These are sad times in this country. COVID-19, social injustice, rioting and high unemployment are making 2020 one of our toughest years. So, it’s time to go fishing.
Catfish are moving into shore at night now. Several friends decided to skip sleep by fishing off a point situated between two long, lake flats with a submerged creek channel running down the center. Catfish use this creek like a highway, traveling at night to the promised land of shallow water and gizzard shad schools or worms that may have washed out of the soil and into their feeding realm.
Everyone used different baits to see what the catfish would feed on. Stink baits, hot dogs and worms were set out on the bottom on sharp hooks with egg sinkers that allowed added distance on each cast. A swiveled leader was used to separate the weight from bait. Catfish sometimes nose around a bait before taking it. Rubbing the weight against a baited hook can discourage them from biting.
Baits were set at dusk for the anticipated bite that generally started between 9:30 to 10:00. Setting out early gave the catfish ample time to follow scents that filtered through the water from each bait.
It was time to sit and talk while watching tight lines and rod tips, each adorned with a small glow-stick light attached, allowing any bite to be visible in the pitch darkness. Everyone shared snacks and drinks while waiting.
The moon broke through a cloud opening, radiating a glow that lit up the Heavens. A distant house displayed candles burning on its back porch, projecting red, green and yellow colors that reflected on the lake surface. A pontoon or party barge slipped by out in the channel with a variety of colored lights including a purple-tinted blacklight that outlined the craft, adding more colors across the bay. A cool breeze off the water provided comfort to souls weary of a troubled world.
The first big bite came about 9:30 on stink bait. A firm hook set brought on deep, runaway-torpedo like dives characteristic of a big catfish. The fish bored deep with bulldog stubbornness making the angler grunt while hanging on to his rod and reel. The fish made about two more runs before snapping his twenty-pound test line. This happened a second time minutes later on a different rod baited with a hot dog resulting in the same outcome.
Both anglers re-rigged and sat in silence. This is a period of second guessing: did I play the fish right, was my reel’s drag set correctly and did I get a decent hook set?
The fish were hooked by experienced anglers using good equipment and reels with their drags well set. The catfish were no doubt part of a school that was moving in to feed. The two bullies were clearly big and tough. They may have rubbed the line across a sharp rock or maybe they were just that strong – likely the latter.
Minutes passed and soon everyone was talking and studying rod tips for the next hit. The rod with nightcrawlers dipped and a nice fight started, considerably less than the previous monster attacks, but a good, steady pull. Soon the 3 ½ pound channel catfish was netted and gently placed in a fish sack. The fillets would make a good meal with long-grained rice or brown beans.
The next hit on a nightcrawler almost pulled a rod and reel into the lake. A quick last-minute grab saved the rigging and another good fight started and ended with a flathead catfish netted in the darkness.
Bang! The stink bait rated another big strike. The angler that lost the last big catfish had a solid hook set into another big bruiser. The fish hung on for several minutes, but continued diving deep towards the bottom, twisting and turning, a catfish characteristic. Everyone reeled in to watch this epic fight while one man stood by with a fishing net ready to bring in a trophy catfish. Few words were spoken except encouragement for the angler fighting a good fight.
The fight took several turns and the fish suddenly flashed in the lantern light that was illuminated for the fight. A big flash of white towards the surface made it evident the catfish weighted at least 15 pounds and possibly more. The fish was wearing down, but took one last desperate lunge for the freedom of depth. Then it was over, new fishing line broke, leaving the angler with a sick feeling.
Before dawn two more big catfish broke line and a couple of pan-sized channel catfish were added to the fish sack. The trip ended with frustration and discussions of returning with heavier line and equipment that would better match the big cats.
Good fights on a beautiful night gave everyone escape from a troubled year that no one could have imagined. The evening did not change the ongoing world’s problems, but it provided an evening’s escape into the fishing world – a great place to visit.
– 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.