Water temperatures are beginning to drop, though you wouldn’t think so with summer-like weather still controlling our human environment. Cool nights are the reason for the change. After mid-month there will be more darkness than light til next spring’s solstice.
With water temps now in the 60’s channel catfish are feeding steadily in preparation for leaving their summer haunts for deepwater over-winter spots by early November. Although you are liable to find channel cat in a number of habitats–usually when trying to catch a different species–there are several habitat parameters to look for when on a species specific search for whiskered fish with forked tails.
*hard bottom, preferably rocky rubble
*close proximity to deadfalls or drift piles
The name “channel” cat can throw you off on big water like the Mississippi. The actual channel is a minimum of nine feet deep. With the exception of the wingdam bite, there is simply too much force coming down the channel to hold dense populations of channel cats. The BEST place to go looking for forktail habitat is back in the running sloughs and tributary junctures–which is really a small to medium sized river by its very definition.
Electronics play a major role in a 21st century cat hunt. Once you see a promising deadfall coming out from the shoreline up the slough a ways check the depth and bottom signal on your sonar. A double-bottom echo indicates hard bottom. The digital depth readout is right in front of you. But what’s directly under the boat isn’t necessarily what is under the structure you want to fish. make a pass upstream from the snag before deciding to anchor up. Old snags which have been in the River awhile often have scour holes passing underneath them. The best ones usually have 4-6 f.o.w. for at least 100 yards upstream, then fall into a 10-14 foot deep scour hole right at the snag. Locate this kind of water and its definitely worth wetting a line.
Catfish location changes throughout a 24 hour day on a deadfall they call home. On a rising river, the fish will typically locate on the shore edge of the snag around the clock. With a stable or falling river, you’ll usually find them on the shore end from dusk til dawn with movement out to the branches end by mid-day…and a reverse migration as sunset approaches.
Using these rules of thumb when first anchoring up above a promising driftpile simply puts you in the ballpark. Boat position may have to be tweaked a little bit until your lines find a seam which is holding the most aggressive fish.
Sideways is the best way to anchor up, permitting a greater spread of lines across the water column. If lines on one end of the boat are getting all the bites, moving the boat just a few feet in that direction will often put everybody into the action.
CAUTION: deadfalls in current are ‘strainers’ by definition. Let your boat drift into one–especially sideways–and it can flip the boat and kill you. When re-positioning above a snag, start the motor first. Then pull the stern anchor, followed by the bow anchor once you’re under power.
When the boat is finally positioned sideways, an easy cast upstream from the snag, cast your lines out and check the time. Clock watching seems counterproductive in recreational fishing, but if you don’t take note of the time your lines go in seeking fish it is very easy to pee away an entire afternoon without catching many fish–especially if there are few bugs and you’re nestled in a nice, shady spot!
When channel cat fishing driftpiles in the summer I use Sonny’s super sticky channel cat bait exclusively. Sonny’s is great right out of the jar…but I almost always tweak my bait a little bit with something like fresh chicken liver–or better yet mayflies.
Put this stuff in front of them on a dipbait worm below a snap swivel with a 1/4-3/8 oz. egg sinker above it and if catfish are home, you’re gonna get bit in less than 15 minutes. if you don’t get bit in this time frame try re-positioning the boat a time or two before moving on to a different snag. Once you find the fish, if you don’t get a serious bite at least every five minutes its also time to move on.
Bait consistency should be just a little thicker than a runny milkshake. You can adjust the consistency by adding soybean or vegetable oil if it’s too thick or cattail fuzz if its too runny.
One you find a catfish honey hole, it will likely produce in following years. I’ve got a number of spots which are usually sure-fire producers that have given up fish every September for over a decade. But on every outing, I always try to fish at least two new spots. Sometimes you don’t get a chance to probe new waters. Four hours can pass quickly when it seems like there’s always at least one rod bouncing with a feisty forktail.
I’ve run out of gumption without delving into a discourse of the finer points of September forktail fishin’. The fog is starting to lift. Time to git out on the River.