Thinking about catfish

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Just gave up working in the backyard with the temperature rising through the mid-80s and the sun shining bright. It is summer, time for catfishing. After fetching a cold mug of Coke with a squirt of lime, it is in the backyard again, this time relaxing in a folding chair. Yes, indeed, it is time for catfishing. And I am pretty sure this will be a great summer for catching channel catfish and flathead catfish.

Flathead catfish and channel catfish are Pennsylvania’s big cats. It seems highly likely that 50-pound examples of both swim in this state. If I need any motive to go catfishing beyond what a joy it is, that would be catching a 50-pound catfish in Pennsylvania.

No, I have never come even close. But I will keep trying. Do not expect me to look like I am working at it. That would not be my style of catfishing.

Catfishing can be relaxing, old tech fishing, unless you want to make it into something more. Basically, it is bait, a rod and reel, a comfortable seat and a small amount of terminal rigging that can be carried in a very small plastic box, pocket-size. It is not possible to say which is more important since all are necessary. That plus some stout fishing line.

One of the more convenient aspects of catfishing is that bait is relatively easy to come by. Even they can be fussy eaters, but not like walleye, trout, bass and so on. Channel catfish will readily take shrimp, nightcrawlers, crayfish and a bunch of commercially packaged catfish baits. Flathead cats are more inclined to stick with fish flesh, the fresher the better. Channel cats also are big-time fish flesh eaters, so if you fish somewhere both big cats are available, such as deeper parts of the Allegheny River, minnows are excellent bait.

Cut bait is my favorite catfish bait because it is convenient, and because catching big chubs and other minnows for bait is fun. This can be done any time, so there is no excuse for not having cut bait always ready.

I have learned one thing about cut bait that I probably had been doing wrong. It appears that bigger baits tend to hook bigger catfish, so do not be too quick to cut the bait. I do not think it would be out of place to use a foot-long sucker for bait, as cut bait. However, my cut-off is about 8 inches for handling and storing reasons.

Cut bait, and uncut bait should be frozen while it is fresh. Place it in a plastic bag with a good seal, add a few squirts of garlic flavored fish scent, anise scent also works very well, seal the bait. Triple bag it, then put it in a freezer where the garlic scent will not ruin everything else. This will last about a year. Do not count on it to last longer.

So where do we go for catfishing?

Right in our neighborhood, the Kinzua Dam Tailwaters has been the favorite catfishing hole. Catfishing was much better several years ago when channel catfish regularly were stocked in the reservoir or river. It still is ok. Try fishing on the hatchery side, from the steps downstream. From a boat, fish just below the ‘NO BOATS’ signs. Channel cats usually can be found beneath the swirling water between the walls at the outflow.

The real hot spot for channel catfish in Northwest Pennsylvania is Lake Erie. Walleye anglers have been catching some big channel cats, over 20 pounds. But they are scattered pretty thin in the lake. A couple of shore fishing places may be the best opportunity for good channel catfish action, from the South Pier and in the lower pools of Elk Creek.

Channel cats tend to be most abundant, or at least most willing to strike, in muddy water. Storms often roil the Lake Erie tributaries which creates a mud line in the lake. This may bring channel cats close to shore, and increase the number in lower Elk Creek. The mouth of Walnut Creek also can be good for catfishing.

Flathead catfish get quite numerous below Tidioute. Look for pools that are at least 15 feet deep, where there are numerous big boulders. Such places often are where the river flows relatively close to a steep hillside. Big boulders along the banks do not mean a thing to flathead cats, but they are a good indication that others lie on the river bottom.

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