Trophy Blue Catfishing Part 1 by John Sherman
My earliest memories of catfishing are with my father. He would carry me out into the river where we fished for channel cats from a big flat rock. Some days we would stay longer, to avoid stumbling across rocks after dark we’d just fish from the boat launch. Hot nights, mosquitoes, and the hiss of his propane lantern, are all great memories. We never really caught anything that big, but it sure got me interested in fishing.
Things have changed a great deal since then; I grew up and moved a few states away. Now I have my own boat, thus nights fishing from shore are long gone. Also gone is the satisfaction of catching small fish. I’m now part of a growing number of catfisherman that get serious when the boat touches the water, and our goal are trophy-sized catfish.
That’s right fellas, this isn’t your granddaddy’s catfishin’ anymore. No more lazy nights along the shore drowning a worm. Fast boats with high sensitivity electronics and more rod holders than you can count on your fingers are the ticket. Stout saltwater gear lines the boat and not a single hook smaller than 9/0 to be seen.
Now let’s get down to business. The goal of every catfisherman is to land that one giant trophy. That fish that’s so big you carry a picture of it in your wallet to show everyone, after showing off pictures of the kids of course.
When first starting out it can be quite challenging. There are a million questions you want answered to ensure your success. With a few simple tips, time on the water, and a bit of patience you can land that fish of a lifetime. There are infinite combinations of gear, location, and bait to catch catfish. This article will detail what you need to know to land trophy-sized fish.
The first order of business is your tackle. You have to be prepared for that fish to take your bait and head for cover. No one wants to think about the one that got away.
Your rod must be powerful enough to bring in the biggest fish in your waters. In the bodies of water I fish, I have to be prepared to land a 100-pound fish. You have to be able to bear down when you need to, and drag the fish away from cover. I would recommend no less than a heavy action rod. A rod with a line class rating from 25-50lbs is a good start. Rod length is subject to your tastes but in the world of big fish, rods from 7’ to 8’ are recommended. My rods of choice are 7’6” Heavy 20-40lb class rating.
Once again your reel must be tough enough to horse a fish away from cover. Most serious catfisher’s use a saltwater reel, which is designed to take punishment and dish it out too. You have to be prepared to tighten down the drag and reel! Saltwater reels have the line capacity and low gear ratios needed for bringing in big fish. My reels of choice hold 320 yards of 20lb test with a gear ratio of 4:3:1.
Line choice is very important. If you choose a pound test rating that’s too low, you’ll be looking at a broken line. On the other hand, choosing a pound test that’s too high could mean you will be fixing backlashes all day. You may ask, “Should I use mono or braid?” This is more personal preference but each has its pros and cons. I use braid for my main line and a heavy mono for my leader, because it combines the better qualities of both for me. Braid doesn’t stretch and therefore is easier to keep a fish out of cover. I feel it also gives me a better hook set with circle hooks. The mono leader absorbs the shock of sudden jerks and runs from the catfish and gives the quality of abrasion resistance. This choice, much like rods, must be tailored to the size of the fish in your home waters. For example 65-pound test in waters where a 10-pound fish is considered big is definitely overkill. My braid of choice is Fireline XDS 65 or 80lb test. For mono leaders I use Ande in 60 or 80lb test.
The majority of blue catfisherman use circle hooks. They have very high hookup percentage combined with very little damage to the fish. They also prevent gut hooking which is deadly to all species of fish. Your hook must be big enough to leave a gap between the hook point and shank, while accommodating very large bait. Don’t get carried away buying big hooks, all manufacturers and hook types are different but normally hooks from 7/0 to 12/0 work great. Buy a few different sizes to experiment with, but most importantly use what works best for you. My hook of choice is the Daichii Chunk Lite Circle in 7/0 but for very large baits I go to the Gamakatsu 10/0 circle hooks.
How much is enough? It depends on what river your fishing. On the James when the tides are ripping, 8oz weights should keep you on the bottom. In lesser currents, 4-6oz weights should be fine. In strong currents it’s also smart to refrain from using weights that roll, this will cause your bait to move away from your target and will also get you hung up a lot. I prefer to use teardrop or pyramid shaped weights to prevent rolling in the current. These weights also have a clip at the top, which makes it easy to change sizes when you need to.
You’re going to need some swivels to connect your main line to your leader line. Don’t skimp here with little brass swivels. Buy some heavy-duty swivels rated at 80lbs or higher for saltwater fishing. Also, don’t forget to pick up some beads to protect your knots from those enormous weights!
There are many choices to rig up your hook, line, and sinker. I’ve found the best to use is a sliding weight rig. Slide the weight up the main line, followed by a bead. Tie it off to the swivel. Tie your leader line of approximately 12 to 24 inches to the other side of the swivel, and hook to the hanging end of the leader line. This rig allows the fish to pick up the bait and move a little without feeling the resistance of the weight. Leader line length is dependent on the strength of the current. The stronger the current, the shorter the leader line. This prevents line twists and keeps the bait in the strike zone. There are many other choices for rigging up your terminal tackle, however, I have found this rig is the easiest to use and provides the best results.
The type of knot used is arguably the most important part of the whole setup. The incorrect knot will leave you with a broken line wondering what happened. When tying the braided line to the swivel I use the improved clinch knot. This knot has never broken for me when using braided line. To tie the mono line to the swivel I use the same knot, but to tie the mono to the hook I use the palomar knot. Once again, this has never broken for me and is the best way to keep stress off the knots. It may take some practice to tie an improved clinch knot with 60-80lb test mono because the line is so thick. Don’t give up it is possible! Also, don’t forget to wet the mono with some spit or water before tightening them down. This will allow them to tighten easier and prevent stress on the line.
Don’t forget this! You’re going to need a picture of that trophy! As you can tell everything you select to use when chasing trophy fish is important. Wrong choices will leave you with broken gear, broken lines, and worst of all a broken heart. Come back for part two of Trophy Blue Catfish next month when I cover bait, locations, and patterns!