Hot Spots for Summertime Catfish
John E. Phillips 06.27.14
The temperature of water that catfish live in governs how actively they feed, because the enzyme action in a catfish’s stomach doubles with each eight-degree increase in water temperature. The hotter the weather becomes, the more catfish feed. Let’s look at some places where catfish hang out in hot weather.
Small streams and little rivers
Oftentimes small streams and little rivers are overlooked, yet highly productive areas to catch numbers of catfish. You can pinpoint catfish hot spots, like current breaks, logs, and rocks. Several years ago, my children and I spotted a large boulder about 10 feet from the bank that broke the current and formed an eddy pool on the down-current side. Casting a live red worm out to the eddy pool, I instantly hooked a catfish. For 1-1/2 hours, we caught catfish from that one eddy hole.
You also can float small waters in a canoe, a flat-bottomed johnboat equipped with a depth finder, or a kayak. Locate sharp bottom breaks and underwater boulders, anchor upstream, and let your bait wash into these areas.
You can use a depth finder in a large river to locate underwater boulders and drop-offs and ledges that only may drop from three to five feet but hold large numbers of catfish, because they provide ambush points for the catfish and a current break where the fish can hold. Catfish also will concentrate on the inside bends of main rivers in hot weather.
I also enjoy finding river cats where small run-offs bring mud-stained water with an abundance of insects, worms, grubs, and microorganisms and pour into the main river, often after a summer storm. The baitfish will concentrate on the edges of the mud line, and the catfish will follow them.
To take river cats in the summer, travel the middle of the river and watch your depth finder. Most of the catfish will hold in about the same depth of water. Anchor upstream of the school, and use a slip bobber to set the depth at which you’ll fish. Bait with either live or dead bait. As in small streams and rivers, let the current carry your bait and your bobber to the catfish.
Frequently a small funnel of water trickling from the main river into a small pond, drainage ditch, or side creek will hold catfish that use these small channels to get into these backwater regions.
You’ll consistently produce catfish on shallow flats, especially after dark in the summertime. By fishing with a float to keep your bait just off the bottom or by using an egg-shaped slip sinker with a barrel swivel, 20 inches of leader, and a No. 6 hook on the bottom, you can catch those catfish.
The swift waters of rivers below power plants and dams generally hold large concentrations of cats.
Once I watched a fisherman and his wife load their boat with catfish as they drifted through the swift water below a dam and bumped the bottom with heavy leads and shad gut for bait. They told me, “We’re fishing the grooves.” The anglers explained that they were targeting invisible “grooves” created by the current present beneath the water at the dam.
Some years ago when I fished a tailrace area, I watched as two anglers anchored in the middle of the tailrace, downriver from a discharge hole, and caught catfish on almost every cast. I reconnoitered the area with my depth finder and discovered a large boulder that came up from the bottom about three feet. I moved upstream about 15 yards, tied a three-way swivel to my main line, attached a drop lead to the bottom eye of the three-way swivel, tied 20 inches of 20-pound-test monofilament leader material on the third eye of the swivel along with a No. 1 hook, and baited with cut shad. I bumped the lead along the bottom until it hit the big boulder and moved my lead around the boulder to where the catfish attacked.
My fishing buddy Phil King of Corinth, Mississippi likes to vertical-troll below dams. According to King, “I use rod holders and put out multiple poles with double-bait rigs, including a combination of cut bait, chicken livers, and Strike King‘s Catfish Dynamite Dough.”
In hot weather, King goes up to the main part of Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River to fish for suspended catfish, the fish most people don’t fish for—and even fewer people catch in the summer. Catfish can feed in any story of the water where they locate comfortable temperatures.
“In that 70- to 80-foot-deep water, I’ll use rod holders and four to six rods to troll for cats,” King explained. “I mark the line on each rod with a magic marker and mark four different spots on each line. The first mark will indicate 30 feet of line out. The next marks will be at 40, 50, and finally 60 feet. Then, I put out lines at different depths from 30 to 60 feet deep. I’ll use the trolling motor to move the boat to catch the catfish suspended above those holes. Whichever rod gets the most bites, I’ll note the depth and set the rest of my rods at that depth. Catfish have a comfort zone where they’ll suspend. On different days, that comfort zone may be at various depths.”
Give some of these hot spots a shot this summer and see if you can’t up the number of cats you reel in.
For more information on catfishing, check out the author’s Kindle ebook How to Catfish Like a Pro.