Shallow water winter catfishing.

The type of rods I use for fishing from a boat are the BassPro Graphite Series Muskie Rods Product #38-130-088-00, click on the Logo above and cut n paste that Product #38-130-088-00 in the search box. The reels I use are Penn 209 levelwind reels and that Product number is #38-318-184-00. I think these two should be offered in a combo because they match pretty well. Good stiff rod with a 1:3 gear ratio reel for hard cranking and tough fighting fish. The hooks are Gamakatsu 8/0 circle octopus hooks Product #38-446-511-28 with three way swivels and I make my own sinkers. I used 6oz bank sinkers for this fishing trip.

I went fishing Jan 21, 2006 with Danny Williams, Shawn Watkins and Steve King up on the Cimarron arm of Keystone. The previous fishing trip on Jan 4th and 5th gave me kind of an idea where to go fishing as well as Shawn and Danny fishing up in there just a short while after I'd been up there where they did pretty good. We were all the way up in the mouth of the Cimarron where shad were really thick due to the water temp hanging around the mid 40's most of January. The birds are feeding pretty heavily up in there as well.

The water temp this day was at 42.7 and the fish were a little sluggish in their movement and I'm guessing this is what caused their reaction to the current picking up. I think if the water temp were a little warmer the fish would have moved up into the current instead of falling back to deeper water. This was the reason I decided to write this little bit of information as it may help some others in similar situations. When the water temp is in the 50's and the current picks up the fish will move right up into the shallows but when the current picked up when the water was in the low 40's it appears that they pulled back down into the main part of the lake from where we were fishing. They didn't pull back very far and the water was about the same depth from 6 to 7 ft but the current would have been a lot slower back to where they went back to and it also looked like they were congregated at the mouth of the first cove from where the current was cause as we were pulling out there was some people fishing there and they had a double on as we were going by.

When the fish shut off on us we seen that the shad had went up into the current so that's the way we went and there wasn't many fish up there as we didn't catch any up in the stronger current or just off the edge of the stronger current. What we should have done is pulled back down into the lake some as that seems to be the way the fish went when the current picked up.

The current picked because they turned on the turbines at the dam. This was very unexpected because they normally wouldn't generate electricity on the weekends when the lake is as low as it is now so the current picking up kinda threw us off some. So if you're ever presented with this kind of situation this may help you relocate the fish. Like when the fish are biting good at the head of a fishing hole with the water in the low 40 degree range and the current picks up the fish will probably pull back out of the current. If the water is in the 50's they'll most likely go up river or up further into the shallows.

If the water temp was in the low to mid 30's there probably wouldn't be any shad up that far in the shallows and the blues will be where the shad are.

We were catching most of the fish on the Float Rig and large shad heads. We tried Carolina rigs but noticed we were getting them back covered in mud. The wind had been very high for several days it probably had the mud on the bottom stirred up really bad. Since we were catching more on the float rigs I started re-rigging a few other rods to the float rigs and we ended up catching about 15 fish with 3 over 10 lbs. Most of the fish were caught before the unexpected current picked up. Noticing patterns like this is fairly important when catfishing and it'll give you a better idea of how to move the next time you go out.

The most important thing I learned on this fishing trip was that it's sure a good idea to have Shawn out there ... he's a shad catchin rascal hahaha. I'm kinda thinkin that I don't ever want to go any more unless Shawn is goin ... I didn't have to throw the net one time. Having Danny along was fun. He'd tend to overact a little when the camera was on him while fighting a fish and Steve looks like he just naturally belongs on a fishin show. I got ya'lls DVD's recorded and I'll get them to ya pretty soon. Danny was on a mission to catch one over 15 lbs ... that's what his wife's biggest bluecat is and the saga continues because he didn't git-r-done, yet.


Feb 28, 2006

This is a cut n paste of a response I posted about Winter Catfishing and decided to go ahead and add it here.

Blue Catfish tend to group up under many circumstances. Wind plays a big part of where they'll be located. Here in Oklahoma may be different than in your areas but it's about the same way every year. When the water temp is above 40 degrees the fish won't be in a wintering pattern too much as the water isn't cold enough to drive the forage fish deep. The forage fish in Keystone will stay active and in the shallower waters until the water temp gets below 38 degrees and right about 38 degrees is an intermediate temp for them as they're heading for deeper waters. This transitional time is pretty tough on locating fish for me as they're scattered it seems like and aren't holding to any kind of pattern since their food is on the move.

Once the water temp is around 34 to 35 degrees they're in full wintering mode and can be targeted really well in deeper waters holding on opposite side of the wind direction. Wind out of the north the fish will tend to be on the south side if it's been blowing out of the north for a long time, like a week or more. If it's out of the south and warming they'll tend to be on the north side of the deeper water and around where there's plenty of shad. like if you're fishing a channel that's running east and west and there's a good hump coming out of the main channel at say 40 ft and the south side of the 40 ft channel starts up to say 34 feet they tend to be more inclined to be on the north side of the channel when the wind is out of the south. This is also true when they're not wintering and the water temp is above 40 to like in the 46 to 47 degree range in shallower water.

