This week, let’s take a look at catfish and the pursuit of them. We are probably entering the best time of year for catfishing.
Even as a kid, I had a certain fascination with catfiah, and read everything I could get my hands on about them. I think one of the things that intrigued me was the fact that a lot of fishing for them was done at night. The magazine articles of the day, depicted them as huge monsters, requiring the strongest and heaviest tackle you could find. Then, there was the bait. Back then, it was the more disgusting the better. My friends and I came up with some unbelievable concoctions. In fact, I used one of them as the basis for a short story “The Great Catfish Safari,” a number of years ago.
Let’s fast forward to today. At some point along the road, a light bulb came on in my head. I had never caught a catfish even close to big enough to warrant a rod with all the action of a pool cue. Forty pound test line seemed a bit over the top as well. I figured that the same tackle I used for bass and walleye should work for cats as well. I also gave up the revolting baits, and started using worms and minnows. My results have been just as good, if not better, and the fishing has been a lot more fun. Night fishing is also now a thing of the past for me. Nowadays, if I stayed out all night, it would take my body clock several days to get back into adjustment. Besides, old Bub and I have caught lots of them out of the river during the day. He catches more than I do, as usual, but he’s just plain better at it.
Out of the types of catfish found in the river, we catch more channels than any other. While they will hit a nightcrawler, we have found minnows to be far and away the best bait. Squirting some commercial scent on a crawler will help, but “minnies”. are still the best. I have both heard and read that channel cats will take artificial lures, although we have never used them. For one thing, you’d go broke replacing your lures due to snags. At least, that is the case where we fish.
Once you catch some cats, you are faced with the task of cleaning them. Once again, when I was a kid, the magazines were filled with cleaning methods that bordered on Medieval. Something better had to be found, and I, through experimentation, found it. I decided to just filet them, just as I would any other fish. A couple of obstacles soon reared their ugly heads. First of all, the rib bones, which are thicker that those of other species, dulled my knife almost instantly. Second of all, the smooth, flexible skin was extremely difficult to get off the filets. Then, another light bulb came on. On smaller fish, I start just behind the rib cage. There’s very little meat on the ribs anyway. It also made skinning easier, as my knife held its edge. On the rare big ones, I just pass over the ribs, and resume normal fileting once I get past them. Here’s one further note. Catfish can live out of water for a long time. This means that they may still be alive when you get them home. I, for one, can’t bring myself to filet a fish when it’s still alive. Whacking them on the head is not terribly effective. A 22 revolver, loaded with shorts, dispatches them quickly and humanely.
There are many recipes for catfish. My favorite is to sprinkle the filets with Old Bay, then coat them with Zatarain’s Fish Fri. Deep fry until golden brown and delicious.