the temperature outside is below the freezing
mark, few anglers think of cat fishing. Cat fishing is
typically done on the hot days of summer. Winter cats
however, can produce fast action with up to 40-50 per
day, some times even more. It is a rewarding and
exciting way to spend a winter day. They fight hard
and challenge your fishing skills while not being all
that elusive with these tips.
Good anglers know to do their homework before setting
out on their adventures on the ice. First choose a
lake with a respectable population of catfish. You can
find information on populations on DNR websites. Once
you have chosen a lake, get a good map. If you have a
GPS there is mapping software such as Lakemaster where
you can download spots right from your computer into
your GPS. Look on the map for areas with deep holes or
basins with sharp breaks. A flat adjacent to the
breaks will be a plus. Sharp inside turns or points
along the break will concentrate the cats. Mark these
locations on your GPS to locate your spots more easily
once on the ice.
Staying mobile will put more fish on the ice. I travel
by snowmobile and pull an Otter portable ice shack.
With this rig I can move from one area to another if
the fish are not biting, and even cut across land if
needed. Otter portables set up fast, and break down fast
keep you on the move finding the most active fish.
They are also one of the most durable portable ice
shelters on the market and can withstand the rigors of
being bounced along on the ice at a good clip behind
your snowmobile or ATV.
Once you have found your spot, a good quality sonar
like the Marcum LX3 is a must if you want to be
successful. Before drilling any holes use the Marcum
to shoot through the ice looking for fish. Cats will
be seen on the display as larger red marks. You may
see them belly down to the bottom and a flickering red
mark at the bottom will indicate they are present. You
may also see, and what I look for is large schools of
suspended cats, anywhere from five feet off the bottom
to just below the surface of the ice. The cats will at
times school up as thick as bullheads. It is not
uncommon to see your entire Marcum lit up like a
Christmas Tree. Once you find a good school of cats,
drill holes over the entire area, and beyond the
school. Spread out your holes in a line up and down
the break at about 10 yard intervals. Circular hole
patterns work well also, when on a large break or
point. The school is likely to move around the area
and its best to have a hole ready. Its is important to
move with the school, staying on top of them the best
you can. If the bite slows move to the next hole and
use your Marcum to see if they are there.
Use a sturdy but sensitive rod. Cats fight hard even
in the cold months and have a unique headshake that
helps them free themselves. Rod lengths of 30 inches
will help absorb that shake and keep your line tight.
For line I like to go with 8-pound test. Its light
enough for subtle presentations, yet strong enough to
do battle with a good sized cat. Jigging spoons like
Scenic Tackles Go Devil or JR's Flasher or Crusher are
my favorites. Depending on the activity of the fish I
use 1/4 to 1/8-ounce jigging spoons. Choose colors
that are highly visible. Cats not only feed by smell
but especially in colder months will also feed by
sight. Experiment with color until you find what they
are responding to. If you are fishing areas where cats
are not schooled up tight a little more attraction may
be needed. JR's Flasher Spoon along with Scenic
Tackles Angel Eye will pull fish in.
Once you have the fish attracted; you will need to get
them to bite. Tip one of the hooks on the treble with
a minnow head or tail. Shiners or fatheads work well
along with pieces of sucker minnow. Pinching the
minnow in half or slightly crushing the minnow will
let more of the scent waft through the water. Other
baits that I have had success with are shrimp, chicken
livers and even crawlers if you can find them this
time of the year.
Various presentations work for these guys. Sometimes
jigging with large up-down sweep to attract the fish
is sometimes enough to get them to slam the bait.
Other times you may need to finesse the cats into
biting. Watch your sonar while you jig. You will see
what presentation turns the targets on the Marcum
towards your bait. The active or hungry ones will move
a little faster than the rest in the school and
towards your bait. If they seem to stall, give the rod
tip a little jiggle or just move the bait slowly away
from the fish. This often triggers a bite. Sometimes
the cats will hammer your bait and sometimes it will
be barely noticeable. You may feel only a slight
decrease in the weight of your rod tip, much like a
crappie "lift bite". When the cats are biting this
light I often will balance the rod on my finger and
wait until I see the rod move slightly then set the
hook with a sharp snap. A spring bobber or Rock and
Reel will also help detect these very light bites.
Once you have a cat hooked, hang on! Cats are noted as
one of the most powerful fighting freshwater fish.
Fight them with patience and make sure your drag is
set just right. You are in for a battle!
With a little homework and some good gear, catfish can
be a unique and challenging fish to angle for in the
cold winter months. Get out and give it a try. I am
sure you will have a blast!