When the water temp is around 45 or so pay close attention to the gulls and other birds in your area. usually feeding birds will tell you where to fish. Take note to where the wind has been out of for the last several days by keeping an eye on the weather and that'll give you a head start on locating lots of fish according to the birds. drive around the lake until you locate some actively feeding birds if you'd like to check this out and this is if you see birds feeding on shad or some other fish. Watch them for a little while and see where the edge of the birds are and if the wind is out of the south get on the north side of the birds and troll around with your trolling motor on the north side of the birds and see if you can't mark several fish and when you do, anchor just off of them and then saturate the area with lines.

Usually when you see birds feeding heavily in an area it's because they're being pushed to the surface by feeding fish and there's usually catfish in the mix of these fishing fish. More often than not it'll be bluecat that are doing the feeding as well as striped bass or white bass but the scaley fish seem to be right out in the middle of the feeding birds more so than the catfish will be. This is also very important is the size and type of bait you're using ... you can try different things but if the water temp is around 45 they'll probably like the very large shad heads better than anything. Don't ask me why but they don't seem to hit bodies nearly as well or cut sections of the bodies. If the water temp is below 40 then strips of shad fillets are best and the size of your terminal gear is also very important ... when the water is colder you shouldn't use over a 2/0 kirbed Mustad hook if the fish are hitting and then letting go of larger hooks, switch to smaller gear. I don't know why it matters but it just does. It seems like the fish become more sensitive to the larger hooks or something. You can still catch fish on larger hooks but your hookup rate will be much higher with small hooks when they're hitting and letting go real fast. A person might use some of the better tempered thinner large hooks in this situation but I can't afford them so I just use small hooks ... usually a 1/0 or smaller ... 1/0 VMC circle hooks are very light and strong and they have a kirb to them so that they don't have to actually hit the corner of the mouth to hook a fish ... and don't think you can't catch large fish on them because I've caught several on them in the 30 lb range. My biggest one on a 1/0 VMC circle was a 36 lb flathead and there was several nights in a row that I didn't miss one bite with those hooks. Anyhow, I'm rambling now but just use smaller hooks when the water is really cold and it'll help and also use strips of fresh shad fillets. I don't get my cut bait from dead or frozen shad either. I make sure that I using nothing but bait cut from live shad. That helps a lot as well.

I'll try to address as many conditions as I can think of and one is cold fronts. When the wind is out of the south for several days and it switches to coming out of the north and you've been catching fish on the north side the fish will scatter within just hours of the wind change. Once the fish move out then they're tough to find but that day you can pick up some fish on the south side. It's best to not even be out there when the wind shifts but here's what I've found on these days like this. I don't like drift fishing too much as I don't feel like I'm learning anything when I'm doing it and it doesn't seem to work nearly as well as reading the environment and knowing by the conditions as to where the fish are going to tend to be. Now I have nothing against drifting and do it occasionally like on days when the wind shifts to out of the north and the fish scatter but what I'll try to do most of the time is hit the north side of some current where there's plenty of baitfish and possibly birds working the area and if they're not on the north side of the current in the slack water or eddy then I know they're on the south side and scattered or at least it seems like they always are so spot fishing is what I switch to. and I don't waist a lot of time in one spot when they're like this ... I'll hit a spot and catch two or three and then move after 15 minutes without a bite and then do it again ... this is my technique for fishing scattered fish in the flats and I use a large weight and cast in all directions from the boat .. usually broadcasting 6 or more rods in all directions on the south side of the current area ... it's usually in some kind of flats out of the main channel. I usually pick up 3 to 4 fish and then move parallel with the channel along the south side about 100 or 200 yds from the previous location and pick up a few more or if I don't get a bite moving parallel with the channel then I know they've moved even further south of the channel due to the north wind so that's the direction I head ... by the end of the day I'm usually worn out but normally have caught quite a few fish even though the wind change had disrupted things quite a bit ... the day after the front rolls through then I normally won't even go because the fish normally won't feed hardly at all.

I'm not talking about it being cold and then another cold front move through because that's totally different situation. when you're getting a warm south wind and then the wind switches to out of the north and the air temp drops the following day to 20 to 30 degrees colder and a good solid north wind after a week or more of mild south winds then you can pretty much forget fishin that day. I've been stubborn and went anyhow but never could establish what I consider a desirable pattern to even warrant going fishing the day after the cold front comes through.

Now if it's already cold and another cold front moves through then not much will change if they're already wintering ... it'll be slower fishing sometimes but usually it doesn't change much then.

