Hot summer evenings are a good time to go fishing for catfish. This is when fish are looking to stay cool and are not actively feeding during the daytime heat. Also, many dedicated catfishermen like when the water is stained as it currently is after our rivers and lakes received several inches of rain yesterday. Catfish seem to perk up with rising and muddied water. Using live smelly baits at this time works well.
Most catfish are considered bottom feeders. Catfish will eat just about anything. They will go after lures, minnows, nightcrawlers, stinkbaits, chicken livers, dog food, cheese and even hot dogs. Catfish have a great sense of smell which they use to locate potential food sources. So, using bait that really smells will catch their attention.
There are more than 2,000 species of catfish, 37 are found in the U.S. Pennsylvania has 13 species with adults ranging in size from less than a pound to having the potential to reach a hundred pounds or more. They can be found in all types of water including ponds, streams, lakes and rivers. They usually prefer warm water temperatures. There are even species which spend a limited amount of time on dry land. Big giant catfish put up a very noble fight once hooked.
Common are three species of “bullheads” (brown, yellow, black), three called “catfish” (channel, white and flathead) and the rest are called “madtoms.” Madtoms are rarely seen. The black bullhead, the mountain madtom, the tadpole madtom and the northern madtom are endangered species. The brindled madtom is a threatened species in PA.
Great places to go fishing for catfish locally are the Lehigh River, Delaware River, Lehigh Canal, Lake Nockamixon, Blue Marsh Lake, Beltzville Lake and the Schuylkill River. The PA state record channel catfish at 35 lbs., 2.5 oz., was caught in the Lehigh Canal in Northampton County in 1991. The flathead record was a 48 lbs., 6 oz. monster pulled from the Blue Marsh Spillway in Berks County in 2007.
Catfish have a sharp spine on each of their two pectoral fins and on the dorsal fin. A good way to avoid these spines is to hold the catfish with your thumb behind the pectoral fin on one side. On the other side, place your “pointer finger” in front of the other pectoral fin and the rest of your fingers behind it. The barbels (whiskers) are not sharp and do not sting.
A problem exists with the increasing presence of the flathead catfish in Eastern PA. They are native to western Pennsylvania and are found in the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers. They are not native to Eastern Pennsylvania but have started to appear in the eastern part of the state in the past decade. They are sought after by anglers for their size and power. In 2010, notable catches were a 28-pound flathead catfish caught at Blue Marsh Lake and a 28-pound, 39-inch flathead caught in the Delaware River near Easton. Their presence here could spell disaster on sunfish and smallmouth bass populations. There is also potential harm to the juvenile shad populations especially in the Delaware River where the number of flathead catches has increased significantly. Anglers who catch flathead catfish in the Susquehanna River, Schuylkill River and the Delaware River are encouraged by the PA Fish Commission to not release them back into the water. Large shiners and sunfish are popular baits used to catch flathead.
If you go fishing at night, remember to take along the bug spray. Bugs become active and bite after dark just like fish. A popular rig for catfishing is the sliding sinker rig. It allows catfish to take the bait without feeling the weight of the sinker.
Dough baits can also be used to attract catfish. There are many recipes for these dough baits which can be made out of rice, bread, millet, fish chow, grits, and oats. A good one can be made by mixing a quarter-cup of corn syrup or molasses to two cups of corn meal. Roll it into a golf ball size and wrap it in cheesecloth or a cloth rag. Place it in boiling water and cook it until it attains a rubbery consistency. Another one is combining water and flour to make a very thick dough. The more flour, the thicker it becomes. Roll into small balls, adding something smelly like garlic, cinnamon, sardines, cheese or anise. One last bait worth trying is slicing hot dogs into ½-inch slices and placing in a jar with crushed garlic. Keep refrigerated. Remember, the smellier the better.