The spring time spawn is over. Catfish are once again on the prowl in search of their next meal. The water temps have reached 75 or maybe 80 degrees. Days are hot and more suited for swimming and sipping on a chilly one but once the sun goes down and the air becomes bearable it is time to go on the prowl for your next line stretching adventure.
Summertime is a great time to night fish for catfish. Not only is it cooler but all the ski and jet boats have gone home leaving the lake to the angler as well as the catfish that move into the shallows under the cover of darkness. Too many people focus on deep water for catfishing in the summer. By deep I mean 5 to 10 feet of water. You will find fish at these depths but usually they are moving to the shallow shorelines and eat your bait along the way. If you want to increase your success try moving closer to the shoreline and working depths of 1 to 3 feet of water. This article will focus on the common channel catfish.
Stink baits are probably the most common bait used for channel catfish. They work and if it is numbers you are after stink baits work great. I stay away from stink baits mainly because they stink and my wife just can not handle the smell that lingers after a night with that stuff on my hands so I have found that stink baits work but other baits are just as easy to come by and smell way better. More importantly they work just as well.
One such bait that has stood the test of time is chicken livers. Again, great bait and can help you fill the cooler with pan size channels with an occasional fatty. One way I have found to increase my hook ups and reduce those bites that take off like a rocket, only to be dropped before you can react, is the hook only setup. I use a single bait holder hook 1/0 or 2/0 and connect it to 10 pound test fluorescent line. No weight is added to the rig and this is key. You need a spinning reel or a spin cast reel to be able to cast the fragile livers this way but it will increase your hook up percentage. Fresh livers that have never been frozen will stay on your hook much better than frozen livers. Fresh livers may be hard to find but they are out there and once you find a store that sells them you will go back for more as the livers are so much easier to deal with.
In the meantime as you search for those fresh livers there are ways to help keep livers on your hook. One way is with common sewing thread. Break off a piece of thread about 8 inches long. Lay one end of the thread on the liver. The thread will kind of cling to the liver and allow you to wrap the thread around and around the liver. Make sure to bring the thread over the inside belly of the hook. Try looping the thread, as you come around, over loose strands of liver to create a nice tight little ball of liver. There are other methods but this one works so well I have never tried any other way. Use a black light with the fluorescent line to detect a bite and detecting a bite is not difficult with this setup I promise. With just the resistance of the line the channel catfish will hang on longer and have no problem swallowing the liver. Use the best low cost hook you can find and bring a bunch so you can just cut the line and leave the hook inside, just be careful when you clean them, if that is your intentions. Leaving the hook comes in handy because when the bite is on you don't want to take the time to dig a swallowed hook from a catfish's gullet.
If it is larger channel catfish you are after then fresh fish is the go to bait. When a channel catfish reaches more than a couple pounds it begins to seek food a little higher in protein. Where you might find dozens of small channels like shallow flats and mud shores you might find it void of any good size channels and that is because, while still not a true predator the larger channel catfish become a little more of a loner and more of a predator than smaller channels. Live bluegills where legal and live shad work great. I usually just fillet the bluegill and shad. I first scale the bluegill. I believe that this allows more smell into the water as well as a more tender bait which allows for a better hook set.
Look for some structure for the bigger channels like big boulders or large brush piles or fallen trees. Toss your fresh meat just outside this structure. They will come out and get it but don't make them travel too far just in case it don't want to. Move the bait around the structure. I usually soak my bait 5 to 10 minutes before moving it, sometimes only a few feet. After about 15 to 30 minutes I will look for another spot. I am looking for the feeders and a hungry channel catfish would have already found your bait in that amount of time.
When targeting larger channel catfish you will want to go with some larger tackle. I start with a baitcasting rig spooled with at least 20 pound test line on a Med. Heavy to Heavy rod. You need the power to move the fish away from the thick brush or sharp rocks. Anyone who has caught a channel catfish larger than three pounds know how hard these fish can fight and when they start the channel cat roll you best have heavy gear. I use an egg sinker rig above and leave slack in my line so I can see the fish running with the line. You seldom have to worry about the fish coming toward you if you are fishing heavy cover during the day because the channel catfish is going to head back to his home in that cover. So be ready and set the hook ready to horse the fish away from the heavy cover. Once the channel catfish is away from the cover then you can take it easy and play it to the boat.
I hope this article has given you a few ideas for catching some channel catfish in the summer. I know these techniques have helped me over the years and should do the same for you. Keep experimenting and you will find some tricks of your own that will help you enjoy some great outings with the family in pursuit of a great fish that provides fun as well as some delicious table fare as well.