Making Catfishing Fun

by Terry Madewell

Catfishing is the ideal fishing sport for having fun, all we have to do is let it happen.

The author's dad, George Madewell, said catfishing is inherently fun, just let it happen.

The author’s dad, George Madewell, said catfishing is inherently fun, just let it happen.

Catfishing is a rapidly growing recreational fishery experiencing a burst of interest from fishermen in recent years. Excitement and interest has been generated thanks to high-profile tournaments and big fish catching potential. But catfishing is a multi-dimensional fishery and fun and enjoyment comes in many forms.

Catfish have long been known as outstanding table fare. Taking home some of what you catch to eat is important to many. Anglers new to the sport have also discovered the fighting ability of this fish is excellent.  Plus, catfish have many similarities to game fish in that they relate to underwater contours and bottom features, as do many ‘sport’ fish species.

“One of my great pleasures in this sport is to introduce someone else to fishing.” Chuck Porter


Essentially, fishermen are discovering catfish are simply a very ‘fun’ fish to pursue and catch for a variety of reasons.

One key to their popularity is that they’re abundant about anyplace that’s wet. Some varieties of catfish grow to giant sizes, such as the blue and flathead catfish. Channel catfish grow to very respectable sizes and are highly prolific with the potential to catch lots of fish in the one-to-eight-pound class, sometimes much larger.

When big catfish catches are made it always creates memories.

When big catfish catches are made it always creates memories.

As knowledge of how to catch catfish has increased in recent years, anglers are learning that these fish can be found in large concentrations in small areas and are great sport on light tackle. Some anglers get hooked on catfishing simply because it is fun and the ability to use electronics to find catfish in big numbers and sizes is an integral part of success.

Chuck Porter, a close friend and long-time bass fisherman, loves the challenge of patterning fish and catching them. He’s discovered the challenge that attracted him to bass is also true with catfish.

“Part of the fun is thinking and figuring out a successful fishing pattern,” Porter said. “Some people have the mistaken idea that catfish just roam the lake and swim anywhere with no pattern to where they go. That just isn’t so. In fact, they are often very specific in where they are located and what they’ll eat.”

Go early for summertime catfish action to beat the heat and enhance fun.

Go early for summertime catfish action to beat the heat and enhance fun.

“Bass don’t have a monopoly on drops, humps and points,” he said. “I’m literally having a ball catching channel, blue, flathead and bullhead catfish from the same places I’ve caught largemouth bass. For years I would begin my day targeting bass and then switch to catfish. I now start the day catfishing and catch a good mess of fish and have a ball doing it. Then, I may switch to bass later. Or I may not.”

“One of my great pleasures in this sport is to introduce someone else to fishing,” Porter said. “Whether a youngster or adult I’ve found that catfishing is a wonderful way to get a person hooked on fishing. Catching a lot of hard-fighting catfish, very quickly, tends to have a positive impact on anyone.”

Perhaps my personal greatest lesson on the fun of catfishing came from my dad, as it should be, except he was in his mid-80’s when he finally caught the catfish connection.

In my youthful days, I fished a lot. Dad grew up in the Great Depression era and was quite conservative in terms of spending money on something like fishing. He would routinely calculate (he was an Electrical and Mechanical Engineer) how much per pound my fish cost me to demonstrate how we could purchase them more efficiently. I’d (respectfully) argue that recreational values and fun were intangibles and dollar figures could not compute that value.

Catfishing guide Jerry Kotal said catfishing fun will vary for different catfish anglers.

Catfishing guide Jerry Kotal said catfishing fun will vary for different catfish anglers.

Fast forward many years and dad would visit me at Lake Wateree in South Carolina. He and my buddy Chuck Porter became fast friends and dad began catfishing with us. Long story shortened, dad become more than enamored with catfishing. As an Engineer he loved the concept of targeting fish with electronics. And he loved the fast-paced action on the smaller blues and channels, and the occasional tug-of-war with a giant blue made lasting memories. He became passionate about catfishing and came full circle and feely talked about the value of ‘fun’ when catfishing.

