Fall Time Giants
By Brad Durick
As we settle into fall and the leaves begin to turn there is something else turning in a river near you. A giant catfish is on the move beginning the last push to prepare for the winter and a more solitary life style that awaits. These fish have one thing on their mind, EAT.
Depending where you live, this push to bulk up happens in September in the north and extends into October as you move south into the central part of the US. The key is the shorter heating hours of the sun each day when the water temperatures begin to settle back on their slow recession back to the 40s or 50s.
During this time of year, rivers are typically in a low water period making current, deeper holes and good cover more critical to the equation of success. After a long summer of warm water as things begin to cool off, catfish (channels in particular) have a tendency to begin moving upstream for the last feeding push before they go find a wintering hole. If you add some fresh rain and flow spurring a feeding migration hang onto your rods because it is about to get fun.
During the late Summer and early Fall big catfish tend to be pretty introverted and stick to a relatively small area that provides them with food and cover. They don’t roam to far from home if they have everything they need. During this time the key is move, move and move again to find fish. Set your baits for short sits searching out active fish within a specific area. Sit on spots no more than about 20 minutes unless there was recently a front that will make them sit and sulk, then be willing to sit 30 minutes or more.
Simply work a section of river that has holes, faster current or structure systematically to find where the big girls are laying that day. Some days they might be in the faster current and others they might be out of the current not far away.
As mentioned earlier, when things can get really exciting is when there is some fresh rain that brings flows up a little spurring an upstream feeding migration. During these times the fish will actively move out of their summer areas and begin to actively hunt and will naturally migrate up stream.
When this pattern sets up, the biggest and baddest channel cats move from hole to hole, eating and resting. Some of the best locations are very small holes that are the size of a boat and only one to three feet deep. To be successful you have to be efficient. Get ready to fish fast and stay on the move. Sometimes a five to ten minute sit on a spot is all it takes to get a fish or two then it is time to move on. This may seem like a daunting exercise for the anchor puller of the day but it is the key to putting more fish in the boat.
Thanks to technology it is much easier to fish these fast bites without killing the anchor man. With the new for 2017 Helix G2N and Solix units from Humminbird you have a few options to make it easier. First you can map sections of your river with Autochart Live so you know exactly where the holes are for easier setting in the right spot. You can also use the MEGA side imaging to drive by the spots to see if they are holding fish before you make the stop. This saves wasted stops and wasted time.
Another new technology that is proving to be the bomb for fast catfishing is the new and improved spot lock on the Minn Kota trolling motors. With the Ulterra you don’t even need an anchor person, just simply push the deploy button and spot lock to set the anchor. Now the five to ten minute stops become easy and efficient ways to stop on active fish.
When fishing these small holes you normally will get the active fish out quickly and when fishing for trophy fish a hole may only hold one or two fish at a time. Rather than sit on the hole for another 15 or 20 minutes waiting on the next bite, just push the button to stop the spot lock and move onto the next small hole. To many anglers this violates rule number one of fishing, “never leave fish to find fish.” While this rule does have merit in many circumstances this is one catfish pattern where it may leave you high and dry.
Another great place to look for catfish in the fall is up along the bank in very shallow water. Remember this is a time of year when the nights are cool and the water temperature is falling. Catfish are looking for any advantage and like spring they may lay up along the bank out of the current taking in the rays until they decide to move out of the channel and hunt. Using side imaging it is easy to just drive along the shorelines looking for the fish laying in bank indentions or behind shallow structure.
As fall progresses and the days get even shorter the water temperatures will fall into the low 50s and even down into the 40s. Once they reach the 40s and falling the channel cats and flatheads will start a downstream migration to find their wintering holes where they will hang out until spring.
This does not mean fishing is over it just means that the game has changed yet again. The water temperature has decreased catfish metabolism about 90% from its peak of mid-summer. The fish do not need to eat nearly as much to survive. When this migration sets in the fish are more congregated (usually in deeper water) and not actively hunting. Use your electronics to find the fish then lighten the tackle down as much as you can and fish them vertically or with a very sensitive catfish rod.
Fishing with a 3/8 to a 3/4 ounce jig and a minnow tied to a medium walleye rod spooled with a 10 pound braided line can be a deadly set up. Use a simple fathead minnow for bait and work the areas ahead or around the pockets of catfish with a slow jigging cadence to entice the more active catfish to bite. With the cold water they usually do not attack the bait but rather think about hitting before they actually do. With a light tap when you set the hook you will know what you have quickly.
If you want to fish old school you will want to use a lighter rod such as the Rippin Lips worm and dip bait rod (even if you are fishing with cut bait) so you can detect even the smallest of bites when they occur. To fish these locations simply set up above the hole that has the fish and set bait in front of the fish and in the hole where the majority of the fish are.
When hunting season is almost into full swing, catfishing can also be in full swing as well. If you love catfishing and want a shot at some of the biggest and baddest you can catch all year, now is the time.