February 12, 2021
Ice fishing catfish is considered one of my favourite issues to do by way of the ice. Not little fiddler catfish however 8- to 20-pound bruisers with muscle tissue and attitudes, energy and stamina. Additionally they possess swimming pace when agitatedâ€”sufficient to spool a tip-up if you happen to’re sluggish to the chase.
Channel catfish on ice happen all through the ice belt in ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. They do not enter a dormant state throughout winter. Their winter exercise ranges are corresponding to largemouth bass, additionally a warmwater species. Throughout first ice they’re comparatively lively, turning into much less lively throughout midwinter, after which selecting again up in late winter.
They congregate as water temperatures drop into the mid-40Â°F vary. This makes finding them a double-edged sword. As soon as you discover them it may be fast motion, and so they have a tendency to make use of the identical wintering areas annually, chopping down on future reconnaissance time. However concentrated fish go away a variety of space devoid of fish, so finding them requires looking.
In ponds and small lakes and reservoirs, a superb start line for finding catfish is the deepest gap. Channel cats usually are tight to the underside when not feeding, and patrol edges throughout feeding intervals. Like bass, they often come as shallow as a pair ft of water to feed on weedflats. The best concentrations of catfish, nevertheless, are most frequently in deep water.
In giant pure lakes, I discover that channel cats have a tendency to not favor water deeper than about 40 ft and like depths within the 15- to 35-foot vary. Search for them on breaklines and rolling construction near giant feeding cabinets. Gentle backside areas with minimal weedcover and a barely irregular backside maintain probably the most fish. Load up a lake map in your GPS, be sure that the auger is stuffed with fuel, and plan for a day of finding out electronics and hopping holes to remain on fish.
To find cats on massive waters, I depend on a superb sonar and underwater digital camera. I take advantage of a Marcum Showdown for figuring out backside hugging fish. With no transferring elements on the display, battery life is a full day. Maintain looking till deep holes are situated and the sting of close by construction is pinpointed.
Usually, catfish aren’t all doing the identical factor, on the identical time. Utilizing a MarCum 385c coloration digital camera, I usually see pods of 20 or extra fish. Just a few could be mendacity on the underside. Most are 1 to three ft off the underside and the remainder are suspended from 3 to 10 ft off the underside.
The digital camera not solely confirms the fish are catfish, but in addition reveals their exercise stage, conduct, and course of journey. Even when their normal wintering areas are found, these fish can transfer a number of hundred yards over the course of a day. Meaning drilling loads of holes and completely masking an space as giant as 5 to six acres to remain on lively fish.
Setting the unfold
Examine contour maps and determine an space of deep water to fish. Focus primarily alongside the perimeters of breaklines or in areas you beforehand situated fish. From the middle of the world, drill holes out to barely deeper and shallower water to extend the goal zone. The middle level of this space is reserved primarily for jigging. Out from there, create a circle or cross sample with tip-ups. Past the tip-ups, set Automated Fishermans. Focus efforts within the space the place fish seem within the unfold, and alter location as fish transfer. This strategy is finest completed with a bunch of anglers. For solo fishing, hopscotch amongst units of holes with jigging and setlines.
Automated Fishermans are farthest from the middle of the unfold and the hook is about immediately by the system. When a catfish takes the bait, the rod snaps and the catfish is hooked. Meaning catfish haven’t got an opportunity to drop the bait earlier than you get to them. On Automated Fishermans, I run 8-pound-test Sufix Ice Line with a #6 Lazer Sharp L934 3X treble hook baited with a chunk of cutbait and a break up shot 12 inches above. Prime baits embody a 1- to 1.5-inch strip of contemporary sucker meat or the pinnacle portion of a medium golden roach. Channel cats hardly ever eat baits larger than a pair inches in dimension in winter. Additionally they desire contemporary baits, not soured or smelly.
Change baits about each half-hour to take care of a scent path and alter bait depths till patterns emerge. Outdoors traces are like watch canines that sign the arrival of cats into the world. When one rod goes off, it is common to get one other hookup from an adjoining set, and a development of bites usually makes its means by way of the unfold. Pre-drill additional holes close to setlines and fish these holes with a jigging rod when the chew begins. Three or extra massive catfish generally are caught within the span of a pair minutes when a hungry pack strikes by way of.
