Fishing for channel catfish is hot right now.
Reports from around the state for a variety of waters and species have been great the past couple of weeks. Our weather has stabilized, waters have warmed and the fishing has taken off.
I have heard great reports for everything from trout to panfish to bass, walleyes, pike and muskies. That certainly includes catfish. You might not even have to be targeting catfish right now to catch some. My kids and I recently fished a pond for largemouth bass and panfish, but could not avoid catching some very active and aggressive channel cats, too. They hit swimbaits and chased down crankbaits.
It makes sense that channel cats would be very catchable now. In the past couple of weeks, water temperatures have risen several degrees — much to the liking of warm-water catfish. In addition, our catfish species are the last to spawn every year — June and even July in most Nebraska waters. So, hungry, aggressive catfish are active and roaming to find some good eats and extra energy to get ready to spawn.
Catfish, especially channel cats, have a reputation as bottom feeders that just lazily swim around sucking up stinky, dead stuff from the bottom. That is not all they do. Channel cats are predators, too. I had a 5-pound channel cat spit up a baby muskrat once. If that isn’t being predatory, I do not know what is, and right now, they are being predatory.
Talk to any hard-core bass or walleye angler, and they likely will tell you stories of some big channel cats that were caught on a variety of artificial lures. I can think of channels I have caught on spinnerbaits, top-waters, jigging spoons, and had one smash a crankbait once and then explode from the water when I set the hook.
In recent years, I have not spent much time soaking live or dead baits targeting channel cats. I just keep casting the variety of artificial baits I use for other predator fish knowing that from time to time I am going to pick up the occasional catfish.
If you want to catch some channel cats right now, imagine what you can do by actually targeting those fish. I understand that every catfish angler has his or her favorite stinky concoction or secret bait. If you have one of those that you are particularly confident in, fish your confidence bait. But fresh-cut bait is hard to beat almost all of the time. Catch a sunfish or other small fish (make sure it meets all length and bag limit requirements), then cut it up and use it for bait. It’s the circle of life!
Fishing on the bottom with some sort of slip-sinker rig is always a good idea for channel cats, but do not hesitate to suspend baits below floats, especially if fishing over some aquatic vegetation.
Channel cats are active now, so if you are not getting bites, move. Look for areas where there is an abundance of baitfish or other prey items. Pay special attention to wind-swept shorelines — yes, fish with the wind in your face — or current areas. If there is shallow-water cover nearby, that makes a spot even better.
Or, do like I do and just keep tossing baits for bass, walleyes, pike, muskies and panfish and be pleasantly surprised when a predacious channel cat smashes it.