Late Fall/Early Winter River Catfishing with Ben Goebel
In this first of a two-part series, B’n’M pro-staffer Ben Goebel shares his secrets for catching river catfish as fall gives way to winter.
By Phillip Gentry
As a catfishing guide who specializes in fishing big rivers for trophy catfish, B’n’M pro-staffer Ben Goebel, from Mt Vernon, Indiana, uses a two-pronged approach whenever the seasons shift from cool autumn weather to cold winter weather.
He admits it’s a slow time for the guiding business because a lot of outdoorsmen are chasing other pursuits such as deer and duck hunting and don’t show a lot of interest in getting on the water when the water temps dip into the 40’s and the air can be just as cold.
“The catfishing really doesn’t slow down this time of year,” said Goebel. “I’m thankful for the break because it gives me time to get into the woods myself and also spend time on the water with my close friends and family, particularly my two boys.”
Many shallow water flats look the same from the surface. A quick scan with side imaging sonar will show you the difference.
Goebel uses a two-prong approach for river catfishing, whether he’s fishing the Ohio River closer to home or out on the Mississippi River. The first pattern is a shallow water approach and the second is a deep-water approach. He may try both patterns on the same trip, but there are other factors that dictate whether catfish prefer to be in only 10 – 18 feet of water or whether they’ll back out to deeper water with lots of wood cover to hide in.
He says the water levels on the Ohio this year are lower than what he’s been accustomed to seeing during December. Low water, in his opinion, is good. Catfish, particularly blue catfish, tend to be scattered through the fall and winter and less water means less places to hide.
“If we get a rise in water, not talking about flooding, just an average fluctuation, catfish will pull up into shallower water out of the main current,” he said. “It’s a rather new idea, but I believe it has to do with them feeding on shad that also move shallow on rising water. There’s strong evidence that suggests it has to do with the huge schools of Asian carp we’re seeing in the same pattern.”
Catfish are opportunistic feeders when moving up into the shallows during cold weather, but most of the time shad is on the menu.
When fishing shallow water, Goebel said he likes to find a flat that’s holding a lot of life – bait, catfish, carp, whatever. He said it seems when everything moves shallow, the catfish will be there too.
Goebel uses B’n’M’s Silver Cat Magnum baitcasting rods paired with Daiwa Saltist reels and 80-pound braided line and leader when catfishing. He employs a simple 3-way rig or Carolina rig that utilizes 8/09 circle hooks and weights that range from 4 – 8 ounces depending on current.
The guide uses his trolling motor to position his catfishing boat and fan casts lines around the boat in a circular pattern.
“I-pilot trolling motors have really changed the catfishing world,” he said. “The days of setting and resetting anchors is all but over. I hit the Spot-Lock, I throw out baits and let them soak. If I want to jump over 10 feet or 100 yards, it’s simple to do with the trolling motor and I’m right back to fishing.
A slowdown in the guide fishing season allows Goebel time to get on the water with close friends and family, particularly his two boys – Eli and Sawyer.
Due to the cold water and slowing metabolisms of early winter catfish, Goebel gives the fish around thirty minutes to find the bait. Each time he Spot-Locks, he resets the timer, whether he’s moved a few yards or a few miles.
Speaking of bait, Goebel said it’s a good idea this time of year to match the hatch when catfishing. He still brings along skipjack herring but will also offer a choice of gizzard and threadfin shad and sometimes even cut Asian carp.
“The shallow water fish are feeding on shad, but they are opportunistic feeders,” he said. Sometimes they’ll show a preference for one bait over the other although most times in the cold, shallow water, it’s going to be shad.”
Finally, Goebel said a lot of shallow water flats look similar from the surface, but a quick run through scanning the area with side imaging sonar will save him a lot of time waiting and soaking baits.
NEXT TIME: River City Catfishing Guide Ben Goebel explains tackle and tactics for deep water catfishing in cover during the winter.
To book a guided catfishing trip with Capt. Ben Goebel on the Ohio or Mississippi Rivers, contact him at 812-568-8716 or view his Facebook page: River City Catfishing Guide Service.
B’n’M has all the catfish tackle you need to land the big ones. Check out our catalog online at bnmpoles.com