Channel cats offer some great table fare and knowing where to look is your first step to catching more for your freezer this summer. This article will focus on the spawn and where to find channel cats and how to catch them when you do. While the crappie and bass spawn can be hit or miss throughout early spring like we saw this year the channel catfish spawn can be a lot more stable and much easier to predict. The cold fronts and heavy rains have left the area and the water begins to stabilize. This stability will help hold channel cats, in various stages of the spawn, in an area much longer as they spawn, meaning you can return with confidence for 2 or 3 weeks and count on catching a few. Here I will explain where to find spawning channel catfish as well as how to catch them.
Channel cats love shallow coves with deadfalls and brush piles and they can be found there throughout the year, except during the spawn. Channel cats will seek rocks to spawn in. Small chunk rocks, often referred to as rip rap, is a great place to find spawning channel cats but if your lake has bigger rocks they can produce even more spawners as they create better pockets for nesting.
Look for rock on your favorite catfish waters and when the water temps hit 70-80 degrees start looking for channel cats to move up into and around these rocky areas. Look for a large area of rock and there will be more catfish in the area during the spawn. This can be important because when the female channel cats are laying their eggs and the males are guarding them the bite can get tough or shut down completely. If you focus on areas with vast amounts of rock like rip rap around causeways or dams then you can take advantage of all stages of the spawn.
There are 3 stages of the spawn, the pre-spawn, spawn and post spawn. The great thing about locating theses areas is that not all channel cats spawn at the same time and you will be fishing for fish in all stages of the spawn therefore you can catch these concentrated catfish longer throughout the spawn as new waves of fish move up to spawn or move out after they are done. Channel cats are vigorous feeders during both the pre-spawn period and the post-spawn period as well. By locating areas with enough spawning area for lots of catfish you can catch them for several weeks as new fish replenish the area looking for nest and post spawners begin to feed.
This is a topic that gets much attention when discussing how to catch catfish. Channel cats will eat about anything but there are several go to baits that I like to use and the success rate varies from trip to trip so I try to have my 3 go to baits with me on every trip. These baits will vary with the area I am fishing and how much time I have to get my bait together but here are my favorite baits for channel catfish.
Chicken Livers: Chicken livers have probably caught more catfish than any other bait and I love chicken livers on lakes that have shallow coves, lots of catfish and where the catfish tend to run small say 1-3 pounds and here is why. I will only use chicken livers one way and that is with a spinning rod rigged with 8 pound test line and a single hook. I will pull up to a likely looking area and anchor the boat sideways to the area. I will then rig the chicken liver on the single hook with a little sewing thread to keep the livers on and toss the liver gently into the shallow water. I like to use fluorescent line with black lights at night. Leave the bail open so the channel cat can’t rip the rod out of the boat. Watch your line and when it shoots out grab the rod cock the bail and set the hook. All that is needed to set the hook is steady pressure because usually the catfish will swallow the liver, not a technique if you plan to release your catfish. I usually purchase a hundred pack of cheap hooks for this technique because it’s much easier in the dark and less messy just to cut the line and leave the hook until you clean the catfish and tie on a new hook.
Stink Baits: Stink baits, like Danny King’s Punch Bait, is a great bait that will outperform all others at times at least on smaller fish. I always have some punch bait available because it always works and it’s easy to grab and go in a moments notice. Punch baits are also best used where there are numbers of fish that might run a bit smaller because it’s easier to deal with and when you have a hundred catfish biting using minnows or worms could get pretty expensive. I have found also that smaller fish really are attracted to this bait so if you are looking to fill the freezer this is your bait for sure.
Bluegills: I have to say live bluegills are my favorite bait for channel cats. I know what you're thinking live bluegills are for big flatheads. I am here to tell you if you want to catch some big channel catfish then live bluegills is the best bait I have found for them. Indiana has a great channel catfish fishery and is home to some really big channel catfish. The only reason I don’t use live bluegills on every trip is because they can be hard to come by in a pinch but if I am looking for those 5-8 pound channel cats then a live bluegill hooked in the back is money.
When you are using live bluegills around rocks it’s important to use a bobber or it will swim straight for a hole in the rocks and even if a spawning channel cat is in that hole you won’t get it out and you will loose your hook and bluegill. With channel cats I use a lighted bobber and you can use either a chemical light attached to your bobber or there are several battery operated lighted bobbers that work well too. Be sure you have a bobber large enough to float the bluegill.
There are a couple tips I learned from much better cat fisherman than myself that I will always employ these when fishing for channel catfish. The first being to use a cooler instead of a live well. When you are catching 20-50 catfish they can really mess up a livewell and with the warm water and toxins that all those fish release it is just better to toss them in a cooler of ice as you catch them. This not only keeps your livewell clean but also cools your catch quickly and besides that filleting a cold channel cat is much easier.
Another great tip is how to keep your chicken livers fresh. I know everybody thinks you have to let the livers cook in the sun and turn green before they will work. I have found that fresh livers outperform rotten ones and makes the trip more pleasant for all. Also fresh never frozen chicken livers will stay on your hook better. You know how sometimes you get some livers that just seem to stay on your hook better, you probably unknowingly purchased livers that had never been frozen. You can call around to local markets to find out who only sells fresh livers and you might be surprised who does.
The best way to keep your livers fresh and easily accessible for the fast and furious bite that channel cats often provide, is two coffee canisters. Place your livers in the small coffee container and place it in the center of the larger one. Now pack ice around the smaller container inside the larger one. This will keep your livers fresh all night. Oh and keep a good towel handy and your set for a great time chasing those spawning channel cats this summer.