Compared to their enormous, big blue counterparts, fall time is a major transition period for channel catfish. You’ll have to adjust your typical summer fishing strategy to find channel cats when the fall cool down is in full swing. Here are some strategies and bait rigs to try for cool weather success.
Where are They?
By this time of year (late November), the fall turnover has already occurred in most bodies of water and channel cats will leave the comforts of the shallows and move to deeper weed edges and holes.
Earlier in the fall, try to target soft-bottomed areas where the weed line comes to an end in mid-depths (7-15 feet). Channel cats will camp out in this area to ambush baitfish that venture out beyond the safety of weed cover.
As winter approaches, try targeting deeper holes. But not too deep. Compared to blue cats, channel cats are rarely found in depths greater than 40-50 feet.
What Bait Should You Use?
Personally, I prefer to use live bait for catfishing. Channel cats will happily gobble up small bluegills and medium-sized sucker minnows. I like to catch the small bluegills, myself, to match the exact food source for the cats I’m after. Check your local DNR regulations, however, because states have different rules for what you can catch and use as bait.
Another option that many anglers like to use is fresh cut bait. Using medium sized, cut-up chunks of suckers or shiners gives off a lot of odor, and catfish are super-smellers underwater. This is also an incredibly easy meal for a lazy cat that doesn’t want to chase down a live minnow.
For convenience, some catfishermen also like to use pre-packaged stink bait. These either come as thick pastes, or spheres that look like doughballs. I’ve used Catfish Charlie’s Wild Cat Blood stink bait successfully for channel cats in the fall.
What Rigs are Most Effective?
In shallower waters, try using a large slip float with the depth set to an approximate average of the surrounding area and a weight around 1/2-3/4 ounce. You can either anchor and let the wind blow your bait around or, let your boat drift to cover lots of water. This setup allows your bait to lightly bounce around the bottom to entice channel cats near shallower weed edges.
In deeper water, try a sliprig with a heavy 1-2 ounce egg sinker along with a larger octopus-style hook (I prefer size 2/0). Octopus hooks do a great job of keeping your bait in place and their unique angle helps hook fish after they bite and turn to swim away. Anchor about 30 feet away from a deep hole and cast your sliprig towards it, downwind.
If you prefer a more active approach (which can be a refreshing change when catfishing), try using a large tube jig somewhere between 1/2-3/4 ounce tipped with your bait of choice. Fish the jig similarly as you would for bass with lifting and falling motions, allowing for significant pauses in between. This can be an effective strategy along those shallower weed edges.
What is your go-to rig for channel cats in the fall? Please leave a comment below to discuss with fellow catfish anglers.