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How to Catch Catfish in Rivers

Catfish were the fish of my childhood. These were the fish my grandfather told me he caught when I was 6 years old, climbed onto his lap and asked him to tell me stories. To this day, catching a catfish brings back memories of me sitting in the dark with him and my uncles, holding a cheap lantern over the water while they fished, and the flickering light the struggling figure of a catfish at the end of one of theirs Lines lit .

Catfish became a fish I loved and the first fish I really went after, beyond panfish and perch. I’ve fished for them using dozens of different techniques – from setting trotlines in streams to reaching out of holes with my hands – I’m happy to land a catfish anytime, anywhere, but my absolute favorite place to hunt catfish is in the flowing waters a river.

How to find catfish in rivers

Although most anglers know at least a little bit about catching catfish in large lakes, reservoirs, swamps and ponds, it seems that many fishermen out there are not looking to specifically target cats in rivers. Many actually do not believe that catfish can live in rivers at all. All catfish species, from the tiny bullhead to the popular channel cat to the giant blue and flathead, survive and thrive in rivers, and all can be targeted and caught by anglers who know where to look.

Most catfish species that live in rivers are migratory, migrating to and staying in deep holes in the fall and winter and migrating upstream or downstream from these late-season stocks in the summer months to forage for food. They can be caught in both seasons as long as you fish in the right spots and use the right bait at the right time of year.

In summer, when catfish are around, it is best to fish in the evening. Catfish become more active at night at this time of year and rely on their fantastic sense of smell to find food. If you find these fish in a river you will need to release bait in slower water along areas where the catfish can find plenty of food. Like trout, catfish move in and out of the current in rivers to feed on anything edible that swims or swims past them. Catfish do not discriminate and will eat everything from small baitfish and panfish to worms, crabs and leeches. They even feed on dead fish, mammals and amphibians floating on the river bottom.

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You will want to place your baits in the best possible spots. Look for areas of slow-moving water along or behind large obstructions in the river, such as B. piles of bushes, logs, large boulders and especially under embankments. Stream confluences are another good bet, especially if the incoming water is slower or warmer than the river itself. These spots can be havens for river catfish, with dozens of fish piling up under the incoming current like aquatic piglets at a trough, waiting to feast on anything edible dumped out of the stream into the main river.

If you don’t have spots like this in your local catfish hole, then your best bet for targeting river fish is flat banks with a slow moving current running along sharp drop-offs. In the evening, large catfish such as Flatheads, Blues and Channels cruise these shorelines, moving into the shallow water to feed indiscriminately and then heading back out to deep water. These are great places to try and stock your fridge and freezer with some cats.

In the fall and winter, when the river gets cold, catfish move to their winter burrows. These are the deepest, darkest and slowest moving holes in the river and while you can fish them from shore it’s usually best to approach them from a boat equipped with electronics to help you spot both the holes as well as to locate the fish. Hibernation holes are found near the mouths of rivers and streams where the stronger current has had years to excavate the ground, at the foundations of dams, and at other man-made structures such as bridges and piers. Fish typically pile up in holes 20 feet or more deep where they swim slowly and jockey for position in the best feeding area. Unlike summer fish, these cats are most active during the warmest party of the day and can really give you plenty of late afternoon action as long as you have the right gear to catch them.

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Catfish catching equipment

No matter what time of year you’re targeting catfish in rivers, finding fish is only half the challenge. Catfish are naturally strong fish and can grow to truly gigantic sizes. Combine that with a strong river current and you could find yourself in a situation that will shatter your average fishing tackle. So if you’re heading to the river after cats, you might want to spice up your setup.

Finding the right rod and line for catching catfish on a river depends entirely on what type of catfish you are looking for. When chasing smaller fish like bullhead or fiddler you will do fine with a light to medium action rod strung at 6-10 lb Test. If you are fishing a river with larger species like channels, blues or flatheads then you should use heavier gear. Choose a heavy action rod with plenty of backbone and pair it with a reel that has decent drag. Pierce the spool with heavy 40- to 50-pound braided line and you’ll be loaded for bears.

Rigging for river cats is pretty basic. Although you can perform some more complicated techniques, hook, line, and sinker essentially work for river cats. Set it up by attaching a heavy ¼ to 4 ounce throwing weight to your line and attaching a heavy duty running swivel to one end. Tie an 18 to 24 inch length of heavy 50 to 80 pound braided line to the other end of the swivel and then tie on your hook. Catfish hooks will vary depending on the species you are hunting and the type of bait you are using, but all should be large to ensure quick and efficient hooking into a catfish’s bony mouth.

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If you are using live baits, cut baits or other solid baits such as chicken livers or nightcrawlers I would recommend rigging with a size 2 to 4/0 large ring hook. These hooks are fantastic for catfish as they allow the fish to pick up the bait and run with it without feeling the tip and the unique curved design essentially locks into the fish mouth once you pick up the rod. When using something more unstable like a dip bait or batter bait, your best bet for catching cats is a large 1 in 1/0 treble hook, which will hold the bait on the hook much better on long casts or when setting the hook in case of false alarm.

Fish your baits by casting them at likely looking spots, dropping them on the bottom and then letting them soak. While this may seem tedious when catfish are actually feeding, you barely have a moment to crack your first beer before your line becomes stuck with a fish. If you’re the impatient type (and if it’s legal in your state) you can try fishing multiple rods at once. This can be incredibly efficient as it allows you to fish several different spots and use a variety of baits at the same time until you’re nailed on a big river catfish.

Become a cat person

Everyone has their favorite fish. A species that you will not only love for its beauty or size, but also for its pure feeling. This is because some Pisces become more than just a pursuit or even an obsession, they become a comfort. They remind us of a simpler time in our lives and, as fishermen, almost become a part of our soul. Although I work as a trout guide and spend most of my free time chasing challenging species like steelhead, musky and walleye, I still think back to those days of sitting on a muddy river bank in the dark, feeding hooks and watching my rod tips full of anticipation and waiting for them to twitch. I think of my grandmother showing me how to clean a flathead and fried channel cat sandwiches at the county fair. When someone asks me what my favorite fish are, I’m undoubtedly talking about cats.

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