Reliable Catfish

By Brad Durick

As catfishing grows across the United States it has become more about what to catch them on than how to catch them. Catfishing can be as simple or difficult as you want to make it. Understanding them and how they operate like anything is the key to success. Also, like anything else the more you learn, understand and experience the easier it becomes.

Let’s look at sports for a moment. If you play hockey, basketball, football or any other sport you practice daily to be better. Coaches always preach the fundamentals because if you have the fundamentals engrained into your brain, they become automatic and make you a better player because you can concentrate on the more difficult plays.

Fishing is the same. If you understand the fundamentals to the point that they are automatic then you can concentrate on other aspects of patterns to find fish and be more successful.

Catfish are very reliable creatures. They follow the same migrations patterns every year and usually the same time of year. You can count on these migrations to happen. If you understand what triggers the migration, how the fish act and where the fish will be you will be more successful. These are the fundamentals.

After ice out and the cold-water period catfish make five basic migrations through the season. These migrations happen every year and with a little understanding you can be successful all year long. Coincidently they follow the five basic catfish seasons.

Pre-Spawn
When the water temperature reaches the high forties and rises to the mid-sixties, catfish will make an upstream migration. This is because they are hunting and preparing for the upcoming spawn. According to a University of Nebraska study on the Red River they can move hundreds of miles as long as they are not impeded by dams or other structures.

These fish run along underwater highways that are formed along the main break line of the river. Fishing these seams or in structure that intersects these seams are the best places to go.
Because the catfish are moving upstream, fishing sections of river below dams can be the best. The dam makes a barrier that slows them down crossing if they can cross at all. This doesn’t mean always fish right below the dam. You can catch these fish for many miles as they are moving within.

Spawn
When water temperatures reach the high sixties to low seventies, catfish will turn and migrate back down stream. This is not necessarily a migration as they are spreading out to find holes and areas to spawn. As it sounds, during this time you have to move further down stream and look for this type of structure as the fish begin to set the nest.

Keep in mind that not all fish spawn at the same time most years so you can fish very similar to how you do during the pre spawn. If fishing gets tough then you must start being methodical as to how you search for them in downstream areas.

Post Spawn
When the spawn begins to wrap up for the season, usually two to three weeks after the downstream migrations starts at around 70 degrees the fish will have the feed bags on and move back upstream. The reason for this is twofold. They want to feed and get fattened back up after the spawn and they are looking for an area of river that has everything they need to hang out for the rest of the summer.

During this time get back on the current seams and begin to work holes and structure located along the seam. Stick to a 20-25 minutes sit time and stay mobile to find the fish.

Summer
Summer pattern is the time after spawn that many of us call “the dog days”. This is when catfishing becomes difficult for some anglers and the favorite time of year for others. During the summer catfish find areas of river that have everything to comfortably live. They want to be near cover, flat water, deep water and shallow water. They also want to have areas of still water and current. These areas that provide everything tend to be on bends in the river.

During summer catfish are more finicky than many people think. Because the prime areas have everything they want they will move throughout all of the structure depending on weather conditions and how they feel on a given day. Be sure to work all of the areas to develop the pattern.

If you fish the spring below a dam, during the summer pattern it is sometimes a good idea to look above the dam. The fish are spread out and in the prime locations and above the dam can also provide what the catfish want.

Likewise, below dam areas may be more hit and miss than they were in the spring because the fish have spread out downstream.

Early Fall
As the days get shorter and the water begins to cool, the catfish will make one more upstream migration. This usually happens when the water temperature reaches the mid sixties and are on a slow decent. If there is ample current, this time of year can sometimes be fished identical to spring making downstream of tailraces magic.

If the water levels are normal to low, consider that the fish may stay in more of a summer pattern with less of an upstream migration. Not to worry, just keep doing what you were doing working the traditional summer patterns. In years with less flow the fish tend to stay in those areas longer.

This is a basic start to catfishing, the fundamentals. Catfish are reliable within these patterns they follow them every year and they can be counted on.

Practice these migration patterns and make them automatic. Once you learn these then you can begin to learn the variables within the patterns such as how increases or decreases in flow affect the patterns and how weather plays into them. Like in any sport, learn and practice the fundamentals to become better at the sport seams and begin to work holes and structure located along the seam. Stick to a 20-25 minutes sit time and stay mobile to find the fish.

Summer
Summer pattern is the time after spawn that many of us call “the dog days”. This is when catfishing becomes difficult for some anglers and the favorite time of year for others. During the summer catfish find areas of river that have everything to comfortably live. They want to be near cover, flat water, deep water and shallow water. They also want to have areas of still water and current. These areas that provide everything tend to be on bends in the river.

During summer catfish are more finicky than many people think. Because the prime areas have everything they want they will move throughout all of the structure depending on weather conditions and how they feel on a given day. Be sure to work all of the areas to develop the pattern.

If you fish the spring below a dam, during the summer pattern it is sometimes a good idea to look above the dam. The fish are spread out and in the prime locations and above the dam can also provide what the catfish want.

Likewise, below dam areas may be more hit and miss than they were in the spring because the fish have spread out downstream.

Early Fall
As the days get shorter and the water begins to cool, the catfish will make one more upstream migration. This usually happens when the water temperature reaches the mid sixties and are on a slow decent. If there is ample current, this time of year can sometimes be fished identical to spring making downstream of tailraces magic.

If the water levels are normal to low, consider that the fish may stay in more of a summer pattern with less of an upstream migration. Not to worry, just keep doing what you were doing working the traditional summer patterns. In years with less flow the fish tend to stay in those areas longer.

This is a basic start to catfishing, the fundamentals. Catfish are reliable within these patterns they follow them every year and they can be counted on.
Practice these migration patterns and make them automatic. Once you learn these then you can begin to learn the variables within the patterns such as how increases or decreases in flow affect the patterns and how weather plays into them. Like in any sport, learn and practice the fundamentals to become better at the sport.