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Get in on the channel-cat action

May 13, 2007|By BILL ANDERSON

After the very heavy rains in April, the Potomac River is relatively clear this month. That means good conditions for catch-and-release fishing for spawning smallmouth bass.

The locals also are enjoying some very good channel cat action. Channel catfish are the second most popular gamefish found in the Potomac, and they are very well-adapted to feeding in a variety of water conditions, even the high and cloudy waters we often have in the spring.

May is always a good month for big channel cats, and the recent reports from Harpers Ferry up to the Dam No. 5 area, indicate that nice channel cats are being caught using a variety of baits and techniques.

The following are some of the best approaches to take advantage of the channel-cat action.

·Rigging for catfish: For many years, I have been using a sliding sinker rig that is basically the same principal as the "fish finder" rig that is standard in saltwater fishing. This variation is better in rivers like the Potomac, where you usually lose a lot of terminal rigs to rocks.

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You build this rig as follows: Before tying on the hook, you slide an egg sinker onto the running line. Attach the hook at the end of the line with a good knot. (I like the Palomar knot.) Then, about eight inches above the hook, attach a small split shot. The resulting rigging keeps the egg sinker from sliding down to the hook. But when a fish takes the bait, the line can run freely through the egg sinker which is the same principal as the saltwater fish finder rig, but is cheap and easy to replace when you get hung and lose the terminal tackle, which you will.

A more elegant variation that a friend uses is to attach a barrel swivel to the running line and then use a short leader to the hook of a lighter-weight line than the running line. The idea is when you get hung on a rock, the lighter leader will break and you lose only the leader and hook. It's a pretty good approach.

·Catfish baits: Baits for channel cats range from live baits caught in local waters to all kinds of manufactured or commercial baits. To list the best baits would probably depend on who you talk with, but for more than 30 years, the go-to bait in our area is fresh chicken livers.

Many of the real expert cat fishermen I know prefer natural baits taken from area streams. That would include big creek chubs, suckers, stonecats and cutbait. Preferred fish to use as cutbait include suckers and fallfish. Chunks of fresh fallfish are a really good bait for larger catfish.

·Catfish tackle: I think the best tackle for channel cat is a medium weight baitcasting outfit. The big advantage is that you can put the reel in free-spool and let the fish run with minimum resistance. An outgoing clicker is also a nice feature on the reel.

For catfish, I like a fairly heavy rod (flipping rods are good) and a baitcasting reel loaded with 14-pound monofilament. If you go too heavy with the line, you will be hating life when you get hung on a rock and can't get the line to break near the hook.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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