Big cats love to feed at night, especially in warmer weather. The best catfish anglers know this and have their technique down to a science. The trick is knowing where to start.

Big cats love to feed at night, especially in warmer weather. The best catfish anglers know this and have their technique down to a science. The trick is knowing where to start.

“A lot of how I approach catfish, especially at night, depends on the water temperature,” said Craig Collings, of St. Joseph, Mo. “Summer water temperatures are generally warm and the catfish have moved down off shallow flats where we generally find them in the spring and I target deeper water, 15 to 25 feet. I look for ledges, submerged creeks, rocks, channels or any type of structure.”

Collings starts by checking a topographical map before navigating, especially in lakes or rivers he has never fished. He then relies on a combination of graphs and GPS devices.

Electronics are common on most serious catfish boats. This is especially important for boats traveling fast at night, an unadvised act that is commonly done, especially in night fishing tournaments. But a bit of common sense often makes “night time the right time.” This type of preparation has created some excellent experiences for Collings.

“Last summer we catfished Milford Lake, located by Junction City, Ks.,” Collings said. “I have catfished lakes all over the country and consider Milford one of the top ten trophy cat lakes. We have commonly weighed our five best cats for totals of 150 to 200 pounds, a great string.”

Collings had this kind of night on a night fishing trip in the summer of 2012. The veteran angler started shallow for his first drift and only caught smaller cats in the ten pound range-the sizes that would thrill most anglers.

He moved out to waters 18 to 20 feet deep along an old creek channel and watched two rods double on the first drift. Collings was fighting his big cat when another rod suddenly doubled over from the weight of a second big cat. He eventually landed the 38-pounder while his partner caught a 47-pounder, both blue catfish.

“During the summer months we drift,” Collings said. “We check the graph and position sideways with the wind and drift socks on each end of the boat, devices to slow down our drift. Then we bounce baits in productive areas. We occasionally troll when there is no wind. I occasionally will drift a big area without a bite, say 400 yards, and then pull up and drift it again when I know it's holding fish. Big cats will sometimes let a bait pass and then start feeding later.”

SETTING THE HOOK: Setting the hook on a catfish is seldom done by those that use circle hooks. They simply reel hard while the catfish sets the hook through sheer pulling power. The big problem is setting the hook too soon.

“There is seldom any decision to be made when a big cat hits, especially with circle hooks,” Collings said. “You can give the rod a jerk to be safe, but generally big cats hook themselves.”

BAITS: “I generally let the natural forage determine my bait,” Collings said. “Shad or golden eyes are very good. In Kansas you can actually use fish like white bass for bait. (Check your local regulations.)

Some use toads for bait. They are tough as leather and stay alive under water for long periods. More importantly, the catfish love them. Hook toads under the bone between their legs. A 10-pound carp works well for large blues or flathead that prefer live bait. Crawfish and nightcrawlers are always good. Golden-eye shad are good baits as well when you can find them.

EQUIPMENT: This is one area many disagree on. But all trophy catfishermen agree on going heavy. Big cats tend to bust up light fishing equipment.

Rigging consists of an extremely heavy three-way swivel that separates weight and bait. A 2- to 8-ounce weight, depending on current, anchors the rigging. Leaders should be two foot long and 80 to 100 pound test.
Rods are generally 11 feet, 6 inches long with a medium action. The medium action provides enough flex to fatigue big catfish. Reels are larger than average. This type of fishing requires cue stick rods. Catfish in heavy brush dive straight to the junk when hooked. A rod with backbone is required.

“I only fish for catfish in the 20-plus range,” Collings said. “I use custom Catfish Rods and the Big Abu Garcia reels. I use an off-shore reel made for bigger fish.”

SAFETY FOR NIGHT FISHING: “Anglers occasionally stop their boats to fish and turn off the boat lights,” Collings said. “This is dangerous and a great chance for collision. Boats should, too, slow down at night on lakes or rivers. Avoid going out on bigger rivers like the Missouri or Mississippi without an experienced river boater the first time. The rivers will sink you over one mistake. Barges on bigger rivers throw out a lot of current and will sink a smaller boat.”