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!
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