Present weather notwithstanding, the ice cover is beginning to lose its grip on Iowa lakes and streams marking the beginning of the annual feeding frenzy where channel catfish eat like teenagers on fish that died during the winter.

Channel catfish make up for a winter of light feeding during the first few weeks after ice out making this prime opportunity for some fast and furious fishing.

“They are just absolutely gorging themselves on the stinkiest, smelliest dead fish they can find,” said fisheries biologist Paul Sleeper, from the Lake Macbride management district. “They are just about round, they are so gorged.”

Sleeper witnesses the frenzy at Coralville Reservoir each spring where anglers, standing shoulder to shoulder, work to get their limit of 15 catfish in a few hours.

Ice out catfishing can be done in rivers below low head dams or at the mouths of tributaries, in lakes, but is most common in the large flood control reservoirs. He said warm water is important to successful spring fishing and ice out catfishing is no different.

Find slack water or the backside of a point in the upper end of the flood control reservoir near where the wind is blowing in as a gathering place for dead shad. The area should have shallow water that will warm up quickly. The dead fish will float to the surface and blow in to the bay, leaving a smelly trail for hungry catfish.

The feeding frenzy could be less concentrated in location this spring after high water and runoff from the late winter rain raised river and reservoir levels potentially depositing some of the dead fish above the water line once the water level recedes, especially in eastern Iowa where the bulk of the rain fell.

For the newcomer, Sleeper said it can be a little tricky to keep the bait on the hook and even trickier to keep the stink off your hands.

“Shad guts are about the best, but it can be hard to keep on the hook,” he said. “A lot of the anglers are using a chunk of dead fish on a 1/0 to 3/0 bait holder hook to keep it on. It is usually a fast and aggressive bite.

“Bring disposable latex gloves to handle the bait,” Sleeper said. “You may need to designate a pole or two for catfishing because of the smell. Some anglers use a barrel swivel and a slip sinker because catfish like to roll, especially larger fish.”

His last piece of advice is to plan to arrive in the afternoon to give the water a chance to warm up.

“Fishing could be better in mid-afternoon when the sun is high,” he said.

Logo courtesy Iowa Department of Natural Resources

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