Fishing for catfish is usually associated with the nostalgic hot summer days and nights spent on riverbeds and lake shores anxiously watching the movements of your bobber.
This often overshadows the preference of many guides and professional anglers to fish for catfish, especially blue catfish, during the winter. Winter is a prime time for anglers to catch a trophy sized blue catfish.
Large blue catfish caught during the winter frequently weigh over 30 pounds, and have attracted the focus of numerous studies. For most non-professional anglers, it is impossible to put in the hours needed to accumulate this kind of fishing knowledge.
To aid those anglers confined to the weekend trip, the most consistent and useful cold weather methods, and information, have been summarized to provide a sound starting foundation for anglers chasing that 50-pound trophy blue.
Studies have been conducted by universities and biologists tracking catfish habits and movements. All catfish rarely move from the same concise position for 95% of the day, regardless of weather or season.
These small homes correspond to two times of the year, winter and spawn. A catfish occupies this seasonal home and will generally return annually to that precise spot for as long as it lives.
In between these two periods catfish can be found slowly migrating towards their seasonal homes. This migration follows seasonal water temperatures, causing blues to reside in shallower water during the warm spawn/pre-spawn seasons, and deeper water in cooler post-spawn seasons.
Generally, once water temperatures rise above 50-60 degrees blue catfish will vacate their summer homes and begin moving towards their winter holes. Catfish are also only active during 5% of the 24-hour day.
Catfish are nocturnal feeders and these hours mark their main feeding times. The studies indicate that blues most actively feed between sunset and midnight, then again near sunrise.
Use bait that reflects the forage that blue catfish are looking for. While opportunistic feeders, in winter big blues prefer cut bait to stink-baits, chicken livers, and other such presentations. Use large gizzard shad or skipjack, depending on the dominant bait species of your area, and cut it into large slices.
The tail can be thrown away and the head also, although some of the largest fish seem to prefer a bait cut in half with the head intact. Catfish use all of their fine tuned senses to locate forage, most importantly their acute sense of smell.
The middle sections of large, fat, baitfish contain the most fats, oils, and blood and are prime pieces of bait. Bait should be switched every 15-30 minutes, establishing a strong scent-trail.
Blues will be found in their seasonal home. In the winter these will generally be in deeper or warmer waters, ranging anywhere from 15-70 plus feet. The winter holes that catfish inhabit will be near structure and current breaks. Bridge pilings, ledges, bends, etc., are usually consistent areas to fish. Fish tight to structure, putting your bait right on the structure or current break.
Use heavy tackle, blues will feed aggressively throughout the winter. The strike may be softer, but they will have been fattening up during the summer and fall preparing for higher levels of inactivity, and will account for the increased amount of calories burned by their large size by seizing any opportunity to feed.
Their large size, and inherent aggressive fight, means that large test-LB line should be used to prevent losing a good fish. Braided lines are very resilient and dependable, 50-60 test-LB line is a safe bet.
The rod and reel should match the strength of the line, an ugly-stik catfish rod with a catmaxx reel is a common setup for anglers catching large catfish. Six 8-ounce egg sinkers attached to an approximately foot-long leader with two 6/0-8/0 circle hooks spaced a few inches apart is the ideal hook rigging.
This tip is simple, fish during the day. Blue cats hold their location during the day and venture out at night. Fishing in the day means that fish are more easily located, if a spot doesn’t yield any action after 30 minutes then it is safe to move to another location without fear that you will miss an opportunity at a strike.
Also, blue catfish will eagerly strike at easy meals in their vicinity, whereas at night they may be more picky since they are on the move foraging.
These basics can improve the size and number of anglers blue catfish hooked this winter. Remember that catfish will return to the same precise locations each season. With this in mind, it is a good idea to always record the date and location whenever a catfish is caught.
Over time these records will show trends in when and where the catfish population will be for any season, and if an angler returns to these locations they will consistently bring in big catfish. Good luck and enjoy the winter fishing!
