Channel Catfish - Ictalurus punctatus
The channel catfish is currently distributed through most of the U.S. and parts of southern Canada and northern Mexico. In the U.S. it is most abundant in the central part of the country east to the Appalachians. Its occurrence is sparse along the west coast and east of the Appalachians because of its recent introduction.
Channel catfish prefer clean bottoms of sand or gravel in larger lakes and rivers. They feed mainly on crayfish, fishes, and insects generally at night in swifter moving currents. At spawning time they will enter and ascend small tributaries and streams.
The distinctive channel catfish can often be recognized at a glance by its deeply forked tail and spots on the body (though not all specimens have them). The only other catfish with forked tails occurring in the U.S. waters are the blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) and the white catfish (Ameiurus catus), neither of which is ever spotted.
In addition to the spotted specimens, some channel catfish may be entirely black dorsally (males during the spawning season), or dark blue without spots, or even uniformly light blue or silvery exactly like a blue catfish or white catfish. In the latter cases, the species can be identified by the number of rays in the anal fin. White catfish have 19-23 rays, channel catfish have 24-30, and blue catfish have the longest anal fin with 30-36 rays. Internally, the channel catfish has two chambers in the swim bladder and the blue catfish has three.
The channel catfish is very highly regarded for its food and sports value, and is reared commercially and transported throughout the country.
Weed Beds (Freshwater)
Weed beds provide great structure. They provide food and shelter for baitfish, attracting game fish. Look for weed beds that lead to deeper water and create a break line, or look for sunken weed beds in deep, open water.
The water along the shore always provides a lot of structure and food. So, it attracts fish. Pan fish, such as crappies, sunfish, bluegill and perch, come in to feed on the baitfish. Early in the morning – or late at night- game fish will swim into the shallows to sneak up on both the baitfish and pan fish making it possible to land a big pike or even a Muskie close to shore.
Trees, branches, logs, stumps, rocks,—they’re all structure. They all provide shelter, shade and protection for fish. So it’s a good place to find fish. Always watch your line, and be extra careful if you’re in a boat.
When water boils up from the bottom of the lake, it creates a spring hole. In the summer, deep-water fish are attracted to these holes because the water coming out is always cooler relative to the surrounding waters. Even when the hole is not in deep water, spring holes can attract unsuspecting, deep-water lunkers.
Inlets and Outlets
All natural lakes are fed by a river or a stream of some sort. So they have inlets and outlets for the water. Wherever there is incoming or outgoing water, there’s going to be a lot of food and a lot of fish.
Like any structure that tilts gradually down and into deeper water, a gradual-sloping shoreline can provide plant food, attract fish and create a path out of and back into deeper water. However, a really gradual slope will create a large expanse of shallow water that will not attract fish.
Sometimes, in early spring and late fall, when there’s very little vegetation anywhere, baitfish will roam open lake waters in search of plankton. During those times, you can look for small fish on the surface in the open water. If you see a bunch of small fish, it’s a good bet larger fish are lurking below.
Piers, Docks and Pilings
Call it structure. Wherever there’s structure there’s food, shelter, and fish. Weeds, grasses and other food sources can attach to anything. Docks and piers provide shelter from the sun and a nice resting spot for both big and small fish.
Holes are glacially formed basins that are lower than the rest of the lake. Water in these holes is cooler, attracting deep-water fish on hot, summer days. You’ll need a topographical map to find them.
Walkways and Bridges
Walkways are like piers, but are specially built fishing platforms that are near or run parallel to bridges, piers, shoreline bulkheads, or similar structures. An example is a walkway along a bridge, but constructed at a lower level. This keeps anglers safe from auto traffic and puts them closer to the water.
Fishing isn't always allowed from bridges because of the danger from traffic. Bridges where angling is permitted must be fished carefully. Many game fish hold down current of the bridge as baitfish and nutrient rich water float by. Cast your bait up current, and let it drift back.
Overhanging Trees and Bushes
Usually close to shore, these spots offer protection from the sun and above-water predators. Bigger fish rest in these areas if the water isn’t too shallow, allowing quick access to deeper water for feeding and escape.
Points and Break lines
A point extends out from the shoreline and slopes gradually down and into deeper water. It’s a good place to fish. But a point with a quick drop-off or one that doesn’t extend into deeper water isn’t a good place to fish.
- The sloping-out formation of a point creates a break line.
- A break line draws fish from deeper water to shallow water in search of food.
- Fish the point of the point and the corners of the point (the part that curves back into the shore).
Inside Turns and Coves - The Opposite of a Point
An inside turn is a small inlet that cuts into the shore. If the water in the turn is shallow, you’ve got another break line and another great place to catch fish.
A cove is a larger version of an inside turn, with more shoreline, more shallows, more protection, and more fish. Smaller fish will patrol a cove for plant food and bait fish, and game fish may come early in the morning or late at night.
Islands or Sand Bars
These sunken or partially sunken bodies of land will attract both baitfish and game fish if they create a break line or contours that slope gradually down and into deeper water. Water currents run around islands, too, carrying small plant food and aquatic animals that float on the surface. This also attracts baitfish and game fish.
Rocks are structure. They provide fish with shelter, cover, food and a possible place to mate. Remember, fish structure. If the rocks are in deeper water or on the edge of deeper water, they provide an even better place to fish. Just avoid snagging your bait on the rocks.
Cliffs and Steep Shore Banks
A sheer cliff or bank that goes straight down into deep water provides no structure, break line, or gradual path to deeper water. So, it doesn’t attract fish. On the other hand, a cliff or bank that has an underwater shelf or slopes gradually toward deeper water does attract fish. You should also look for crumbled-off rock at the underwater base of sharp cliffs. Deep-water fish may be attracted to these rocks for food or spawning.
