How to Find and Catch Large River Cats

By John Phillips

            “What are those white things floating on the surface of the water?” I asked John Hill, my friend who fishes the Tennessee River regularly. Hill answered, “Those are Asiatic clams. Each summer these clams will have a die-off, which signals a catfish bonanza. The catfish will move in and feed on these mollusks as they begin to die. If you’ll pick-up some of these clams off the surface, put them on a No. 1 hook, add a piece of shot lead 8 inches up the line and let the clams float back-down to the bottom, you’ll catch all the catfish you want.”

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            You also can use your depth finder in a large river to locate big, underwater boulders and underwater drop-offs and ledges that only may drop from 3 to 5 feet. These current breaks out in the middle of a river often will hold numbers of catfish, because they provide ambush points for the catfish and current breaks where the fish can hold. Catfish also will concentrate on the inside bends of main rivers. Too, I enjoy finding river cats where small run-offs pour into the main river.

            Sometimes after a summer storm, little feeder creeks and streams will bring mud-stained water with an abundance of insects, worms, grubs and microorganisms into the river. The baitfish will concentrate on the edges of the mud line. In these kinds of places, the catfish have the option of feeding on the food brought-in by the running water or the baitfish attracted to that stained water. Often within an hour after a run-off begins, catfish will stack-up in these types of areas.

            To take river cats in the summer, travel the middle of the river, and watch your depth finder. You’ll notice most of the fish you see in the middle of the river will hold in about the same depth of water. Anchor upstream of the school, use a slip bobber to set the depth at which you’ll fish, and then bait. You often can locate catfish in little puddles in a large river. A small funnel of water may be trickling from the main river into a small pond, a drainage ditch or a side creek will hold catfish that use these small channels to get into these backwater regions. Because these areas seldom have fishing pressure, you may pinpoint high concentrations of catfish in these out-of-the-way places.

            You’ll consistently produce catfish where shallow flats break-off into the main river channel, especially after dark in the summertime. The catfish often will move-up to the lip of the break or even into the shallow water to feed when the stars come out. By fishing with a float to keep your bait just off the bottom or by using an egg-shaped slip sinker with a barrel swivel, 20 inches of leader and a No. 6 hook on the bottom, you can catch the catfish as they move onto the flats.

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