Pay Attention for Catfish

By Brad Durick

In the day of technology it may seem pretty easy to pull the phone out of our pocket and look up the answer to any question of what the fish are doing. There should be a report for the body of water you are on or some hot tip on a forum that will tell you how to do it.
If the technology isn’t your thing, you might have a memory of a lunker you caught in 1988 and continually fish that spot or a list of successful spots that have always treated you right might be your plan of attack.

While checking these tried and true spots is a good idea, catfish do move and bodies of water do change. The question is do you observe your surroundings and make adjustments while you are fishing? Does something stick out that directs you to a pattern or different part of your spot that increases your success?

Memories or 21st Century electronics can make for great fishing but old fashioned paying attention can be the difference between a bad day, good day, and a great day.
Catfish Observation?

There are many observations that present themselves throughout a day or year on the water. Some are easy to spot and others are not so easy. Some you run into by accident while others you actually have to look for.
Some of the simplest observations to make are seasonal. Trees can really tell us a story as to what catfish are doing. Are the trees in spring budding or just starting to show leaves? Are the trees full and green or are the trees turning to autumn? This is a very easy observation to detect where in the season the catfish are, yet it is much overlooked.

In the spring the trees tend to not have any leaves on them or are just setting buds as everything warms up. If it is a late spring, the trees will tell you that the water temperatures might be cooler holding up the pre-spawn. When the water temperature reaches the mid-50s and the catfish come to life in the pre-spawn period the trees will start to open and leaf out.

On a related note, an old wives tale for channel cats is “when the lilacs are blooming the catfishing is its best.” I can attest that this is true more often than not. If it is an early spring the lilacs will be early. If it stays cool they will wait. It is worth noting that I have proven this in three northern states.

Back to trees. When the trees are all leafed out and the grass along the bank is all green this is indicating the spawn is near or full on. In the north we know the end of spawn is near because the cottonwood trees that line the river are dropping their cotton.
As the leaves begin to turn color in the fall we can indicate that the cool off is near. As the trees begin to drop leaves the water is also slowly cooling telling the catfish to bulk up now because the winter is not far off.

Weather observations and how catfish react to them are a bit tougher to notice. With enough experience on the water and advances in technology this can be much easier to diagnose.

Some quick rules of weather observation. If you have a south wind you tend to have warmer weather and a falling barometer. This is an indication that the catfish will be feeding in preparation of some sort of weather event.

Other observations that go with a falling barometer or good catfishing feeding are cloudy skies. In many cases this has more to do with the lack of direct sunlight on the water spurring catfish (a night or low light feeder by trade) to get out and feed.

Likewise, if there is a north wind or rising barometer it can make catfishing a bit tougher. This is normally meant by a high sun and clear sky making the low light feeders sit a little tighter than normal, move a bit deeper or sit tighter to structure.

You can verify these weather and barometric trends with a smartphone and your favorite weather app. has a historical weather section which allows you to go back a few days and graph the weather trends that are leading up to the day you are on the water. Sorry, I had to add in some technology.

Another weather observation is if you are experiencing a warm south wind and it changes to the northwest fairly quickly you can use that as an indicator that a front has passed pushing catfish a little tighter and slowing your bite.

Putting the Observations to Work
So how do you take these observations and use them to your advantage to stay on fish? In simple fish catching terms if you observe blooming trees and blossoming plants you can fish a bit more aggressively in faster currents, windblown shorelines, and with larger baits.

If you have a south wind with a dropping barometer you can fish the same way as during spring blossoms. Sit on your spots for no more than 20 minutes without moving or at least adjusting baits. This will also apply to stable weather with little or no changes occurring for a few days.

When you feel that wind change to the North or Northwest and the front has passed use that as an indication that the fish have prepared for the change and have gone tighter into the structure. In this situation downsize your baits and slow down your fishing. I like to slow down and sit on spots 20-30 minutes to allow the sluggish fish to find the bait.

In the fall when the color starts to change start fishing fast just like when everything is coming to life because instinct to feed has set in. If the fish are not feeding simply move to structure and resting areas and sit a little longer as if a front had just pushed through.

Other Observations
There are other little things that may or may not work on a given day, but paying attention and making observations can help you have a better outing.

Not many catfish anglers go fishing with just one bait. They tend to have two or three different baits on hand to find the best one, but rest assured they have their favorite and will stick to it until the end. This is an opportunity to make an observation. If you can run enough lines to test some different baits you can usually figure out the hot bait fairly quickly. This is an observation.

The next one is when you set your baits pay attention to what you are laying each one on. Are the fish biting shallow, deeper in faster water, or near some sort of structure such as a log jam. Just paying attention and observing this can tell you to make a move or an adjustment to get the rest of the baits into the strike zone by replicating the hot spot.

Lastly, when you are making observations watch the other animals especially the birds. If you find water birds such as pelicans or cormorants feeding in an area you know there is bait in that area. Simply watch the areas they are working and try to work in on their game. Put your bait in the general depth and area the birds are fishing.

Deer can also tell you a great story. If you see deer along river banks feeding in the middle of the day the chances are there is a storm of some sort coming. This can be a clue that the fish are feeding and you should try fishing aggressively and in more aggressive areas.

There are many more small observations that one can correlate to patterning fish that present themselves each and every day on the water. It is your job to just open up your mind and pay attention to put it all together. Being aware simple observations and surroundings can lead to greater and more consistent catfish success.