Probing New Catfish Waters: Part 1

by Ron Presley

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series addressing the issue of fishing new waters. Part two will follow in the October 2019 issue of CatfishNow with information from Michael Haney and Rodney Crimm.

Mother Nature can tell you where to fish, if you pay attention.

Team Pierce travels the tournament trail as a family. They are shown here with some nice Alabama River cats.

The question is as old as the ages. When an angler fishes a new body of water the question on the top of the list is, “Where do I start?”

Given the sophistication of today’s electronics, the answer has become easier and easier to find. But coupled with good old fashion experience the results can be made easier yet. And it doesn’t even have to include electronics.

Take the Pierce clan for example. The B’n’M Poles Team of Carson, Cye, and Austin Pierce compete as a family in tournaments across the map. They often find themselves in unfamiliar waters. Their strategy is to use tried and true techniques related to experience to help them find fish.

“When we do well at a tournament it’s because we are willing to put in the time and the effort,” Carson said. “People should understand that anybody can learn to fish. It ain’t rocket science.”

Carson went on to explain that people do get lucky. They can go set on a spot and sooner or later some fish will come by. But he puts his money on the anglers that go out there and fish from daylight to dark to learn what they can about the water they are fishing. And some research can be done at home on the computer.

He is convinced that catfish spend most of their time in areas of mud bottom and suggests that if a beginning fisherman spent their time fishing mud bottoms their catch numbers would automatically go up.

“I find that 95% of the time catfish stay in an area that has a mud bottom,” Carson explained. “Usually, if people aren’t marking fish it is because the fish are buried in the mud. I usually take a bumping weight and research the bottom to see what it is made of.”

This washout on the bank signaled the possibility of a contour change below the water. Just as Austin predicted, it produced several nice Alabama River cats as witnessed by the photo above.

Carson uses braided line and a fair size sinker to bump the bottom. Experience has taught him how to tell the difference in one bottom composition and another.

“Just let it hit bottom,” instructed Carson. “If there is a metallic clunk to it then it’s rock. Determining shale, mud, or clay can take a little more experience but you can tell. Typically, the clay will have a tendency for your weight to stick to it. Shale is pretty unusual unless you’re in an area that was previously excavated (usually in a lake). I like to find good soft areas that my weight doesn’t wanna’ stick to.”

“My best example of this is the Mississippi River,” continued Carson. “When the river gets wider it does so because the sediments are soft. It will also be deeper and have mud bottoms. The Tennessee River is 100% the opposite.”

“…95% of the time catfish stay in an area that has a mud bottom…”

So, Carson’s job-one when he fishes new waters is to determine where to expect the mud, clay, shale, or rock. He says every body of water can be totally different. Some online maps give this kind of information and can give anglers a head start when they get to the body of water that they are fishing.

Knowing where the sediments are helps him understand the likely places he wants to fish. Once he has determined where the mud is, he begins to fish various depths of mud-covered bottoms. If he starts catching fish in 20- to 25-foot water on mud bottoms he has established a pattern. Then its time to pull out the maps of the area and establish similar characteristics in other locations where he would expect to catch fish on the same pattern.

“The first thing I do is establish where the mud is,” informed Carson. “Is it around the main channel? Is it in the channel? Is it in the straight areas of the river? I use the bumping rig to determine that.”

“Since I now have an understanding of how the body of water is formed, I can pull out my maps and identify everywhere that is mud bottom and in the 20- 30-foot range,” Carson said.

“If we found a lot of shale or clay bottoms we would move,” added Carson. “We only fish clay or shale when structure is present and/or when a cold front is approaching or already there. I prefer to start with the mud when fishing flats.”

Although the mud bottoms are important characteristics that the Pierce’s look for, there is another naturally occurring phenomenon that helps them find fish. Austin Pierce has obviously learned from his daddy. He is always looking for those subtle changes along the shoreline that might indicate a good fishing hole.

“When you come down the river you might see an area where erosion has cut the bank differently,” said Austin. “Usually what’s happening above the waterline is also happing under the water. If you see the sand washed out it is telling you that the bottom contour is also changed by the erosion out in the river.”

The result is a contour or ledge that can be identified by what the bank looks like. The visual clue above the water is the washed-out sand. Below the water is an ambush spot for a hungry catfish.

“It doesn’t take much,” Austin said. “If that wash created a one-foot contour it is likely to be a productive area. A one-foot contour gives the fish something to hide behind and ambush its prey.”

These are tried and tested methods of experienced catfish anglers. Give them a try, and you too will likely catch more catfish. After all, it’s not rocket science.

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