Clear Lake deserves its reputation as big bass water. No other lake in California offers so much cover and such superb management. For the fish in Clear Lake come from the local merchants and others concerned about Northern California's most prolific fishery. Crappie fishing is a winner here too. However, when Annette sends me to Clear Lake she always says, "don't forget to bring home some catfish!
For catfish are the monsters of Clear Lake. Last trip with Ron Sneed we won the Outdoor Writers fishing contest with an 18 1/2 pound whiskerfish that inhaled a purple plastic worm. That, on light tackle, is a very large fish indeed!
While you can take four to seven pound catfish on many trips most of the blue catfish in Clear Lake run two to two and a half pounds. Yellow catfish some call bullheads run a pound or two. Ron uses live or newly dead minnows and smelt 4 1/2 feet deep under bobbers.
He concentrates on rocky shore areas and drop-offs. That's not a bad pattern anywhere early in the summer. By fall fish move into deeper holes you can locate with a depth finder.
Most experts agree that the best bait in the lake is the silverside smelt the pros net at dawn. Minnows -- I like the small ones best, most folks use medium -- work well under bobbers. The advantage of smaller live minnows is the larger number of crappie you can expect.
Some catfish specialists use worms, others tout clams, sardines and a host of stink baits are also popular. A size 2 to 4 hook works well. Ten to twenty pound test on a stout spinning or casting rod handles the situation from bank or boat. A bobber does help keep minnows up where Mr. Whiskers can nibble them!
The real problem at Clear Lake is the choices you face. Vast areas of shallows with cover, reed and weed beds and more rocky ledges than a score of old-time prisons make choice difficult. The size of this largest natural lake entirely in California adds to the problem.
So you need to check your boat ramp carefully to cut your running time. Fortunately, Clear Lake has nine free boat ramps.
By late summer we concenrate on three areas that I fish in conjunction with bass. Most of the time we put in at Clearlake Oaks, just 35 miles on Highway 20 from Williams and Interstate 5. This lets us fish the canals in the area spring and early summer for catfish and bass.
Then we move to the fine rocky spots around the island outside the canals in late summer and fall. This area is especially recommended on days when wind is expected. Try the motel with the statue of John Wayne in front. They even have a boat ramp.
The first weekend in March brought crowds of hikers, kayakers, mountain bikers, wilderness campers, and fly fishers to the campus of Wright State University in Ohio for a gathering called the Adventure Summit. Among the speakers was Joe Cornwall, Editor-in-Chief of Fly Fish Ohio, who gave a presentation titled, “Fly Fishing for the Golden Bone.”
According to Cornwall, carp are very smart fish. He surprised the audience with the news that, while the average fish has an IQ of 6, carp are relative geniuses, with an IQ of 12. Carp also have excellent color vision, an especially well-developed sense of taste and smell, which is really one sense for fish, and they are blessed with exceptionally keen hearing. Knowing this, it is easy to understand why carp pose such a challenge for fly fishermen.
Carp live in every US state except Alaska, as well as in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The hardy fish can survive, even prosper, in less hospitable environments, such as the turbid water of many impoundments.
Carp have a long history of being a prized food fish. The Romans farmed carp. In 1877, the fish were brought to the United States from Germany, and placed in ponds near Baltimore, Maryland. These fish were considered so valuable that the ponds were fenced off and protected by guards.
According to Cornwall, carp are the most important freshwater sport fish in Europe today. He believes that carp, which are abundant in North American fisheries, can provide fly fishermen with frequent, great fishing close to home. Cornwall says the experience of catching hard-fighting carp on fly tackle is easily a match for tropical fish angling in terms of challenge and excitement.
The successful carp angler must develop stealth and cunning along with the ability to cast accurately. Carp are ultra-sensitive to pheromones in the water, and use these to communicate.
A carp that is alarmed by the presence of danger releases pheromones that signal other fish to get away and stay away. Cornwall explained that carp can detect these pheromones in concentrations as minute as 1 gram in 10 billion liters of water.
