I grew up fishing in Northeast Ohio and have since gone back to my roots, with fond memories of days spent on Lake Erie with my father.
Bait: What to Use and When
Channel Catfish are known for their voracious appetite and their willingness to readily take any bait offered to them. Below I have outlined a few of my favorite baits and some of the more popular baits that I have come across from my fishing adventures.
Cut bait, just as the name suggests, is strips or chunks of fish cut to release scent and blood into the water column to attract catfish from all around. Most larger channel cats subsist almost solely on live or recently deceased fish. This allows us to turn one or two smaller fish into a sufficient offering for multiple catfish allowing us to readily have bait available. Cut bait can be frozen to store from winter icefishing catches to use all year round, but FRESH IS BEST!
Chicken liver is an all time favorite, loaded with smell and flavor that a lot of small to mid(1-4lb) channel cats can't seem to resist. If you are looking for a lot of fish for the table, I suggest giving this a try. Some even swear that, where available, turkey liver works even better due to its tougher texture.
Ask anyone who has fished for any amount of time and nightcrawlers are the goto bait for so many species its a wonder how people got around to trying other baits. Willingly gobbled up by many species this good ol' worm is just a great standbye for almost every situation.
As stated earlier, most larger channel catfish subside mainly off of fish and what better bait than a lively little swimming bite that they cannot resist. Now, some people, myself included, prefer to use larger baits for their cat specific fishing and this still applies here. Creek chubs, sucker fish, goldfish(where legal), shiners, shad, and bluegill are just some of the many options available to a fisherman. Just please be sure to check your local regulations before bringing new bait to a lake you've never fished as we DO NOT need to help spread the non-native species.
Yes you read that right, good ol' ballpark, favorite of summer campfires and barbeques, the almight hotdog. Similar to chicken liver above, hotdogs are loaded with scent and flavor. While they don't hold up particularly well over time in the water, they tend to get readily devoured by catfish in earnest.
Did I miss your favorite bait? Make sure to comment below.
Circles or Bust!
Where to Look
Late-summer channel cats can be found in most bodies of water. Most people catch them by accident as a bycatch when they are fishing for other species. So how do you narrow it down? The answer depends on your body of water.
In rivers, tend to look for wingdams, log jams, or large flats near drop-offs: anywhere that there is either a break from current or an opportunity for the fish to not only be able to feed, but quickly flee to safety if need be. The safety isn't always for the catfish. These spaces also draw many baitfish for the same reason and these provide the forage for our whiskery friends to gorge themselves on.
Lakes and reservoirs provide a different scenario. Mainlake channels and flats may hold fish during the evening, but pinpointing where to fish during the daylight hours depends on a few factors: food and structure. In lakes I'm unsure of, I tend to look for flooded timber, rock reefs, or any old roadbeds that have long since been forgotten to all but the best electronics. When fishing over the humps or reefs, if the water is less than 10 feet, I like to use a large slip bobber to suspend my bait to avoid hangups.