Stonecats are perfect for river smallmouths

July 11, 2004|by BILL ANDERSON / Staff Correspondent

E-mail is great. Everyone is so busy that it is hard to catch up with each other by phone, so e-mail is a great alternative. Your addressee can answer at his or her convenience and you don't have the delays associated with conventional mail.

Recently, I received an e-mail from a reader who wanted to know more about fishing for river smallmouth bass with catties, as they are called in his part of Pennsylvania. In other areas, they are called stonecats or madtoms.

My understanding is that the proper common name for the baitfish in question is marginated madtom. The little catfish are usually a dirty yellow or olive color and feature a white belly with pink hues.

Many of the best river smallmouth fishermen will tell you that this is the single best bait for big river smallmouths. My experience is that they are in a class by themselves - particularly during the mid-summer months. We are now in a prime time of year for drifting stonecats.


Stonecats are seldom found for sale in bait shops, and when they are, they are expensive. The last time I saw them for sale was in a shop along the Shenandoah River in Virginia and they were selling for $10 for eight baits.

Bait shops can charge so much for stonecats because they are hard to catch in quantity. It's the classic supply-and-demand chain. Another reason stores charge so much is that they are very tough baits, so you can often catch several fish on the same cats. Eight baits will last one person for a typical evening of drift fishing.

There are a number of techniques used for catching stonecats. Most of the people I've known catch them at night by running a big seine in the shallows near weedbeds. One key is to use a net that is weighted in front to keep it right on the bottom. It's hard work, and you quickly get an appreciation of why the baits are expensive to buy. It is also a special thrill when a big ol' water snake or eel is wriggling around in the mesh.

My favorite way of fishing stonecats is to drift them with the current using a slip bobber rig. You can float them from a boat or wet wade and drift the bait through good holding waters.

Others fish the cats without a bobber and no additional weight, casting them upstream and letting them drift with the current. I tried it and had too many hang-ups when the cats run under rocks. I think the bobber helps in this regard.

Stonecats are found in all of our river systems and you can also find them in many tributary streams. If you can get some of the little catfish, you will find them to be a special mid-summer live bait.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached by e-mail at

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