Breaking Down New Catfish Water

By Brad Durick

Everyone likes to go to new places and experience the fishing those places have to offer. These new places may be a different part of your home river or lake; or a trip all the way across the country to try something totally different.

Some people enjoy the challenge of this task while others just want to stick to the places they know and catch fish. As a professional guide, I am challenged with knowing where to go to catch fish to deliver results while at the same time trying to find more spots to add to the arsenal and keep in my back pocket until I need them.When your home water is a river that is 435 miles long, it becomes clear that there is a lot of untouched water available.

If you are willing to do the traveling off the beaten path you can really find some gems.

In August of 2014, I wanted to combine my knowledge of river channel catfish and my new Humminbird electronics to break down a new stretch of water that I had never seen before. I had heard from other anglers that this stretch of river is a diamond in the rough for those willing to drive the extra miles. While I was planning this break down session, I was contacted by a television crew looking for a catfishing adventure for their outdoor program. I told the producer my plan to break the water down for this article and invited them to join me. I figured I may as well put some extra pressure on to deliver and prove that this adventure was for real.

We loaded up the boat and headed to the section of river I had never seen. I told them the first project was to locate the boat ramp so we could get the boat in the river. I told them once that was accomplished we would take an hour or so and just drive, using the Humminbird combined with good old fashioned river reading to locate a series of spots that would match the pattern I had been on in the days prior. This strategy would provide a starting point and we would then go back and fish the high percentage spots and adjust from there to find fish.

Breaking Down The River
When breaking down a new section of river I am a big fan of identifying a 1-3 mile section of river on the map or Google Earth before even leaving the house. Once in the river, go to that section that looked good on the map. Once you arrive, turn on your electronics and just drive slowly watching the electronics and depth structure. As you look at the water you will see some spots that just look fishy. Turn around and take a second or even third look at these areas to get a feel for how the bottom is structured and how you can fish it. If you have a Humminbird unit with Autochart Pro or Autochart Live, turn on the recorders as you are looking at spots and let the units draw you a map of the area to mark the break lines or holes to help you find the sweet spot or keep it for later use.

Back to our recon mission on the new stretch of river we were breaking down. The idea of looking around for an hour to find spots went right out the window in about ten minutes. Not far from the boat ramp while checking out spots there was some just prime mid river holes showing up on the electronics and I could see fish in them. Knowing that mid-river holes were the hot spots upstream where I had been fishing the days before I just had to know if the pattern was holding here too.

I threw the anchor, set the baits and within just a few moments there was a catfish in the boat, but not the right catfish (too small) so we pulled up and kept moving. On the next bend there was a fishy looking swirl on the water so while driving over it to check it out the depth finder told me there was a drop off into a hole with a hard current swooping alongside it. It also showed me a couple nice catfish.

Without hesitation, the anchor was down and baits in the zone. Not three minutes later and a trophy catfish was on the end of a line, and a second and a third. It appeared we had established a pattern for the day. We were going to learn a new section of river, catch some great channel cats and get a great TV show for 2015.

We progressed through our plan without a hitch when I marked a big fish in a small mid-river hole. When I turned back for another look I could not find the hole again. (It was that small) The one thing we had not done yet at this point in the day was to try out the AutoChart Live on the Humminbird ONIX 10. I turned on the recorder and proceeded to zig-zag the river as a depth map was drawn on my screen right before my eyes. What I found was that the small hole was part of a mid river trough in the channel that came to a sharp head and that is where I had marked the fish.

Now armed with a map of the hole and the mark of that fish we set up on that spot and I told the camera man to get ready because a fish sitting like that would hit quick. Not one minute in, we were into a 21 pound channel catfish that had been stalked by 21st century electronics. Talk about a showstopper for a TV show.

You can now see that with just a little study and some technology, it is possible to break down new water in quick order. Obviously, I was a step ahead because I had been on the river the previous days and had a pattern established but catfish are pretty predictable creatures so just understanding the seasonal patterns and how the fish react to water temperature can give you a good starting point.

Had the weather not been stable or the water been cooling such as happened a month later in September, those holes may not have held feeding catfish forcing some small adjustments to be made.

If that would have been the case, I would have looked at lateral movement and off current locations. Catfish tend to not make big longitudinal moves during this time of year. Instead they move out of the current when things get a little negative to conserve energy until they want to feed again.

Searching the same basic areas we would have first headed to the down steam side of inside bends where the secondary current seam forms. These are the area of least resistance in rivers but are near the deeper faster water where most feeding happens. The change can be as little as casting ten feet closer to shore.

This situation would be a time to use side imaging to locate any current barrier in the off current areas. A single stump or rock can provide enough of a break to hold a fish. Side imaging will identify that and give you an exact pinpoint of where the cats are if they are feeling a little negative.

Other things to consider before you even leave home on a mission like this besides looking at river maps and conducting recon is what are the hot baits. Local bait shops or fishing reports can get you that information ahead of time and from there it is just a matter of taking some time to look at the water the old fashioned way from the surface and utilize your electronics to break down the high percentage spots to produced success.

So much water to break down and enjoy and so little time to accomplish it, make the most of the time you are given to achieve the best results and the best memories.