Coldwater Catfish Tips from The B’n’M Pros
By Phillip Gentry
With the official start of winter right around the corner, the start of winter fishing season is at hand. For catfish anglers that can mean good things as well as a few bad things. The weather may not be as pleasant as it is the other three seasons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t catch catfish. In fact, many seasoned anglers prefer the winter months for chasing blue, channel, and flathead catfish.
A few of the B’n’M pros weighed in with some handy tips and tricks that should help you get more bites from catfish this winter as well as put more fish in the boat.
David Magness of Cat’n Around Guide Service is one of those guys who actually prefers to fish during the winter. He said there are several things he does that helps him catch more trophy blue catfish.
Catfish guide David Magness prefers to fish for trophy catfish in the winter.
“First, I’ll look for a deep hole with slack current,” he said. “In the winter, slack current is better because the fish don’t feel like fighting the current.”
Magness also changes what’s on the menu.
“Most people use skipjack herring year-round, but I will switch to shad for bait when the water is cold,” he said. “I catch a lot of 2 to 3-inch threadfin and gizzard shad throwing a cast net around the slack holes where I fish, and I believe that’s what the catfish are accustomed to eating in cold water. Those shad, cut in half, are also much smaller baits and that’s another thing about fishing in cold water. You need to use smaller bait.”
Catfish tournament pro David Shipman said rather than fishing right on the bottom, he tends to find catfish suspended up in the water column more during the winter than at other times of the year.
“Big catfish will suspend up 2 to 3 to 10 or even 12 feet off the bottom if there’s not a lot of current,” said Shipman. “I will use a bit heavier weight to keep the line vertical in the water and just ease around with the trolling motor allowing my baits to suspend up off the bottom and target those fish.”
Because catfish are more lethargic in cold water, look for deeper holes that have more slack current than you want for summer fishing.
Another B’n’M pro and veteran tournament angler, Joey Pounders loves to target flathead catfish, even in the winter, and has some great tips for flathead anglers
“A lot of people believe flatheads don’t bite in the winter and that’s not true,” said Pounders. The difference is they tend to congregate together in the winter versus in the summer when they spread out more. That means that you may have to fish 10 to 15 spots before you catch a fish.”
“When you do catch a flathead in the winter, you need to stay put,” he said. There’s likely to five, six or even more flathead catfish in that one spot.”
Pounders said most of his flathead spots are blow down trees. In the winter, he will locate 10 or 12 of those trees in a 2 mile stretch of river before he starts fishing, but once he locates a tree that has at least one fish on it, it’s very likely to have several more.
Like David Magness, Pounders also prefers shad for winter catfish bait. He fishes them live and stated the cooler water keeps them frisky longer.
“I can get 25 to 30 minutes of good lively action out of each bait verses about 5 to 10 minutes of so-so action in the summer because the shad are so stressed in the hot water,” said Pounders.
While skipjack herring is the top bait choice most of the time, small shad baits really shine in cold water.
Blue Cat Guide Service guide Bob Crosby also believes in downsizing during the winter- using smaller baits, smaller hooks, and just enough weight to keep the bait on the bottom. Crosby also changes his catfish rod when he’s fishing at anchor during the winter.
“I use the Bumping rod when anchor fishing in the winter because the Bumping rod has a softer tip,” he said. “Catfish are very lethargic in the cold. When they pick up the bait, they will pull the rod tip and bait down and then drop the bait just as you’re ready to set the hook if they feel any resistance. The softer tip on the Bumping rod gives them less resistance to pull against.”
Crosby also said he recommends lightening up the drag on your reels, giving the fish enough drag to get a good hookset without the fish spitting the bait out.
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