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Catfishing on the River Begins
Two Saturdays ago on May 1st the Alexandria Gun Club held its annual spring meeting at their cabin on the Mississippi River. I could have taken my boat, but why have a bunch of boats there, so we boat pooled. Besides, plans had been made to do a little catfishing prior to the dinner and meeting. My brother and his friend Ken had already fished once this year with fellow Gun Club member Bob Dunlap. Fishing had been good, however it had been especially good for Bob. I suppose not wanting to chance getting any more tongue lashing from Bob about their fishing prowess I got to fish with Bob. There was a strong wind warning out meaning that the river itself may have been too rough to fish unless you fished along the west shoreline. That really didn’t matter as we fish the off chutes and sloughs in the river behind the islands.
The river’s temperature has risen to 60 degrees so we would be using stink bait. Now you can use nightcrawlers if you wish, but the downfall of nightcrawlers is that you catch everything including carp and perch, and we were focused on channel catfish. There are many, many choices of stink baits available, but any catfisherman worth his salt will have a tube of Sonny’s Super Sticky Catfish Bait in their boat. The bait is made in Farmington, Iowa by the Hootman Brothers Mfg. and has been catching catfish for years. I have even seen it featured on the In Fisherman TV show once, and those guys fish (and video catching fish) for a living. Bob and I were both using the cheese formula. When we started out the morning it was cool enough that you had to work at getting the bait soft enough to stick on the dip worm.
In talking to Bob about what he preferred as far as color of dip worm, Bob’s favorite was black and it appeared that he was either using a Junnie’s Cat Tracker or a Catfish Charlie dip worm. I prefer purple and they will either be either a J&N or Hog Wild dip worm and both have a small square sponge that will be within the gap of a treble hook. I think the sponge holds the scent a little longer even after the bait may have been washed off the worm. But back to the color thing – when the fish are finicky, and I’m sure it’s true for Bob as well, I will change color until I find something they will hit. The dip worm will be attached to a snell that will be attached to a swivel. The main line will be tied to the other end of the swivel after passing through the center of a no-roll sinker. A no-roll sinker lies flat on the bottom and will not be rolled by the current and keeps the bait in the location that you want it. The current wasn’t too bad in the slough in which we were fishing so I only used a 1 1/2 ounce sinker. Besides the color choice in dip worms, the only other difference that I could see was that Bob ran a bead between the sinker and the swivel which keeps the sharp edge of the sinker from cutting into the knot above the swivel.
We boated down the slough until we found a likely looking spot that might hold catfish. These spots would be around a brush pile or fell tree that might have gone into the water. When fishing the river, I like to fish above or below wing dams. This is especially true when it gets later into summer: the moving water puts more oxygen into the water and even makes it cooler for that matter. Things were a little slow getting started on Saturday and at this point Bob doesn’t always go above or below brush piles, often he just gets in them and fishes the small open spots that are available. We tied up to a log at the first stop and it was obvious by the breaks in the water that there were more logs out there. It took a while, but after about ten minutes I had a bite and ended up landing the first fish of the morning. We stayed put for another 15 minutes or so before moving to another spot. Once again Bob tied up on a log and he fished near the bank while I took the main current to fish. The action from the first stop repeated itself as I would eventually get a bite and set the hook into the largest fish of the day. It turned out to be a nice three pounder. We continued to fish, but again it appeared that I caught the only fish around, so we moved when we failed to even get another bite. A third stop saw me take another fish, but this time I was fishing along the shore and Bob was fishing the channel.
I was fishing in front of and below the boat. Bob was casting straight out from the back of the boat into the main channel. As the sinker dropped, it would be drifted into an area just off the edge of the swiftest current and this is where the catfish were staged. Very shortly, Bob also had three catfish and before we quit fishing we each would boat five fish apiece. Bob would have beaten me had it not been for his losing two fish right at the boat, but it happens, and this way no one has to hang their heads in shame.
In another comparison of fishing tactics both Bob and I fished two rods and (I know it was true for me and I think Bob said the same thing) the majority of the fish were caught on light to medium action rods. While the water is warming up, the fish still can bite very lightly, so it’s important that you are able to detect the slightest tap and be ready if the fish hits it again. The three pounder was the exception as it hit the worm hard and began to take it downstream before I set the hook and turned it. I will also tell you that Bob is a great deal more patient than I and will take more time in choosing when to set the hook, while I tend to attempt to set the hook almost as soon as I pick the rod up. I don’t know if it’s because he is older than I am, or if he has just caught a ton of catfish and is a little more relaxed in his fishing approach, but whatever it is, it works for him.
All the gear that I mentioned we used can be bought locally, and although using a boat is very handy when searching out areas to fish, you could also do it by walking the shoreline along any river or larger creek, provided you have permission. I still enjoy catching bass and panfish, but catfish long ago became my number one species to go after for a variety of reasons. They grow to some very large sizes, they fight hard in the current, there are enough of them that there is no need to feel guilty when you keep enough for a fish fry, and finally when filleted they are great for everyone in the family to eat without worrying about finding a bone, even though one should always be careful.