Locating Catfish from a Boat

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A Lady emailed me the other day asking about locating catfish so I thought I'd write this little piece and give a few bits of info on how I do it here in Oklahoma when I fished the lakes. A lot of people just try anyplace that looks like it'd hold catfish but this really isn't the way to find good to fair catfish action on rod & reel. The main reason is here in Oklahoma we have more blues and if ya haven't illegally baited holes then they're most likely not gonna hold in one particular spot ... I like trying around crappie structure looking around it with a trolling motor ... just cruising through with an outboard motor I never see anything but a few once in a while as the fish usually skeedaddle and move from the path of the boat ... the motor and prop noise is very loud .... the fish are used to the sound of boat motors but will still get out of the way when they hear one coming straight at them and will usually not be underneath the boat unless they're really deep. Using a trolling motor and current you can go right over large schools of blues without making them bolt. They usually don't pack close together like whales or dolphins but they will be in close proximity. They are aggressive and will attack one of their own if it gets injured or hooked if it's small enough .... this doesn't happen much but I have hooked smaller fish on rod & reel and other cats will bite the hooked fish excited by the thrashing or some kinda sound they're giving off ..... perhaps it's the barking noise they make that excites the others or just the electrical impulses of the hooked fish. I'd like to find out if this is the case as duplication of this noise might attract other blues to the area. Might be illegal here though but would be interesting to be able to figure that out.

Structure is always a good place to start and structure can be anything from abrupt to subtle as blues kind of use structure as a holding area like a place that is darker or darkest during the day in that particular area. It doesn't seem like they really like being in direct sunlight during the day as I've caught most of my daytime blues on the shaded side of the pilons. Water temp plays an important part of where fish will be also ..... if it's cold the fish can be deep ..... if the water is very hot during mid summer they'll be suspended as the oxygen level will be very low towards the bottom so in mid summer a lot of times the fish won't be able to stay in shadows. I catch a lot of fish during the summer in the daytime knowing that the fish are up and even on top looking for a good source of oxygenated water so that they can breath and feed in a little better comfort. Streams or water trickling in from a natural spring will hold quite a few fish during the summer months.

IMPORTANT FACT! IF THE FIDDLERS ARE BITING AND STRIPPING YOUR BAIT WHERE YOU'RE FISHING...THERE ARE NO QUALITY SIZED FISH THERE! I can't stress that enough ... When you're fishing and catching larger fish you should be able to notice that those little rod peckers aren't messin with your poles. This is due to size difference mainly ... larger fish will scare off and even drive off smaller fish just by being in the area ... the little ones prolly get gone just out of fear of being eaten like some kind of natural instinct maybe or perhaps the larger ones do actually try to feed on their smaller kindred. I've seen people catch a lot of fish on fingerling blues and channels ... I won't use them as I'm not certain of the legality of it and they don't bite on them very good it seems like but when one is caught on a fingerling channel or blue as bait it's usually a pretty big fish. I've also seen near dead blues about 8 to 10 lbs totally skinned alive by other blues ... I say this because of the more rounded mouth prints on the fish's body ... flathead bite would have been a more straight across imprint. This info will help you not sit there and mess with fiddlers all day. If you're fishing from the bank and fiddlers are messing with you and you are just camping there watch when you start getting good fish on .... the smaller fish won't be biting any more or will at least quit until the larger fish move on through. If you're in a boat these smaller fish are good indicators because if they're there and biting there are no big ones in the area. Depth locator/fish finders are a handy tool in locating good quantities of fish but if you don't have one use the fiddler/small fish as info as well ... move to another spot if there's nothing but smaller fish there and stripping bait off your hooks. If you're camped in an area and just fishing to kill time watch for the fiddlers to stop biting ..... if they do that usually means larger fish have moved into the area and if you're not catching any you'll need to use a different bait ... most likely there's fish in the area hunting for food and probably the best thing to use is live perch ..... smaller ones work well on blues or use live shad or take and cut the head off a live shad or slit it's body cavity open and hook it through the eyes and cast it out .... WAY OUT! and then reel it back slowly letting it rest in the area you want to fish ... if there's current you won't need to do that if the water is moving really good. Doing that though imitates a wounded baitfish to a certain degree and will produce a lot of good fish.

Blues, Channels, & Flathead are mostly nocturnal feeders so knowing this will help you locate fish during the day in winter as well .... the fish will be deep most likely or on the shaded side of rock bluffs or ledges. At night they'll move out into flats to feed. Flathead wintering holes are hard to find if you don't know where to look but flats are easily caught out of their wintering holes but there's not much sport in this ... I have caught a lot of flathead lately during and just after cold fronts move through. Catching them on fresh cut bait (shad heads). The shad were all still alive when I'd cut their heads off and put them on ... the flatheads were biting really fast on them Oct 3rd, 4th, & 5th. I started fishing for them a little bit and caught a lot of nice ones. Then after the front is pretty much played out they quit biting shad heads .... go figure. If you're goin after flathead in the winter on rod&reel all I can say is "Good Luck".  Areas to target flats vary greatly from cement structure to sand/gravel flats ... my most productive areas are around crappie structure or sand/gravel flats where a lot of bluegill or crappie congregate. The crappie structure is best for daylight flathead fishing as the flats seem to lay up under the crappie structure placed there by crappie fishermen to attract crappie ... I fished these with really good success during the daylight hours by placing a fluttering bluegill directly under the crappie structure by dragging it around the cedar trees. I got hung up a lot but also caught a lot of flats like this. 

Important points to remember:

If fiddlers (small catfish) are in the area there won't be any larger fish there.
Use trolling motor and fish finder around crappie structure like sunken cedar trees to locate fish and when it gets really cold check deep water with fish finder to locate cats.
Flathead Bait I just remembered and didn't know about that you may try if they're in your area is bullheads. They're a little bitty green catfish that don't usually get much bigger than 1# around here but I have seen them get up to about 3# as I've caught some while fishing for largemouth. I caught them on crankbaits ... bass colored medium diving Bomber. The best thing to catch bullheads on though is worms or chicken liver but they'll eat anything ... usually when there are bullheads in a body of water they pretty much are the main fish there as they populate really fast and are hard to get rid of when they become resident in a pond. Best thing to get rid of them is to throw a couple of flathead in the pond but largemouth bass will wipe the floor with them too. If you put 5 or 6 3# largemouth or bigger in a pond with bullheads they'll clean the pond up in a few years. To fish with them take a pair of wire cutters and remove the spines on them and the flathead will engulf them. For some reason the flathead and larger blues really go after them. This is not something I've ever tried but seen an illegal commercial fisherman using them catching a ton of blues on them with one of them rod&reel boats.