There is no rhyme or reason to fishing. I have watched people catch fish after fish beside someone using the same bait and technique with nary a bite. This happened the other night to my close friends.
Marvin and Tina Lynch are veteran anglers with plenty of knowledge and patience. I have watched Tina fish for hours in the same spot without a bite and then suddenly she will catch two or three nice channel catfish.
Steven Packitt, Marvin’s brother, is an equally talented fisherman with the same patience level. He tends to have the touch for catfish and often out-fishes everyone doing the same thing in the exact area – again, no rhyme or reason.
The trio chose a dark night to throw out stink baits off a lake point, not a bait for those with a weak stomach, one might deduce by its name. The first 45 minutes was sitting, waiting and hoping for a bite, time that is common to lake catfishing. Then Packitt got a bite.
The bite was soft, so he picked up the rod to feel for pressure. The catfish started swimming away with the bait and a solid hook set produced a good fight that netted a 5-pound channel catfish.
Then nothing for 20 minutes and the next bite came – on Packitt’s rod.
“Again, a soft bite and then I waited a moment and it tried swimming off with the bait,” Packitt said. “I set the hook and it turned out to be a bigger fish. Finally, Marvin slipped the net under my biggest for the night, a 6-pound, 9-ounce channel catfish.”
By then he invited Tina to come over and fish in exactly the same spot.
Then nothing for 20 minutes, then another soft bite – on Packitt’s rod.
This time he caught a 5-pound flathead catfish. His night ended with a 2-pound channel catfish while Marvin and Tina had the enjoyment of a good fishing show.
“Sometimes I just have to come here and show them how it’s done,” Packitt said. “That was a good time.”
Naturally, a bit of kidding goes with being skunked. That, too, is fishing when the best sit on a bank or in a boat together and only one person catches fish. This phenomenon has happened to all of us.
Certainly, it’s not by accident that Packitt did so well. Marvin had devised a very good catfish technique by rigging a 3/8-ounce egg sinker above a swivel and leader that ends with a Big N’ Bait Holder mesh-covered treble hook. The plastic mesh, about two inches long, runs down to the hook. The swivel allows catfish to twist and turn without breaking the line or twisting off the hook.
“I like to mix Primo Blood Super Sticky Dip Catfish bait with a little Stinker Dip bait,” Marvin said. “Then I use a stick to mix the two and then dip my mesh-covered treble in the stink bait. This comes out in a glob, so you have to be careful casting because too hard will make it fly off the hook. We used an underhanded casting technique to throw the bait out, about 25 to 35 yards that night. This softer casting technique allowed the bait to stay on my rigging.”
Another key to Packitt’s success was using 1.5-inch green mini glow sticks. This unique little light attaches to the rod where the angler can see the rod bouncing from bites. Many of these are rechargeable by letting them lay in the sun. Be cautioned that too much sun exposure will ruin the glow stick.
Channel catfish generally spawn from late May into early June. This is an ideal time for bank fishing. Catfish hunt through their sense of smell and bait presentation is extremely important. Catfish have eyes, whiskers and 32,000 taste buds all over their bodies that allows them to actually sense their food. Chicken or turkey liver, stink baits, nightcrawlers, crawfish and small baitfish – alive or dead – are good baits. Many use commercial shad sides that come frozen and stink when thawed out. But that is how catfish find dinner.
Many use a throw net to collect shad or buy the type of shad catfish feed on, mostly gizzard shad in this region. Veteran catfishermen prepare shad by scaling the bait fish before filleting each side. Even the scales are flipped in the water to float downstream and pull in more cats. Leave the gut sack intact for extra attraction. Catfish often will suck the gut sack out while sides are undisturbed.
Many argue the best places to fish for catfish. Some claim dingy water during the day and off clear-water points at night. During the spawn, catfish seem to prefer shorelines protected by riprap rock layers, possibly because of the constant supply of crawfish.
When temperatures warm, catfish feel comfortable in shallow water on a windy day. The waves sometimes push in food. Currents, too, will generally hold the fish in shallow water, a good tip for river fishermen. Moving water means more oxygen, a big factor in the summer when water temperatures really warm up.
When to set the hook is another factor of catfishing. The experts say that it’s important to let the catfish aggressively take the bait. Catfish in the 3- to 10-pound range tend to be more aggressive. Packitt knew to wait until the catfish was swimming away with his bait before setting the hook.
Small bites are often small fish, but don’t count on it. I once watched a man almost get pulled out of a boat by a 60-pound blue cat because he thought it was a small fish due to the light bite. I grabbed him by the belt or he might have taken an early-spring bath.
In conclusion, we learned some catfishing secrets, and more importantly, never go fishing with Steven Packitt – or you might become his next skunked victim.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.