Oh and I read somewhere earlier on this thread where a person thought they huddled up to keep warm and this isn't the case ... conditions are what make them group together as they're cold blooded creatures and they're the same temp as the water so no amount of huddling will make them any warmer ... things that attract them during the cold weather to one spot is food, structure, wind direction and current. deeper fish are also effected by the wind direction ... don't ask me why because I was never a fish my own self so I'd not want to speculate on the reason .. it's not because they're being blown that direction or anything. it's just the way it is around here. this is a shallow water lake for the most part and the deepest part of the lake is only about 60 ft deep when the lake is at normal level ... the average depth is around 25 ft with lots of channels junctions off of old creek beds and what not but most of those in the upper half of the lake has been silted in so there's not a lot of structure to hold them in a specific area in the shallow end so the wind and current plays a very big part in locating the fish.

These fish location techniques work very well for me and things change over the years at keystone due to all the silting that's taking place from year to year but the fish location during the colder parts of the year is very predictable.

You might see if any of this holds true to the areas you fish and see if there's a comparison.


added March 30, 2006

the only catfish that go dormant during winter are flatheads. blues and channels feed actively even when ice is covering the surface ... they must maintain themselves but feed more lightly as very small baits will get hit while larger baits will be passed up ... when fishing cold water you size down your terminal gear and bait size to just tiny little fillets of fresh cut shad about 1/2" to 1/4" wide strips and maybe 1 1/2 inch long hooked twice with a 1/0 hook and that'll catch the biggest fish in the lake during cold water periods just below where shad are wintering .. if they're wintering with the average bottom of the layer of shad being right at 34 ft you'll have your bait at 35 to 36 ft with a slow drift or on a good hump or ledge at that depth ... I anchor fish trying to use birds, current and wind as my fish location and it works about 80% of the time producing quite a number of good sized fish ... when I see birds working an area heavily I'll get on the downwind side of them just along the edge of any current and that's usually along a ledge or along the edge of a channel that's running through ... there will be a small amount of current that's following the path of the main channel if they're letting out any water at the dam ... this is sort of a triangulation method and it's very accurate for bluecat fishing ... channelcat don't tend to be in deep water during the cold water periods around here ... they'll be located more up in the shallower waters where the river is running into the lake but I don't target channels and rarely catch channels when I'm fishing for wintering bluecat as they're located in a totally different area during this time. wintering water temps are 34 to 35 degrees here and probably the same every where else ... 33 to 36 degrees is when the shad and blues are located deep in areas where the water is 36 ft deep or deeper in keystone ... they'll be deeper in deeper water sometimes but not always ... just find the shad on your fish finder and you're already off to a good start. when you locate the level the shad are hanging at when wintering they'll almost all be at that same level even in deeper water and the bluecat are just under them most of the time. .... so on a recap here's a list of things you do when fishing for wintering fish.

size down your hooks to 1/0 to 2/0 hooks ... I like using vmc circle hooks cause a fish can't hardly touch them without getting hooked and the biggest fish will be brought in on them as well as they're very strong light wire hooks ... you have to play them with a lot lighter drag than you would with heavier hooks because they're so small they'll rip their mouth a lot easier than a thicker hook. lighter leaders are also a must ... 20 lb test is great or even smaller spider wire or something ... the bluecat's mouth seems to be more sensitive during cold water periods and they tend to spit out larger hooks ... you'll get a good hit and then nothing with large hooks.

look for the shad first then look for birds working an area or just being in an area tells you that they were feeding there and then look for humps or ledges and even fish ... turn your sensitivity up almost all the way on your fish finder and turn off the fish symbols and go with the raw data instead of the little fish symbols ... you can't tell what is down there when looking at the little cartoon fish. Lowrance x100 color or garmin 240 locaters are best ... stay away from humminbird ... they suck for catfishing ... I think they suck for anything and I've owned three different types of humminbirds and have a new 3D matrix 47 or whatever it is and it's pretty much useless to me. once you've done all this set your drag to as light as you can ... don't horse the fish in with the light gear because you'll lose them more times than not

45 degree water fish shallow because they won't be wintering when the water is that warm ... look for the fish out on shallow flats ...

always fish with fresh cut bait from live bait ... when the water is murky use more cut bait than live ... when you use live bait it should only be in clear water ... live bait puts out a lot less scent trail than cut bait does and in muddy and murky water it's a must to have cut bait on your hooks ... use the gizzard too ... that's the little hard ball in their gut ... put the gizzard on before the fillet in cold water fishing ... use heads when the water is above 45 degrees ... don't be afraid to spend a lot of time scouting around by slow trolling an area and a gps comes in handy when you spot good humps and ledges ... mark them with waypoints and you won't have to look for them the next time you come out.

stay away from desperation baits ... like these magic potions and weiners and stuff like that ... use fresh shad or skipjack during cold water fishing or cut smallmouth buffalo or cut bluegill can be used also during warmer water fishing ... in ohio the water temp should be 45 by now so the fish should be actively feeding on shallow flats and around points.

they were fishing the ohio river I think ... he sent me some pics of some fish they caught in feb ... 30 and 40 lbr's