Windham: Summertime is catfishing time in Nebraska

Fishing buddy, Chuck Forsgren of Lincoln loves to catfish at night. He took this channel cat on cutbait just after dark. It weighed just over 5 pounds. As the night wore on, we caught quite a few more channel catfish in the 3- to 5-pound range.

This time of the summer is usually hot and you look for cooler activities associated with your outdoor recreation. We have had some cooler weather recently, but I think there might be some real summer temperatures left before fall really gets here. Sitting out on a bank or in a boat with the sun beating down on you is not the best way to have fun. It’s tough to think about fishing.

At this time of the year, I normally beat the heat by going nocturnal. Late evening and nighttime fishing can be done for many species, but one of my favorites is catfish.

Catfishing at night has a lot of advantages:

» There are fewer anglers to contend with.

» It is cooler in the evening, whether you fish from the shore or a boat.

» You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment.

» There are probably good catfishing opportunities close to where you live.

» You can take a nap while you’re fishing.

» Catfish are excellent table fare, especially made Cajon style.

My basic rig for channel catfish is a 6- to 7-feet, medium-action rod and a good-spinning reel, spooled with 10-pound test line. For flatheads I rig much heavier.

My preference is to use a 5/0 or bigger circle hook tipped with a minnow. I think the action of a lively minnow is almost irresistible for channel catfish cruising along the bottom looking for a meal.

Catfish are thought of as scavengers, but they are also very accomplished predators. They like to wait along the edges of structure changes to ambush anything that swims by. It is this trait that I try to take advantage of when I’m catfishing.

I use two very specific, yet different, tactics for my nighttime catfishing safaris. Drift fishing or very slow trolling on a lake is one option. I simply tie up a Lindy style rig tipped with a minnow, exactly like I do for walleye, and slowly bounce it along the bottom as I drift or troll. Now I’m targeting catfish, but if I catch a walleye — oh, well.

I set up my drift or troll so that I can follow or cross over any changes in the bottom, any spot that tends to hold fish. Quite often I can see fish holding near these spots on my sonar. Don’t give up if you don’t get a strike on the first pass. Keep circling back and drift over the spot again. You will catch fish eventually.

My other tactic is to find a hole where catfish congregate. I like to use this tactic in any Nebraska river big enough to float my boat. Scout an area during daylight. Using Google Earth is even better. You can see where a hole exists. A good spot to look is on the outside of a bend in the river or canal.

The fastest water in a moving river is on the outside of the bend and it scours the bottom and the outside bank. This often causes the bank to undercut and slough off. The swirling action of the water around these collapsed banks sometime creates a hole on the downstream side of the obstruction. I position myself above this hole and allow my bait to drift into it. Usually, I don’t have to wait long for a bite.

I recently fished an area just like this. I rigged a slip sinker above a swivel. I had about 18 inches of line below the swivel to the hook and a small float just ahead of the hook to keep my bait up off the bottom where it could be seen easily by fish. It didn’t take long for the first channel cat to grab my minnow and run. Channel catfish normally put up a good fight. It was the first of many fish that evening and a nice way to spend time with friends.

If I’m fishing in a lake or a backwater I still look for holes, but my tactics change. Since the water is not moving I cast to the hole and I will often use large thin bobbers when I catfish these areas. The bobbers I like are an inch or so thick, weighted at one end and a foot long. They are generally brightly covered. Most of the time I have reflective tape on the top or rig them with a small light I can see what’s going on!

A couple of my favorite catfishing spots are Sutherland Reservoir and Lake Maloney. Both bodies of water have excellent catfish populations. Catfish in these parts are a very underutilized resource, so there are lots of them to catch!

At Sutherland Reservoir I like to fish along the southern shorelines and off of Hershey Beach. I’ll look for fish on my sonar and generally find then in less than 10 feet of water as the sun sets. Cutbaits are my normal offering, but commercial baits can catch fish too. The cooling pond is another good spot and if you use live bait you just might hook into a flathead.

At Lake Maloney I like to look for catfish at dusk and after dark in the bay just south of Kansas Point. Another favorite spot is in the middle of the stretch between Kansas Point and Scout Island. Here I believe that catfish go into deeper water during the heat of the summer and that means the channel coming out of the inlet. During the evening hour the catfish come up into shallower water to feed. Minnows, night crawlers, liver and cutbaits all work well here.

So, when the time comes that it is getting just too hot for you to chase your regular fish quarry, or they just stop biting, think about giving catfishing a try. You may be surprised at how much fun it can be.

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