing and creating different baits and rigs is fun, it can be troublesome to newer anglers to actually dial in on the basic concepts to do it right. One of the reasons to love fishing is because it can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. Learning how to catch Channel Catfish is a generally easy task to master on the surface. Do not let it confuse you. It isn’t very difficult to do. You don’t need to create terrible smelling baits or learn complicated rigs to be successful. All you have to do is be confident in your abilities, get the right gear, find the fish, utilize a proven rig with a natural food source, cast it out, and wait for the bites to happen.

 

How do you catch these fish? Leave a comment below to tell us!

 

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