His health remained excellent almost until he passed at the age of 96, and he had more fun catfishing than any other ‘recreational’ thing he’d done his entire life. He was the one who wanted to be setup and rods rigged and fishing before the sun topped the horizon in July. He was the one, at 91, who kept me, and grandson Drew, out too long on a cold November day, just so he could catch one more big fish. Which he did, but my wife and others worried about the cold and wind while waiting at home, never believed it was dad that wouldn’t relent.

And spending time catfishing on that pontoon brought us closer than we’d ever been.

Another fun aspect of catfishing is it can be a family fishing affair. Anchor a boat, such as a roomy pontoon, in a good catfish spot and everyone can be hooking and catching fish. I’ve been very fortunate to have granddaughters that grew up catfishing with me and even in their teenage years, we still fish and talk. I’ve learned to not get between my granddaughter Meagan and a catfish rod buried three eyes deep in the water under the stain of a hefty catfish. She’ll leave footprints up my back getting to the rod to fight the fish. I cannot conceive of any greater fun for a grandparent than seeing youngsters passionate about catching catfish.

For many, this camaraderie is an essential part of catfishing. And so is the food usually associated with such an outing. Have you tried the traditional shore lunch of fried catfish? The taste of fresh-caught catfish cooked over an open fire on the lake or river where fish were just caught is as good as it gets. Add a few hushpuppies and you need nothing else to complete the meal. Well, except a nap with a full belly.

Get a youngster on board with food and good catfishing action and fun happens

Get a youngster on board with food and good catfishing action and fun happens

We can take the sport of catfishing seriously without leaving the ‘fun’ out of it. That’s one of the reasons catfishing is unique. The style of fishing, anchored or drifting, leaves time to interact with others. With some fishing sports, the focus is always intense and serious. But catfishing enables intensity and fun to combine for an ideal ‘intensely fun’ combination.

And one final thing I’ve learned is to take pictures of folks with their catfish catch. That makes memories and generates anticipation (fun) for the next catfishing trip.


A Guides Perspective on Catfish for Fun

Jerry Kotal from Elberton, Ga., is a multi-species fishing guide on Lake Richard B. Russell on the Savannah River, the river separating South Carolina and Georgia. Kotal’s primary catfishing strategy is to have fun.
I’ve fished with Kotal on several occasions and the first trip was a classic. When he asked what the goal was for the day I told him ‘let’s catch a lot of catfish’. Our first stop was a shallow hump near the Savannah River channel. We fished for about 20 minutes, catching eight channel catfish in the 2- to 4-pound class, before Kotal said it was time to move.
I resisted the urge to tell him he could just leave me knee deep in water on that hump with a few piece of bait, I was quite content. But my decision to trust the guide was rewarded. The next place we set up was a point with deep water on two sides.
As Kotal (706-988-0860) cast the last of his eight rigs and placed it into the rodholder, rods began loading up with catfish. Within moments the three of us each had a rod in each hand with chunky channel catfish connected to the business end of the rigs. I followed Kotal’s lead and tucked one rod under an arm and reeled the other, trying to not drop either or both rigs. The first two guys in would get to grab one of the other two rigs he’d cast out, both bowed double with catfish.
I am glad no video was running because for my part a clown show ensued. But I understood why Kotal wanted to move, and the action stayed hot for about 45 minutes. We never got all eight rods out again. Then he took us to the really good spot.
“It’s crucial to have fun catfishing, both for my fishermen and myself,” Kotal said. “I’ll get the feel of what my group wants and react accordingly. If fast action is desired, that’s what we’ll try. If a relaxed pace is best, we’ll do that. Many just want to learn the process how to catfish, how electronics are important, types of bait, rigging and best tackle so that’s the focus. These things can be more important than the bottom line number of fish. At the end of the day a catfishing trip is remembered for the process of how the day played out and the fun we had doing it.”

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