Welcome to Panfish!

Part One Hundred-thirtythree

Quarry - Catfish!

By Ron Griffith


"Catfish! On a flyrod? What kind of fool do you take me for?" I've heard this and similar statements many times. It's true, though. Catfish can be taken with some regularity on the fly. I'll try to describe some of my more successful techniques, and some of the habitat where I find them.

Like any other fish, you have to fish for catfish where they are. It's amazing to me how many people ALWAYS fish for catfish on the bottom. The truth is that channel catfish often feed in the top six inches of the water column. In ponds, I've caught them on dry flies and popping bugs. They take frog imitations with murderous intent. In streams, catfish like to hold in wood cover. Root wads and log piles in deeper runs are prime spots. When feeding, they will often move up into the head of a pool just like trout or smallmouths.

They are opportunistic feeders, and will take a wide variety of prey. They will also scavenge, and can be caught on anything from hot dogs to soap. If it smells good they will eat it. This brings me to a technique that many find fault with. I do not hesitate to add scent to a fly when fishing for channels. Crawfish scent is my favorite, and I often add a drop to nymphs or crawfish imitations. When using dries or deerhair frogs, I usually don't bother with scent, the catfish seem to strike entirely by sight in these circumstances. [Note: check your local regulations for the legality of using scent on flies.]

I should probably add that the frog imitations are deadly under certain circumstances. When bullfrog tadpoles are growing legs and leaving the pond, it's time to start using the deerhair frogs and frog colored popping bugs. The catfish feed heavily on these small frogs, and can be caught on top quite easily. You can also run into some large fish during these periods. The first run is strong and long. Hold on to your rod, or you might lose it.

My favorite nymph is anything large and black. I've done well with a #8 Picket Pin tied entirely in black, but with a gray squirrel wing. I use scent with this fly, and it has produced regularly for me for more than 20 years. On occasion I'll add some white rubber legs. They seem to make a difference when the water is clear. In off-colored water, scent is doubly important.

I've heard many bad remarks made about catfish, but I can say a few things in their favor. There aren't many fish that make a better showing on the table, and they are awesomely strong fighters. No jumps, but they can run far and pull hard. And when you catch one on top, you'll remember what I said about murderous intent. ~ Ron Griffith

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