Set tip-ups across the heart of the unfold and bait them with a mixture of live- and cutbait. Cats will be each bait- and size-selective, so have three or 4 bait varieties obtainable and differ the scale and kind used all through the day. I sometimes pack each fatheads and golden roaches in an aerated Frabill bait container to maintain them full of life, and I even have waxworms, Gulp!, and rooster livers readily available.
One in every of my favourite tips is to hook a fathead minnow head on every of two of the tines of a TroKar EWG #4 treble and hook a reside fathead by way of the pinnacle on the third tine. This rig has scent, vibration, and is an efficient visible attractant. The additional-wide hook hole supplies sufficient room for stable units even when absolutely baited with minnows.
I additionally run livebaits comparable to medium suckers and golden roaches on tip-ups. Livebait might not be a prime producer but it surely usually accounts for a number of bonus cats. These fish are usually bigger and take a bait extra aggressively. I droop baitfish 2 to six ft off the underside with a Frabill Massive Foot Tip-Up. It simply holds 50 yards of 30-pound Sufix Efficiency Metered Tip-Up line for fishing deep water. Plus, the Massive Foot’s clean spindle permits tentative catfish to run with a bait with out resistance.
Massive catfish are infamous for spitting the hook throughout the first 10 to fifteen seconds of taking a bait, so it is vital to get to tip-ups shortly and set the hook instantly. If a fish is missed on the hook-set, shortly rebait. They usually return and hit a second time.
There’s one thing particular about having my 32-inch Frabill MH Ice Hunter rod bent deep into the deal with throughout a battle with a trophy catfish. Jigging for large cats is much like jigging for walleyes, besides the gear is beefier. Focus in your electronics, particularly the underside 3 ft of water. As soon as a mark seems, differ jigging strategies till you crack the code and also you’re rewarded with a thump on the top of the road.
Any baits used on setlines additionally will be fished on jigging rods. To focus on lively fish, I like a red-glow Customized Jigs and Spins Demon Jigging Spoon baited with a number of waxworms, redworms, or a minnow head.
Many different spoons, such because the PK Lures FlutterFish, Clam Blade Spoon, Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon, and Lindy Viking Spoon additionally work effectively. Additionally attempt swimming-lures just like the Jigging Rapala and Northland Puppet Minnow with a minnow head on the stomach treble hook.
Bladebaits such because the Heddon Sonar and Reef Runner Cicada and rattlebaits just like the Yo-Zuri Rattl’n Vibe, LiveTarget Golden Shiner, and Sebile Flatt Shad sinking mannequin can also entice and set off fish. Plain leadhead jigs within the 1/4 to three/8 ounce sizes tipped with cutbait are efficient for working 15- to 40-foot depths.
Use delicate jigging maneuvers with an occasional pop, adopted by small shakes of the rod tip and lengthy pauses. When a mark seems on the sonar, cease jigging and permit the fish to search out the bait. If it would not chew, slowly elevate the bait a foot above the mark and pause once more. This transfer usually triggers cats. Fast actions of the bait usually scare them. A bait held immobile or simply barely quivered extra usually elicits a constructive response.
I take advantage of low reminiscence, no-stretch line like 12-pound Berkley NanoFil for jigging functions. The no-stretch property makes it simpler to detect bites in deep water and permits for higher hook-sets. Connect a small swivel to the top of the road, adopted by a 30-inch chief of 12-pound-test fluorocarbon and a snap. The fluorocarbon provides stealth. It additionally aids in touchdown massive fish as they twist and switch beneath the ice and resist being wrestled by way of the outlet.
Given their vulnerability to overfishing when in wintering teams, observe selective harvest for icy catfish. Harvesting selectively helps maintain inhabitants high quality and supplies for a positive meal on the finish of the day.
*In-Fisherman Area Editor Steve Ryan, Des Plaines, Illinois, is an avid multispecies angler on ice and open water.