Catfish Fishing Basics For Beginners

The common idea of catfishing is sitting on a bank in a lawn chair with poles and a case of drinks. This method can produce fish at times, nevertheless, in order to catch catfish all day, all night and all year requires a bit more knowledge and finesse.

By necessity, this information will be very general. Each body of water has its own unique quirks, and it helps to know the waters you are fishing in. What works in Alabama may work differently in Maine or Texas.

There are 39 species of catfish in North America, but only three are of any importance to fisherman. They are the Blue Catfish (Ictalurus furcatas), the Flathead, or Yellow Catfish (Pylodictus olivares), and the Channel Catfish (Ictalurus puctatus). The other species are of little concern because of their small size or limited distribution.

All catfish share some basic anatomical features. They all have “whiskers” which are actually very sensitive sensory organs, an incredible sense of smell that can detect food concentrations of as little as one part per million, and ‘taste-buds’ along the entire length of their body.

They all have sharp, mildly venomous spines on each pectoral fin and on the dorsal fin. The venom is not normally harmful to humans, but if it stings too much for you, here is a little known trick to make it go away. Simply rub the catfish’s tail over the wound and it will stop hurting. The mucous that all catfish secrete has an antidote for the venom in it.

Blue Catfish are primarily big-river fish indigenous to the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi River systems, ranging from Virginia south through Tennessee, western North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, east Texas, east Mexico and Guatemala.

They are popular ‘stockers’ in pay lakes. Blue Catfish differ from the other two species in that they are active and aggressive in the winter. Blue Catfish run large, up to 100 pounds and more. 50 pounders are not uncommon.

In appearance, they are heavy-bodied, but streamlined. They are slate blue on the back and sides fading to white on the belly, with no markings of any kind. They have a deeply forked tail and 30-35 rays on the anal fin. Smaller specimens are often confused with Channel Catfish where their habitats overlap.

Blue Catfish spawn when the water temperature reaches 70-75 degrees F. They lay their eggs under logs, brush, debris, or along undercut banks without making a nest of any kind. Blue Catfish prefer sandy bottoms and moderate current.

The largest specimens are usually caught on trotlines using live bluegills, goldfish or other baitfish. They can be caught on cut-bait, nightcrawlers and ‘stink-bait’ as well. They are active feeders all year long and make wonderful table-fare.

The Yellow, or Flathead Catfish range from the lower Great Lakes south through the Mississippi River Basin all the way to the Gulf States. In size, Yellow Catfish can reach lengths of 3-4 feet and 100 pounds or more. Fish in the 50 pound range are not uncommon. As the name suggests, they have an angular, ‘flat’ head and no fork in the tail.

They are actually members of the bullhead family of catfish. Their color ranges from yellow to olive brown on the back and sides with much black or brown mottling, fading to pale yellow or cream colored on the belly.

Flathead Catfish spawn when the water temperature reaches 72-84 degrees F. They build nests in structure such as rocks, undercut banks and large bottom debris, logs, old tires, etc.

Yellow Catfish prefer deep holes in streams, rivers and lakes where the water is turbid and has slower currents. More so than the other two species, Flatheads are pure predators and eat fish, including their own kind. The largest fish are invariably caught on trotlines using live bluegills, where legal. They are active feeders at night in the spring and summer and are good eating.

Dan Eggertsen is a fishing researcher and enthusiast who is committed to providing the best saltwater fishing information possible. Get more information on fishing for catfish here:

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