Carp are omnivores. They will consume seeds, insects, crustaceans, or bait fish. Cornwall described the various feeding techniques carp use, along with photographs illustrating these situations, the varieties of foods carp eat, and a number of flies that are proven carp-catchers.
Anglers should sight-fish to carp feeding on the bottom in shallow water. Flies that mimic aquatic worms and Wooly Bugger-type flies that sink are effective. Water may be very muddy and cloudy, requiring blind casting.
Carp are seeking an easy meal near cover, such as partially submerged blow-downs. They will often strike flies on or near the surface. Cornwall says, “Overhead cover makes the first few minutes after hookup very exciting!”
Carp are slurping food such as cottonwood seeds or a spent hatch off the water’s surface. Cornwall advised anglers to wait for the line to come tight before attempting to set the hook, then prepare for a long, head-shaking battle with a powerful fish.
Carp are preying of schools of baitfish. This often occurs in deeper water in late summer and early fall. Flies that mimic baitfish, fished near the surface, are key to hooking up with extremely selective hunting carp.
Cornwall also cautions carp anglers to come prepared with the right tackle. He recommends 6 to 8 weight rods, matched to weight forward lines. “You will likely see your backing knot on any fish over 6 pounds,” he said, and “You will definitely see your backing knot on any fish over 15 pounds.”
Cornwall communicated his excitement about fly fishing for carp. His smile was infectious, and his eyes sparkled as he talked about the thrill of spending over an hour fighting a carp, fly rod bent as he pulled the powerful, head-shaking fish from the depths.
Those who had gathered to hear him left the program armed with enough information to make “Fly Fishing for the Golden Bone” their next angling adventure.
Smallmouth bass (Micropterusdolomieui) prefer colder, more oxygenated waters than do largemouth bass, and they usually live in rivers and deep lakes. They may be found throughout much of the Eastern United States and Southern Canada, making them available to anglers in many regions.
Some of the best places to fish for smallmouth are in rivers of the Eastern United States, and the deep lakes of the upper Midwest and Canada. Smallmouth bass like many of the same baits that work for largemouth bass, but there are certain lures that work better for river smallmouth.
Perhaps the best all around baits for smallmouth bass are plastic worms, as they successfully represent many of the different creatures on which the bass feed. These worms look like minnows when they are retrieved quickly, but they may also imitate elvers (baby eels), hellgrammites, and actual worms, all of which smallmouth will happily engulf.
It does not really matter what food item a plastic worm imitates as long as the lure is in natural colors, such as shades of tan, brown, gray, and black. Lures in bright colors tend to be less productive for these fish, as they seem out of place in rivers.
Large plastic worms, such as Yamamoto senkos are excellent baits to use for smallmouth. Lighter worms, such as Zoom finesse worms may have to be weighted when fishing in rivers.
Jerkbaits, like flukes also work well for smallmouth that are feeding on minnows. These baits are generally best when fished against the shore, and retrieved slowly, which allows the lures to sink a bit.
When sight casting to smallmouth bass, jerkbaits should be retrieved quickly (the retrieve should always consist of twitches in the rod, and reeling, which gives the flukes natural motion). These baits are best in shallow water, or when fished with weight around rapids.
Crayfish represent year-round food for smallmouth bass. They are always present in the rivers where the fish are found, and they are easily imitated by many lures. The most fundamental bait that mimics the crayfish is the jig and pig. This bait works for bass all year long, but in the summer, jigs may be retrieved faster than in the late fall, winter, and spring.
Tubes also work well for smallmouth, and they may be jerked around more during the retrieve (by twitching the rod), because they also imitate darting minnows and hellgrammites. Tubes and jigs are great choices when fishing in deep eddies behind large rocks or rough areas of water in rivers.
And in deep water near the shore, these lures will entice fish cruising along the bottom, looking for crayfish.
Spinnerbaits and crankbaits also work for smallmouth bass in rivers, but they should be used in deeper, calm water. Reeling spinnerbaits along a deep, shaded bank is an excellent way to induce smallmouth into striking, although plastic worms and jigs work in the same areas. Crankbaits also work around deep banks, but where too much structure is present, the lures are likely to snag. Rapalacrankbaits are among the best to use for smallmouth.
