Fishermen tune in for right channel cat baits


April 13, 2008|By BILL ANDERSON

Catfish specialists have been out on Saturday night the past two weekends, despite some unusually cool April weather.

From our house well above the river, we can see Coleman lanterns and campfires as the fishermen make a night of it along the Maryland shore of the Potomac River. As the weather improves, even more catfish anglers will be out.

The period from mid-April through May is always a good period for big channel cats. Early reports this spring indicate that nice channel cats are being caught using a variety of baits and techniques.

Channel catfish are the second most popular river fish locally -- just behind smallmouth bass. The tackle and techniques needs are pretty basic and there are plenty of fish in the Potomac. Here are some of the best approaches to take advantage of the channel cat action in the next few weeks.


Catfish Rigs

Catfish rigs don't need to be complicated. For the most part, channel cats aren't shy about grabbing a baited hook, but a rig that will allow the fish to run with a bait and not feel the weight of sinkers does work well.

A great rig for this is a sliding sinker rig. Saltwater anglers call this a "fish finder" rig. One thing to keep in mind is that you are likely to lose a lot of hook and sinker rigs in the rocky Potomac.

A simple, but effective, river set up starts before tying the hook slide and egg sinker on the running line. Then attach the hook at the end of the line. About eight inches above the hook attach a small split shot. The resulting rig keeps the egg sinker from sliding down to the hook, but when a fish takes the bait, the line can run freely through egg sinker.

This is exactly the same principal as the saltwater fish finder rig, but is cheap and easy to replace when you get hung on rocks and have to break off the hook and sinker.

Catfish Baits

Baits for channel cats range from live baits from local waters to the commercial baits that are getting more popular. Any listing of the "best" baits would probably depend on who you talk with, but in this area, the old standby is fresh chicken livers which work well and are cheap and easy to get.

Many of the expert channel cat fishermen I've met prefer natural baits taken from local waters. This would include big creek chubs, stonecats and cutbait. Preferred cutbait are suckers and fallfish. Chunks of fresh fallfish or white sucker is a really good bait for bigger fish and easy to acquire in most cases.

Catfish Tackle

The best all-around tackle for channel cat is probably medium weight bait-casting tackle. One big advantage is that you can put the reel in free-spool and let the fish run with minimum resistance as it takes the bait. A good rig would be a fairly heavy casting rod (flipping rods work really well) and a bait-casting reel loaded with 15 or 17-pound monofilament.

Channel catfish are a really fine gamefish. In this area, they are readily available and also a very good table fish.

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

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