No matter if you're after a trophy or just hoping for a mess of cats to fry up for dinner, rivers are among the best places to fish for these whiskered warriors. And when fishing rivers, these are some of the hotspots you should target for consistent whiskerfish action.
Rivers follow the path of least resistance. When hard bottom obstructs the flow, the river changes direction, forming a hard-bottomed outside bend with current. These bends are trophy cat honeyholes, especially for flatheads, which love dark hollows. The river gouges the bank, forming undercuts. The undercut ledge or lip offers natural seclusion to giant cats waiting for a meal.
Erosion topples trees on the bend into the water. This creates an additional hotspot where hungry cats find plentiful forage. If a deep-water pool lies just downstream, productivity increases even more.
Catfish congregate in dam tailraces to feed on abundant forage animals. Their numbers increase during the prespawn period when upstream migrations are blocked. During summer, there's another influx of cats moving from oxygen-poor areas downstream to oxygen-rich water below the dam.
Most tailrace anglers fish from shore near the dam. Long upstream casts put the bait into "grooves" of slower-moving water between open gates for a productive drift. Other catters motor to the safe or legal limit from the dam and fish from a boat. Either way, chances are excellent for hooking trophy cats of all species.
These narrow rock structures on navigable rivers direct current into the main channel to reduce erosion. Cats gather beside them, with actively feeding fish usually near the river's bottom on the dike's upstream side. Water hydraulics here create a "tube" of reduced current running the length of the dike. Hungry cats can hold and feed in this food-rich zone without expending excess energy. Therefore, when wing dikes are fished, focus your efforts on the upstream side.
When targeting big cats, drop a weighted bait into one of the circular whirlpools of water (eddies) near the ends of wing dikes. These are the prime feeding sites so they usually hold larger, more dominant cats.
Underwater Humps and Boulders
Humps and boulders always merit the catfish angler's attention. Unless they rise close to the surface, they are difficult to find without electronic equipment. Those with shallow crowns may be visible or at least apparent due to the boil-line above them.
At night and on cloudy or rainy days, catfish move to the shallowest part of humps, feeding on baitfish attracted to the structure. This is a great place to fish on hot summer nights.
When fishing is confined to daylight hours, look for cats positioned on shaded portions of the hump or around deep-water edges where light penetration is minimal.
Fish boulders as you would a wing dike. Most feeding cats are near bottom on the upstream edge, with a few feeding near the crown and boil-line areas. Cats in slack water behind boulders are usually inactive.
Although sometimes difficult to pinpoint, river-bottom holes are big-cat magnets. These structures break current, providing resting and feeding spots for blues, channels and flatheads.
In smaller rivers, holes form below shoals where current washes away bottom substrate. Look for big-river holes directly below dams, near outside bends and near tributary mouths. Sonar helps identify this structure.
Cats holed up often remain motionless, waiting for food to drift nearby. Consequently, baits must pass close to elicit strikes. Work holes thoroughly, top to bottom, front to back, and note where strikes occur. Concentrate on the most productive spots.
Cats stay in deeper areas during sunny days, moving to shallow spots to feed at night and on cloudy days. Place your bait accordingly.
This article is an excerpt from Keith "Catfish" Sutton's latest book "Pro Tactics: Catfish," published by Lyons Press. For orders and information, visit Sutton's website at www.catfishsutton.com.