Smallmouth bass are undoubtedly among the strongest freshwater fish in the world, and they are a blast to fish for. Although they will often eat anything that anglers throw their way, these fish may be foraging for specific food items at times, and it is best to use lures that mimic what the bass are looking for.
Although the islands do not hold as many fish as does much of the rest of the Caribbean, fish are usually much larger in the waters around the Bahamas. Monster bonefish of the Bahamas will take many different types of flies, and these large fish may be caught by even inexperienced fly fishermen. That is why the area is one for the best places to catch big bonefish.
Anglers who go fly fishing in the Bahamian Islands for huge bonefish are rarely disappointed. Fish average around four pounds, and eight, nine, and ten pound fish are often spotted, or hooked and caught daily.
Bonefish are found throughout the waters surrounding the islands, though the flats and cuts are the best places to fish. Andros Island, the Abaco Islands, and the Exuma Islands are some of the best places to go to fly fish for bonefish.
Seven weight rods, equipped with saltwater-capable reels lined with floating line are ideal, but for windier days, it may be a good idea to have eight or nine weight setups. As bonefish are very "spooky," (a fly fishing term meaning that they are spooked easily, or timid), long leaders with light tippet are best, because they help anglers to avoid blowing shots at huge fish by frightening the fish.
Light flies are great in shallow water, because the splash from heavier flies often scares the fish away. However, there are a number of heavy, bushy flies that land lightly, making hardly noticeable splashes. Large shrimp patterns in tan and olive colors, as well as crab flies are often very productive for monster bonefish in the Bahamas, in addition to traditional patterns, like the crazy charlie.
For anglers who have fly fished elsewhere in the Caribbean, or have been to the South Pacific or Seychelles, where large numbers of fish are found on a regular basis, the Bahamas may seem sparsely populated with bonefish.
Usually only small groups of fish swim and feed together, and single fish are just as common as fish in small groups. However, the size of Bahamian bonefish makes up for their lack of abundance.
At times, catching huge bonefish in the Bahamas on the fly can be challenging. Tailing fish are usually very finicky, and are easily frightened, so it is best to cast a little ways ahead of tailing bonefish, rather than directly in front of them. As many of the fish are going to be feeding near mangroves, expect a number of fish to break the line by heading into these trees.
Fishing a falling tide, when fish move out from the protective mangroves is often most productive.
Although fish are not as abundant as they are in many other places, and schools of smaller fish are seldom found, monster bonefish of the Bahamas are perfect gamefish for saltwater fly fishers.
Fly fishing for huge bonefish in the Bahamas is exhilarating and often very rewarding, and with shots at double digit (weighted) fish, there is no better place to catch tremendous bonefish in the Caribbean than the Bahamian Islands.
There are so many models of fishing boats and motors, there's bound to be one that's perfect for you. But how do you find it?
You can't take a flats skiff in a 6-foot sea; and you can't get a 26-foot deep V through the shallows of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands. Every type of fishing demands the right boat and motor. Sure you can troll from a sailboat or drop a line from a houseboat, but if you're a serious fisherman, you'll want the vessel and the power that gives you the best chance to land a trophy, or at least a meal.
Keep in mind that the bigger the boat, the bigger the motor you'll need. Marine engines, inboard or outboard, burn a lot of fuel. So unless you're Bill Gates, keep the boat to the smallest that will do the job. For ponds and saltwater flats, as little as 10 feet is enough; saltwater bays and large lakes might require 14 or 16 feet at least; and if you're going to brave the open ocean, 20 feet should be the absolute minimum.
The bottom of the boat is the part you can't see, but in many ways it's the most important. Hulls are categorized by the deadrise angle. This is a fancy term for the angle that the bottom of the boat makes as it rises to the side.
If you are going to fish in very shallow water, you need a flat bottom (shallow deadrise hull) that slides over the barely covered sand bars and mussel beds. These boats are great in shallow water, but they will pound you to death in a chop; you don't want to take them where it's rough.
