How Do I Catch Catfish?
Catfishing is a simple sport, you really don't need much to get started. Catfish are available just about anywhere in the United States. If you live near a river, its a good chance you can find catfish. Many lakes can also hold huge numbers of catfish. Here in Twin Cities, we are lucky to have three large rivers with big populations of catfish. Catfish can reach well over 100 lbs, the Minnesota record catfish is 70 lbs and the Wisconsin record is 80 lbs. The world record catfish was caught in Texas last year, it weighed 129 lbs! Many people have caught bigger fish in the past, but they were never officially recognized by the AGFA. The catfish is believed to occasionally reach and surpass 200 lbs. Before you decide what fishing gear you will buy, you have to consider the top end size of the fish you will be fishing for.
For fish above 50 lbs, use AT LEAST a 7' Med. Saltwater rod with a medium saltwater baitcasting reel and a minimum of 40 lb test line.(40lb line is minimum in open water, in heavy cover where big catfish live, 60 or 80 pound test line is best)
For fish above 20 lbs, use at least a 7' med-heavy action rod with a heavy freshwater baitcasting reel and 20 lb test line minimum. This is the most common type of gear used by many cat men.
For fish under 20 lbs, use a 6' medium action rod with a medium baitcasting or spinning reel and a minimum of 10 lb test line.
Where and When to Fish
The info here is not a secret, it is mostly common catfish knowledge. There is no such thing as a magic fishing hole or a magic bait, I don't care what other fisherman claim. There is nothing too complicated about fishing. As long as you learn the basics, experience will teach you the rest. There are no guarantees you will catch fish every day, but the more you fish, the better fisherman you will become.
Catfishing starts in mid to late Spring when the rivers rise and the water starts to warm above 50 degrees. Catfish can be active at any time in the Spring so you will have to experiment to find the best times. When the water is high, catfish rest in slackwater and feed in the current. The best spot to fish is an area where fast current meets slackwater WITH cover. Cover is essential. Cover is where catfish can rest without having to fight the current. Deep outside bends in the river, wingdams, logjams, riprap banks, current breaks, bridge pilings, and backwater areas are all places catfish can be found.
The best time of day for good catfishing in summer is from 4 am to about 8am. Sorry, you'll have to get up early or stay up late. Calm overcast days are usually good throughout the day. Remember that catfish can become active at any time, these are just guidelines. Catfish will usually be in cover or near cover during the day and feed more during the night and early morning. My best fishing has been after 2:00 in the morning, but have caught many fish during the day as well. Calm overcast days are my favorite for daytime fishing. Night fishing is best during the hottest days of summer. Rainy days can be suprisingly good fishing in the spring and summer.
In the Fall, catfish really start to feed heavily to prepare for Winter. This can be some of the best trophy fishing. Many of the biggest catfish are caught in the Fall. When the water starts to cool the fishing gets good. You won't need to fish at night like in the Summer. Later, the fish will gather in their wintering holes. Fish are highly concentrated in relatively small areas throughout the Winter and are mostly inactive. Blue Catfish in the Southern U.S. are different. They are active all year and many of the biggest fish are caught in the Winter months.
Choosing the right bait for catfish is relatively easy. Catfish will eat just about anything, but freshly cut baitfish or lively baitfish are my favorites. I don't know which one is better, I have had success with both. Suckers are the easiest to get in Minnesota, but chubs and bullheads (check fishing regulations) work well. Nightcrawlers are a great bait but smaller fish will steal them off your hook. You will have to keep your bait lively. Nightcrawlers should be kept in a cooler and minnows should be kept in a good insulated bait bucket with cool fresh water. Cut baitfish should be kept under ice to remain fresh. You can experiment with different baits because every day on the water can be different. If something is not working, for God's sake don't sit there! Try something else! The are literally hundreds of artificial catfish baits on the market. Some can be good at times, but you will probably not catch trophy fish with them. Trophy fish are taken on the freshest cut or live fish.