Knowing what the big cats are dining on helps land monsters!
The open water season is slowly winding down and lots of folks pack away the tackle and focus on one of the many other unique opportunities fall has to offer. The shorelines aren’t as crowded as they were in the peak of summer and I will often take advantage of this by getting out fishing, sometimes for catfish.
Some years we are lucky with a slow transition from summer to fall and fall to winter and others not so much. A sustained milder weather pattern is ideal for both the angler and fish this time of year in my opinion and when that is the case and time permits I will do my best to get out and soak some bait. The bite might not be as hot as spring or summer but the need to feed is still there for channel cats until the water hits around 50 F.
Catfish can put on the miles, some travel a lot further than you would think while others stay in a relatively small home range. As the days get shorter and temperatures slowly lower many of the summer hot spots become unproductive. It pays to explore and be as mobile as possible when seeking fish in autumn and if I don’t have a bite or any takes within 20-60 minutes I will move. One hundred feet or a few kilometers, the more ground you can cover the more you will learn. I like to focus on areas that receive the most amount of sun as sometimes there can be a subtle enough change in temperature to attract fish, or at least the food bigger fish are after.
Some years the water is lower than normal, exposing clam beds and other hidden structure like dugout holes, sandbars and boulders. This can benefit your fishing in seasons to come if you make note of your findings. A few years back when the river level was lower we found many exposed clam beds and were able to hammer catfish throughout the month of September. Some store-bought clam meat in pantyhose bait bags or globbed on a hook held with elastic bands worked as well as the shrimp those trips. These clam beds have been productive spots when accessible in the years since.
Big cats know where their food sources are after years and years of hunting them out, and another one of those fall favorites is frogs. Frogs bury themselves in the mud of water bodies in late fall to survive through the winter. They also use the water as an escape route from predators. Many the catfish lie in wait close to shore as the frogs stage closer and closer. I learned this while bank fishing years back and seeing big slashing attacks from catfish right close to shore. Coincidentally I was fishing near a very small natural spring that was leaking out of higher ground and trickling into the river. It didn’t take me long to hunt down a few frogs and get one on a hook in the shallows and soon after that a fight with a feisty channel catfish followed.
We have caught more than a few catfish on corn while fishing for carp and one fall when targeting carp in a slack water shallow area I stumbled upon a few catfish willing to take the corn I had out there. These happened to be what I would consider a good eater size catfish around the 21 inch mark (in Manitoba no catfish over 24 inches may be retained). A friend of mine took the time to show me how to clean and prepare catfish and I am forever thankful as it was some of the best fish we had eaten. After much persuasion everyone that tried it loved it!
While most of my fall fishing is done in the daylight hours, night time can still be a good time for catfish, just be prepared for the elements. Good clothes for the weather, a headlamp, snacks and a warm beverage along with a small fire where permitted are a must. There are multiple bite detection systems that can aid with fishing in the dark but especially in fall I like to have as much “feel” on what is going on down at the end of my line and I will mostly feather the line waiting for taps and takes.
The Red River and Assiniboine hold some good numbers and sizes of catfish (along with countless other species) as well as ample public fishing access. No matter where I am fishing or what I am targeting I always try to have a backup plan with a rod and tackle packed away, it has saved the trip on more than one occasion. So take advantage of the scenery and season, stay as mobile as possible and hunt around for some catfish, you never know what’s biting until you have a line out.