Deep V (deep deadrise hull) boats are designed to take heavy seas, but they are slower and more expensive to run. And there are models in between flat bottom and deep V, for which the manufacturers make various claims. It's best to try them out and see what works for you.
A recent option in fishing boats is the catamaran hull. I prefer this design as it gives a very comfortable ride in rough water (caveat: some models do not perform well; always go for a test drive). The drawback is that you need a special trailer when you pull a catamaran out of the water.
Overwhelmingly, the most popular design of the topside of a fishing boat is open. Whether you cast, jig, or just fight fish, you'll be moving the rod around a lot, and you want room to maneuver. By far the favorite of open water fishermen is the center console design.
This puts the steering and controls in the center of the boat, so that an angler can walk all the way around, a great advantage when a fish decides to swim to the other side of the boat, or you have four anglers trying to cast in every direction.
The only real criterion for a motor is that it match the boat. Too much or too little power will cause your boat to perform badly and can be dangerous. As far as inboard vs outboard, nearly all anglers choose outboard motors.
They are easily serviced and have become much more reliable in recent years. Only if you are going to get a great deal of use out of a motor should you consider an inboard, which can be difficult to service.
Naturally there are things you need on the boat to begin fishing: rods, reels, hooks, sinkers, lures and lots more. Your boat also must be equipped with required safety items: life jackets, flares, lights, horns, and so forth.
Finally, you'll want some sophisticated equipment to help you locate and catch fish: depth recorder, gps, and maybe radar. You know the old saying: a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money; once you get a boat you'll find there's no end to what you need.
Unfortunately, in many of these small, austere streams, brookies multiply beyond the capacity of the habitat, causing them to stunt and create huge populations of really small fish.
In the West, brookies have the opposite impact--they thrive, even to the detriment of native cutthroat trout, the original native to the West's trophy trout waters. In pristine and remote headwater streams throughout the West, the adventurous fly fisher is probably more likely to catch brook trout than native cutthroats.
Ironically, in their home waters on the East Coast, brook trout populations are in real trouble, largely due to invasive fish plantings, acidic pollution and climate change.
Brook trout plantings in the West are now almost completely unheard of, but initial stockings--some dating back well over 100 years--have resulted in thousands of viable brook trout populations in the Rockies, the Cascades and the Sierra-Nevada.
Brookies are native to the streams and rivers of the Eastern Seaboard, the upper Midwest and eastern Canada. A member of the char family that also includes Arctic char, Dolly Varden and bull trout, brookies might be the most prolific transplanted fish in the salmonid family.
For fly fisher's, the fact brook trout are often the ignored, red-headed step children of the angling world shouldn't be viewed negatively. In fact, brook trout, or "brookies," offer great sport on light tackle and, when they're pulled from waters to which they are not native, they offer a guilt-free food source.
While that may not be ideal from a conservation angle, brookies do offer great sport, especially to the fly fisher who can string together a 3-weight rod, tie on a high-floating attactor pattern and walk away from the road just a bit for some backcountry casting.
Because of their genuinely diminutive size, brookies are best pursued with light tackle and light tippets. The good news is, because the waters they inhabit are so sparse when it comes to dependable food sources, brookies aren't very particular when it comes to fly patterns. Just about any dry fly drifted through a likely run will work.
Finding brook trout water--especially if you live in the West--is easy. Many, if not most, headwater streams host fishable populations of brookies. Just don't expect trophy fishing--an eight-inch fish is probably better than average on most small streams, and 12-inch brookies are legitimate trophies in the West.
The beauty of chasing brookies? Because they require cold, clean water to survive, if an angler is catching them, he or she is probably in a pretty special place to begin with. Slow down. Enjoy the scenery.
Half the fun of a day spent chasing brookies is experiencing the destination--anglers could very likely encounter deer, elk or even moose, and chance encounters with black bears (or even grizzlies in the northern Rockies and the Yellowstone region) are not unheard of. Use common sense, make a little noise and enjoy great fishing.
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