The insects and other aquatic critters that live on or around lily pads always attract smaller bait fish; baitfish always attract bigger fish. Huge patches of lily pads can also create shade, which also attracts fish. Cast into the edges and openings. Otherwise, you’re likely to tangle up your gear.
Freshwater Lakes and Ponds
Lakes and ponds are great places for fish to live. They produce abundant plant food and offer plenty of cover for fish to hide. Shoreline structures like docks, logs, stumps, brush and rocks provide shelter, shade and protection for fish, which means that they also provide great fishing opportunities for the anxious angler. You can fish lakes and ponds from the shore or from a boat. You can, also, find fish in shallow or deep water, in open water or near natural or near man-made structures. In lakes, you can catch freshwater fish like largemouth and smallmouth bass, pike, pickerel, perch, panfish, trout, and even salmon. Get to know your lake’s structure. Points, inlets, holes, sunken islands, dams, submerged objects (manmade or natural), reeds and weeds are all considered structure. You should always fish in and around structure. It’s a simple formula: 1.Structure creates shallows. 2. Shallows create plant growth. 3. Plant growth attracts baitfish. 4. Baitfish attract game fish.
Deep Shore Water
Currents can run along the shore and form pockets of deeper water. This deeper water usually appears darker than the surrounding water in the area. Bigger fish will move into these shallows and rest or wait for baitfish to pass by. You might get something bigger than you expected.
A current edge is a place where natural or man-made objects slow the current. When the current slows, the food that travels with it also slows. So fish rest at current edges and wait for a nice, slow meal to come by. Current edges can be created by natural or man-made structures like bends, merging currents, drop-offs, rocks and islands.
When water flows over a drop-off, it slows down and sinks, taking the food it carries with it. A drop-off is a great feeding place because it has food, deeper water and it’s away from the current, allowing for a more relaxing dining experience for the fish.
Rock and Boulder Pockets
When flowing water hits rocks and boulders, it splits and goes around the obstruction, creating an area of calm water on the downstream side of the obstruction. Fish will rest, facing upstream, on the downstream side of a rock. These pockets are small, but a handy cast could land you a fish.
Undercuts are considered the perfect hiding spot on the river. They occur where the current has cut out a cave-like hole in earth or rock along the shore. If there’s a tree above the undercut, all the better. Undercuts provide protection from above-water predators and the sun. And easy access to deeper water for feeding or escape. The biggest, baddest river fish live in undercuts.
Dams and Falls
When water continually drops off a dam or falls, it creates a big hole or drop-off. Fish will sit at the bottom of these holes to get away from the current and to eat sinking food. Fish can get trapped in these holes if they are going upstream to find cooler water or to spawn.
Riparian zones are the middle strip of vegetation between the river and the flatter land beyond the shore. These zones serve as a natural biofilter to protect water from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff and erosion. And they supply shelter, food and shade for fish and other aquatic animals. A thriving riparian zone is a sign of good water quality and good fishing.
Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.
Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.
Bait & Lures
Bread or Dough Balls
Bread and dough balls make for excellent baits for bottom feeding fish. The bread or dough leaves a nice scent trail in the water that can be detected by bottom dwelling fish suck as catfish and carp. Any bread or dough will work but if making your own dough, make sure the dough is nice and firm so that it will remain on the hook when submerged in water. When using a piece of bread, add a little bit of moisture to the bread by chewing on it or splashing a small amount of water over the piece. Shape the bread or dough into a compact round ball and bury your hook in the ball so that only the hook tip sticks out.
Using fish cut into pieces attracts fish in a different way than whole, live bait or lures. Fish that are attracted to scent are more likely to hit on cut bait. You can use just about any baitfish to make cut bait as well as other fish species. Before using any fish as cut bait, always make sure the fish you plan on using is a legal species and meets the minimum size requirement, if there is a size limit on that species. All size and species regulations can be obtained at tackle shops or your state’s fishing law enforcement website.
Jigs have weighted metal heads and a tail made of animal hair, soft plastic, feathers or rubber. Anglers sometimes add a minnow or piece of pork rind to the jig's hook. Jigs can be used to catch nearly every kind of freshwater fish
Minnows and Nightcrawlers
Basically, minnows are baby fish and a good all-around freshwater bait. They're readily available from bait and tackle shops or you can catch your own if it's legal in your area. Minnows come in different sizes. Use larger 'shiners' for bass and pike fishing.
For cast and retrieve, trolling and drifting, hook the minnow vertically through both lips or through the tail.
For still fishing with a bobber, hook the minnow through the back just in front of the dorsal fin. Take care not to damage the spinal cord. The key is to keep the fish moving on its own.
Tricks and Tips for Minnows
For really good action, hook the minnow upside down on a light jig. It will struggle to regain an upright position
Store minnows in a minnow bucket using the same water from which they were bought or captured, and take care not to crowd them.
Worms are a good bait for nearly all freshwater fishing. You can find enough worms for fishing from a few shovels of dirt in your garden or from a shaded, damp area. Worms can also be purchased in fishing tackle stores and bait shops. For walleyes and bass use earthworms or night crawlers.
For pan fish, sunfish and trout use smaller manure worms. You can find them in cattle and horse pastures.
Trick and Tips for Worms
To prevent smaller fish from nibbling the worm without biting down on the hook, you can use just a piece of the worm.
If you have small worms, thread the hook through the side of the worm at several places along its body. For bait-stealing fish such as sunfish, thread the worm on the hook until the hook is completely covered.