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Summertime Fishing for Channel Catfish

Phillip Gentry

In the hierarchy of the catfishing world, three species top the charts as the most desirable in the eyes of catfish anglers. Number one is the blue catfish, the king of the catfish world, the bruiser that can achieve sizes closely resembling a Volkswagen Beetle according to scuba divers who dare to venture into the depths near the dam.

Second on the list is the flathead catfish - the mudcat - the night stalker whose only nemesis is a bikini-clad young lady or barbwire-tattooed redneck looking to wrestle the beast from its underwater lair.

Unfortunately, third and fourth on the list tend to be repeats of number one and two, because channel catfish routinely come in number five on a popularity contest with only three participants. The saving grace of the channel catfish is its undeniable place on the table after a romp through Lake Crisco. This is somewhat unfortunate because as light tackle fighters and angling quarry, there’s a lot to be said for channel catfish.

Of the three catfish species, channel catfish are the most widespread, calling nearly every state in the Union home plus locations in Canada and Mexico, owing primarily to being the first and most popular fish species raised in commercial aquaculture for food purposes.

About Channel Catfish

Channel catfish are omnivorous feeders and will readily take live and dead creatures along with a variety of unusual baits that run the gamut from grapes to soap to hot dog wieners. When targeting channel catfish, savvy anglers appeal to it’s dominating sense of smell to tempt the fish into biting. Channel catfish are often labelled as scavengers, but the label is mostly a misnomer, owing largely to the channel catfish’s highly developed olfactory senses.

The fish have olfactory pits on each side of their head. Each pit has two nostrils. Water comes in one nostril and goes out the other. The olfactory pit has folds inside that are lined with sensitive tissue for detecting food. In comparison, a rainbow trout has about 18 folds while a largemouth bass has roughly a dozen. Channel catfish have 140 of these folds in each nostril granting it the capability to detect one part food in 10 billion parts water.

catfish closeup

Best Baits for Channel Catfish

For warm water fishing, using baits that put off a continuous stream of odor often work best to help the fish locate the bait. This is the reason so called “stink baits” are a favorite summer channel catfish bait. Other less obtrusive baits including cut shad, herring or other high oil content fish, shrimp, and invertebrates such as crawfish and worms, are also good choices due to their olfactory output.

Regardless of the bait used, failing to frequently change baits, thereby continuing the scent trail that channel catfish use to hone in on your offering from a long distance, is a strong contributing factor in fishing success, or lack thereof.

Best Rig for Channel Catfish

Rigging for channel catfish is also a relatively simple matter. For fishing is static waters of lakes or ponds, a Carolina rig is the most effective. The weight associated with the Carolina rig should be contingent on the amount of current and depth of water being targeted. Most still water situations with depths of 20 feet or less would require no more than ½ oz of lead to anchor the rig. Sometimes no more than a splitshot, pinched straight to the line, will do the trick.

In current situations, rivers and streams with moderate water flow and depth may require up to 1 ½ to 2 ounces of lead. In many situations, the type of sinker used, such as a flat, no-roll sinker, often works better than a heavier round weight.

Another reason channel catfish get a less-than-desirable rating on the angling scale is the tendency for anglers to use heavier than necessary tackle. A common overpower situation occurs when blue or flathead catfish anglers using heavy weight tackle wind up with decent sized channel catfish on the line. Unless underwater structure dictates heavier tackle, medium to light action rods with 10-pound monofilament fishing line is sufficient to land nearly any channel catfish in most situations.

man holds catfish

Best Location for Channel Catfish

In all the above scenarios, location is important when targeting warm water channel cats. Like most gamefish species, channel cats tend to spend the majority of daylight hours in deeper water, away from sunlight and boat traffic in water of moderate (20- 25 feet) to deep (40 feet +) depths.

One standout daytime location to find channel catfish is overhead bridge crossings where the structure provides shade, depth, and cover. Feeding activity during the warmer months tends to ramp up in low-light situations with channel catfish becoming more active at dusk and dawn as well as cyclical feeding overnight.

In bodies of water where baitfish schools move early and late, expect to find channel catfish on typical ambush feeding sites such as long points and humps where catfish often clean up after other larger predator species.

Regardless of its standing on the catfish popularity scale, channel catfish are a reliable quarry when the goal is a cooler full of fillets or when other, more temperamental species aren’t willing to cooperate.

Read More: Everything You Need to Catch Catfish

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