Some people would rather be lucky than good. I’m not one of them. Twenty years of experience has shown me that consistently catching trophy-class channel cats has nothing to do with luck—it’s a simple matter of following crucial steps every time you hit the water.
1. Choose The Right Water
Concentrate only on big rivers, major tributaries (during the mid-April through June prespawn), impoundments with a low channel cat densities, and large, old ponds.
2. Time It Right
Learn seasonal channel cat migrations and behavior patterns, then use them to plan what places to fish, when.
Big cats migrate into tributaries and stack up below dams in early spring. So, fish prime cover such as current-swept wood or rock—even if it’s shallow.
After about June 1, most big channels have returned to the main river. Switch to holes, deep bends and scour holes below dams during low or normal water levels. During high water, move shallow.
During fall and winter, target travel areas such as channel ledges and deep banks with woody debris. Cast to the shallows and fan baits to the deeper areas to dial in fish-holding locations.
3. Fish Fast
Hit areas quickly, paying close attention to what’s working and what isn’t. During the prespawn, 15 minutes on one anchor is the max, unless big fish are steadily coming to the boat.
During the postspawn, put in just 15 to 45 minutes in a given spot, even if bites are still coming.
Even in winter, if you go more than 15 minutes without a bite, move.
4. Listen To The Cats
Come to terms with the fact that channel cats change their location preferences day to day, or even hour to hour. Current velocity, cover, water level, temperature and wind direction are just a few factors that weigh in.
Concentrate on the most likely spots given the conditions, and then establish the pattern. If you start catching a few fish in shallow areas with fast current during May, for example, more fish will be in similar areas.
5. Avoid The Little Guys
Big cats do not act like 2 pound-ers. If you’re catching smaller fish, you’re simply not doing what it takes to boat the big girls. Switch spots or tactics until you connect with bigger fish.
6. Think Small
Downsizing cutbaits or even using different parts of a baitfish can pay off when the biggest fish get finicky. Keeping the bait fresh and moist is key.
7. Check 1, Check 2
Check your hooks for sharpness and your line for nicks every time you reel in. Check your drag often to make sure it’s set so you’ll be able to gain line on a fish so long as it isn’t running.
8. Set Smart
When using standard hooks, make sure that the line is tight to the fish before setting the hook. Do not attempt to hook a cat until tapping ceases and the fish pulls steadily.
9. Don’t Spare The Rod
Keep the rodtip up and never pump—it creates slack, stresses the line and puts extreme pressure on the hook penetration point. Hold the rod at 45 degrees and keep even pressure on the fish while reeling steadily.
10. Earn Your Net Worth
In current, the net man should always be downstream of the angler and clearly communicate. Do not try to scoop the cat into the net. Hitting the fish with the hoop will cause it to roll erratically.
Instead, the angler must lead the fish in perpendicular to the boat while the net man holds the net in the water downstream from the cat. The angler lets the fish slip back as the net man moves the hoop forward around the fish.
WANT TO GO?
To book a trip with Tim Scott and see what it takes to consistently catch a river’s biggest channel cats, call (309) 897-8186, or click on NAFC Links at www.procats.com.