So who wants to go channel catfishing this spring? I hope you’ve been pumping iron in gym in anticipation of fighting that monster catfish you have dreamed of, or had nightmares about, all winter long. Well the time is here and I’m going to guide you through some of my secret tips and tricks to improve your chances of crushing some monster cats.
In early spring the catfish are moving up the river putting on the feed bag getting ready for the upcoming spawn. What I mean is that the cats have been laying low all winter long and now is the time to trigger them to take the bait with the information I am about to share. So let’s run down what are your weapons of choice for you to land a monster cat.
Equipment— 7 to 9 foot medium heavy to heavy action rod and reel combo with a soft tip. Light action rods just won’t cut it for these beasts. Spool with 25 lb mono-filament line. Remember, braided line will cut up the catfish so avoid it because catfish like to roll. Attached to your line should be a catfish rig. There are two types of rigs; a circle hook and regular jay hook rig. Circle hooks are great for beginners because they set themselves. Now for some weight. The river current will determine the amount of weight you need to make sure your rig is sitting on the bottom of the river to be effective. And don’t forget to bring along a big net to safely land the fish. Last but not least have a bump board to measure your catch and a camera to get your Manitoba moment. A master angler channel catfish must be 34 inches or over and a picture length catfish must be 39 inches or over next to a measuring device. You should have two 20lb anchors in your boat attached by a 3 foot chain and a 100 feet of rope on each. This will help position you to stay in one spot when you are fishing regardless of wind and current. NEVER, EVER, anchor to the back of your boat unless you want to swamp your boat.
Bait— Here are some baits to consider. In the spring catfish are feeding heavily on Goldeye so that’s the number one bait. Cut up your Goldeye and freeze it in one inch pieces in a zip lock bag before you go fishing to avoid a mess in your boat. And here’s a little tip, use a large game bait button to hold the bait on your hook. The head of the Goldeye is the best piece of the fish to use. If Goldeye is unavailable, uncooked head-on tiger prawn shrimp is your next choice. The bonus of this bait is any left over shrimp at the end of day will make for a great barbecue skewer. Last but not least, tullibee and sucker will also do the trick. Live or dead, catfish will come in and eat anything.
Location— Look for areas with rip-rap (rocks on the shoreline), bridge pilings and/or rocky bottoms. Here’s the thing, channel cats like to stay out of the current so any areas with structure is a good choice. Here’s a tip. If you don’t get a hit after 15 minutes, pull in your anchor, and run and gun (move to another spot). So if you catch a catfish in the area you are fishing, other catfish will smell the bait in the water and come in for a feed.
Technique— Here’s how you successfully land channel cats. Catfish taste the bait using their barbels (whiskers) and you will feel a couple taps on the end of your rod. Whatever you do, do not set the hook on taps (that’s the secret). Wait for the rod to start bending, then set the hook hard. Once the catfish is hooked, reel downwards and pull back maintaining constant pressure because your rod must always be bent because we fish barbless in Manitoba. Remember, do not let your rod go straight or its game over. Over my career as a professional channel catfish guide, and an overall nice guy, using these tips will give you the edge over other anglers in your pursuit of the alpha predator of the Red River, the mighty channel catfish. Channel catfishing is a high energy sport for the whole family and as I always say… families that play together, stay together!