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101: Catfish Fishing

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Catfish Fishing

The Cumberland and Tennessee rivers (which make up Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake respectively) have long been known for producing excellent table fare Channel Catfish and trophy sized Blue Catfish.

Catfish are omnivorous which basically means they will eat a variety of things including, but not limited to fish, crustaceans, insects, frogs, aquatic worms, etc.

Catfish find their food primarily by smell.  People will fish for Catfish with baits that are, well... let's just say they don't smell very good.

An example of this would be some cut fish bait that has been in the sun too long.  Locally the seemingly preferred Catfish baits are nightcrawlers, shrimp, leeches and cut baits (especially cut skipjack).

Spring Patterns

Catfish are primarily deeper water bottom-feeding fish but will on occasion feed in the upper water columns on schools of baitfish.  In early spring Catfish are found along the old river channels and creek channels on the main lakes.  These fish are taken on cut baits fished on bottom rigs.

When the morning water temperatures warm up into the low to mid 60's the Catfish will start moving shallower to stage for spawning.  These fish can be found around the old creek channels in the front parts of the bays and also on the main lake.  These transitioning fish can be taken by fishing along the creek channels with shrimp, leeches and nightcrawlers fished on bottom rigs.

As the water warms to the upper 60's (which normally occurs around mid to late April) the Catfish will move to shallow rocky areas to feed and spawn. These late prespawn and spawning fish feed heavily as the water warms to the low to mid 70's.

Early May is prime time to catch Catfish in shallow water around rocky bottom areas.  These heavy feeders will readily take nightcrawlers, shrimp and leeches fished under bobbers or on bottom rigs.

Another favorite way to fish for these fish is by "jugging". This technique is basically no more than the angler tying a baited drop line to a number of empty plastic jugs and letting the wind and or current move them around the area they are fishing.

When a jug tips up and down showing it has a fish on it the angler moves to the jug and removes the fish and baits the line again.  Large numbers of Catfish can be taken in this manner.  The Catfish will remain in these areas until they have spawned at which time they will move to the nearby deeper water areas along the creek channels.

Summer Patterns

When the morning water temperatures reach the high 70's , around early to mid June, the Catfish will move back to the deeper water of the river channels to spend the summer.  These deep water fish can be taken along the river channels by using bottom rigs baited with threadfin shad, cut baits, shrimp, and leeches.  Summertime Catfish can be especially active during periods of current flow on the lakes and at night.

Fall Patterns

When the schools of baitfish move into the bays which normally occurs around the first week of October or when the morning water temperatures drop below 70 degrees, a good number of Catfish will move once again into the bays along the old creek channels.

Some of these fish will cruise the shallow flats in the bays also foraging on the baitfish schools.  These fish can be readily taken by fishing with bottom bouncing rigs baited with threadfin shad, shrimp and leeches.

The bottom bouncing rig is a rig that has the weight at the end of the line with drop lines off the main line above the weight.  The drop lines are baited with the desired bait and the rig is bounced lightly across the bottom as the boat is anchored or drifting.

Winter Patterns

During the winter, the Catfish move to the main river channels once again.  This is the time of year that most of the trophy Blue Catfish are taken.  These fish, many of them in the 30 to 40 lb range and even sometimes bigger are taken by anglers using cut baits (preferably cut skipjack) on bottom rigs along the river channels.

Continue to Bluegill >

Fishing 101 Credits:

Written by Dave Stewart, Bass Buster Guide Service
Edited by Shawn Dunnaway
Fishing 101 may not be reproduced or reprinted and is provided exclusively by ExploreKentuckyLake.com

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In Flight
Photo by John Mitchell

Gliding gracefully over the water, this heron keeps a stealthy eye out for his next meal. Herons are one of the more common species of birds that can be seen at Kentucky Lake.