Into The Outdoors: The Sport of Catfishing


One of my favorite songs, “Like a Rock,” by Bob Seger, makes reference to “the height of summer.”  Well, that time of year is now upon us, and that, to many folks in this neck of the woods, means catfishing.  This week, let’s take our annual look at the sport of catfishing.  

After years of lugging huge reels around, trying to cast with rods whose actions resembled a broom handle and gagging and retching from horribly foul baits, all the while having few fish to show for it, I began to seriously rethink my catfishing program.  It occurred to me that catfish, at least the ones I caught, could be handled on the same tackle used for bass, walleyes and other game fish.  I now use medium action rods and reels, and 10 or 12 pound test line.  I suppose if I ever hook a real monster, I’ll have a tough time, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take.  After all,  I once landed a 36 inch northern pike on 12 pound test, and the line back then wasn’t as good as it is now.

My habits have changed a lot, too.  I must confess that I still succumb to old habits and use commercial stink bait from time to time for channel cats and bullheads.  Gone forever, though, are the unspeakably vile homemade baits.  In fact, I can now actually eat a sandwich while catfishing.  Minnows and worms are about the only baits I use anymore.  

When it comes to minnows, those in the two to three inch seem to be the best, as opposed to little ones like fatheads.  Catfish seem to like a hearty meal better than snacks.

As for nightcrawlers, there are essentially two ways to fish them.  One is to put a wriggling gob of worms on the hook.  The other, and the one that works best for me, is to use a single worm, bunched up on the hook, with a trailer left behind.  Some catfish attracting scent sprayed on the crawlers can sometimes be helpful.  If you’re after bullheads, crawlers are probably the best bait around.  As for artificial lures, I don’t use them, although I know catfish have been caught on them.  I only ever saw this happen once, when the late Joe “Doc” Scisly caught a channel cat on a Johnson Weedless Spoon on a lake in Canada.  

Once you catch yourself some cats, you’re in for a real eating treat.  First, though, you have to clean the fish.  There are lots of time honored methods of doing this.  One of the most bizarre involves nailing the head of the fish to a log or plank.  In case you’re wondering, this is not a lead in for the old joke about throwing the fish away and eating the board.  The idea is to cut a ring around the neck of the fish and use pliers to peel off the skin.  There are lots of other bizarre methods out there.  One day, I decided to just filet the catfish like any other fish.  You have to nip off the spines by the fins in order to get the fish to lie flat.  Then just filet the critters.  Skinning the filets is a bit tricky at first, but you’ll get the hang of it before very long.  Your knife will get dull a bit quicker, as the ribs of catfish are thicker than those of many other fish. In recent years, with smaller fish, I just filet behind the rib cage, and with the bigger ones I raise the knife over the ribs.  Also, catfish are very hard to kill.  I can’t stand the thought of fileting a fish while it is still alive, so I shoot them in the head with a 22 short.

Catfishing is great fun.  Admittedly, I don’t do as much of it as I used to, but I still enjoy it fairly often.  Give it a try.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Recently, my old friend Dave Lewis sent me a photo of a salamander with only one eye.  It didn’t even have the socket for the other eye.  Next week, among other things, we’ll look at salamanders, which we called lizards as kids.

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