Old-time anglers have sworn for years that catching catfish requires big treble or circle hooks, a heavy weight and some sort of smelly bait. But you’d be surprised about some of the things that’ll catch a whiskered giant, and more often than not recently, people have reported catching them on bass and crappie lures.
I was doing some afternoon dock fishing with my pal, Brendan Handy. He had beaten me to the spot and had already caught a couple bass, so I hurriedly jumped out of the truck and grabbed my Fle-Fly ultra-light panfish setup, which consists of the company’s new rod and reel, its new 6-pound Micro Braid line and two of its 1/32-ounce lead-free feather jigs on a Yo-Zuri fluorocarbon leader. The feather jigs were pink on a white head, a color pattern Fle-Fly brands as Mama’s Go-Getter that is a fantastic crappie pattern.
I was hoping to catch a few nice crappie in the pond, which routinely produces 12-inch slabs, and I dropped the lure almost directly under the dock, about 2 feet out, and let it sink about 4 feet. As the line tightened from the slow-falling lures finally reaching the desired depth, I twitched the jigs a couple times, each time the line momentarily going slack again as the lures jumped up and then slowly glided back down. On about the third twitch, however, my line almost instantly went from slack to tight with a big thump on the other end.
I set the hook, and momentarily thought the lure was snagged.Then the snag started to move.
The Micro Braid line began flying off my reel, causing the drag to sing as the big fish took off away from the dock and dove deep. Brendan was on the phone with his dad, Steve, but when he heard the line peeling off the drag, he told him he had to go. I gave Brendan my phone to record a video of the fight, which had already gone on for about three minutes.
Every time I gained an inch reeling the fish in, he dove again and pulled more line with him. At this point, I was absolutely giddy, as the limber ultra-light rod was making this battle with the so-far unidentified fish even more epic.
Finally, the side of the fish caught some sunlight as I pulled it up through the water column and my suspicions were confirmed in that it was a big channel catfish. It dove again, and this time when it came back up and caught sunlight I could see just how big it was. My conservative estimate was 5 pounds, way bigger than any other fish we’ve ever caught in that pond.
Handy kept the camera on as I finally got the big fish to the surface — he dove several more times in the process — and I laid down on the dock to grab him so my line didn’t snap. I had a pair of fish grabbers, but someone had broken into my truck a few days prior and stolen a tackle box and the bag that had the grabbers, as well as my scale, a big bluegill swimbait, some crankbaits and a ton of my Z-Man stuff, including a ChatterBait Jack Hammer that retails for $15.99 to $17.99. Needless to say, it made me sick to my stomach to lose that stuff, although the old tackle box, which I got as a Christmas gift in junior high, was mainly filled with rusty lures and melted plastic worms that came with the box, so that didn’t upset me as much.
I hoisted the big channel cat onto the dock and measured it out at about 22 1/2 inches. Unfortunately, my scale was among the items stolen, so I couldn’t get a weight on it, but I would guess 5 pounds on the conservative end and maybe up to 7. It had a big, fat belly on it, and I struggled to even hold it up with just one hand.
We snapped a couple photos of the fish and released it back into the water. I was completely impressed by the sturdiness of my Fle-Fly equipment to hold up to the abuse from a fish that big and still work like new after the fact. The Micro Braid line earned my respect for being tough enough to withstand that fish, and later show me how sensitive it also was as I plucked out bluegills and small- to medium-sized crappie from under the dock. I later tipped my Fle-Fly feather jigs with the company’s new Smelly Smax bait balls, which certainly live up to their name.
These shad-flavored balls are similar to Berkley’s Crappie Nibbles, but are rubbery and stretchy, meaning they absolutely do not fall off your hook — unlike the Crappie Nibbles, which basically come off every other cast. In fact, the whole 4 to 5 hours we fished there, I used the same two Smelly Smax on my jigs. They never came off.
Brendan was fishing with the Ned Rig, which I had recently gotten him started on, and pulled out several nice crappie, including a slab that measured about 11 inches long, as well as several bass.
Unfortunately, we didn’t catch any more big channel cats the rest of the night, but five hours later I was still riding high from the battle I’d had. It was cool to see that big channel cats will bite on such a small lure. It reminded me of an interview I did with Topeka angler David Schmidtlein, who says he often catches catfish while crappie fish in brushpiles on Perry Reservoir.
“While crappie fishing in brushpiles, we’ve taken some really nice channel catfish out of them, too, usually 3 to 7 pounds,” said Schmidtlein, who uses fly rods and light tackle to catch catfish when the crappie bite shuts off. “Every year, we get at least one or two of those while fishing for crappie.”
“Two times in the last six or seven years while crappie fishing with artificial bait, I’ve hooked into flatheads,” Schmidtlein said. “One day, we got our hands on one of them, we didn’t have a big enough net. It was 60-some pounds. That was up there by Old Town, and I know it was every bit of 65 pounds.
“And then, two years ago down there by the south end of the lake outside the boat ramp there, I hooked into one on an ultra-light. Half-hour later, I brought him up, and he weighed over 50, almost 55. And again, on an artificial bait and 8-pound test line, it was a heck of a struggle.”
I doubt I’ll ever catch a channel cat that big on a feather jig — the world record is 58 pounds and the Kansas record is 36.5 pounds — but I’m hoping that channel cat I let go will keep growing and maybe even get up to 10 pounds before we go a second round on my Fle-Fly combo.