Catfish can be a little tougher to catch when the water temperature gets bitterly cold, but anglers can still put together a good pattern that will put cats in their boat, even if it is at a slower pace than at other times of the year.
For Zakk Royce, who runs Blues Brothers Charters, he makes one minor adjustment to how he likes to fish in the warmer months when the mercury is low enough to keep him bundled up in a coat. The main adjustment, he said, is the speed of his boat.
“Whether you’re drifting or trolling, most people go too fast in the winter time. When the water temps are down, you want to keep your speed down to between .2 and .3 miles per hour. Most people like to drift or troll at about 1/2-mile an hour, and that’s where you want to be most of the year, but in the winter time, you really need to slow down and give those fish a chance. If you’re pulling bait past them at 1/2-mile an hour in the dead of winter, that just doesn’t look natural to them, and they’re probably just not going to chase it,” said Royce.
Royce (919-724-2474) keeps much of the rest of his summer strategies in play even during winter. He prefers drifting over trolling or anchoring, and he said when he drifts, he tries to make sure his baits come in contact with, or skim just above, as much structure as possible.
“I like to drift over the main creek channels, which appear as ditches along the bottom of the lake on your radar. Those are just the true river channels that were there before the lake was flooded, and catfish still use those ditches in the same way we use highways. They also hide around those ledges and wait to ambush baitfish,” he said.
Instead of setting his boat up to drift straight over those channels as if he were driving on them, he uses a crisscrossing pattern, which he said puts his bait around those ambush points far more often than just drifting in a straight line.
Another tip Royce thinks will help anglers catch more catfish is that they need to use the proper sized hooks. He thinks most people use hooks that are simply too small.
“A lot has to do with how you hook your bait, and how big your bait is, but you need to make sure that with the bait on it, the hook can still grab ahold of a catfish’s mouth when he bites. If your hook is too small, it will just bury into the bait when the fish bites, then pull out of its mouth,” he said.
Royce uses size 9 and 10 octopus circle hooks, and said while many anglers believe these are too big, he said he often catches catfish as small as 2 or 3—pounds.
“I think most anglers will be surprised at how many more catfish they will catch with these size hooks than they do with smaller hooks, and it won’t stop them from catching smaller, eating-sized fish,” he said.