It is the stuff that almost all fish stories are made: maybe it was an equipment failure, a freakish feat of strength displayed by a fish or just a run of bad luck. But if the world tells us anything, it’s that the more prepared we are, the luckier we get. So while there may be a litany of ways to catch more and bigger catfish, failing to focus on what kinds of water you need to be fishing can be one of the biggest obstacles.
By ‘focusing’ I do not mean that you need to sit on a bank focusing your attention on the line every second that it is in the water. However, I believe your focus needs to be placed on the bodies of water where larger channel catfish will be located. These bodies of water will be abundant with forage fish, and the larger the area, the more big cats will inhabit the same waterway.
I have caught many channel cats in large rivers, stream mouths, riverbanks and shallow riffle areas. One of the most successful locations to land those large channel cats is to fish upstream of heavy cover. Most large channel cats will hole up in thick cover or boils—depressions made by the current—for protection and the current will drift food to them. Casting your line from the upstream side of the cover will allow the current to take your baits scent through the cover and directly to the channel cats. Most people try to avoid the brush and heavy cover to avoid snags, but if you are looking for large cats, those are the areas that need the most attention.
Channel cats are scent driven feeders; the correct bait and gear will ensure that you can have an eventful outing. I like to use strongly scented baits when fishing for channel cats because the scent can be dispersed over a larger area. Catfish dough has quickly become my favorite bait for this style of fishing because it expands the strike zone by drawing in catfish from even further away than other smelly baits.
In waters abundant with cover, catfish will swim under and around the cover to try and break the line. To keep this from happening, I use 20-pound line. I fish with the slip weight method. It is a simple method and will keep your bait on the bottom floor. Pinch a slip weight to the desired height—this may require some trial runs—and at the end of the line tie on your favorite hook using a Palomar knot.
The rod length I have used depends on the situation; a 6- or 7-foot rod will suffice if I am doing little casting. If I cast regularly, a 7- to 9-footer is recommended. Berkley Cherrywood rods have plenty of backbone to drag those big catfish from deep water and heavy cover but are still sensitive enough to allow me to detect the most subtle strikes—important when dead-sticking prepared bait.
An angler who fishes the cover in large bodies of water might encounter a few snags (especially when fishing from a boat), but fishing these areas are an angler’s best chance at very large channel cats that linger around these areas.