Winter Fishing For Catfish: 8 Tips To Help Catch More Catfish This Winter

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Catfish are widespread, quick biters, and delicious. Blue catfish, channel catfish and flathead catfish are the three main species of catfish in the states and you will find hardly a river or reservoir that it not home to one of these. While the blue catfish and the flathead can exceed 100lbs, the channel catfish is mostly "just" around 30lbs - which is still an impressive weight. 
While catfish bite all year round, there are things that are specific to winter fishing. On the one hand, you will have to change the way you fish because in water temperatures below 50 degrees the cats will slow down, so you have to be much more proactive and search out the fish instead of letting them come to you. On the other hand, it is a bigger challenge locating the fish in the first place. But when you know what you have to be prepared for, there's nothing standing in the way of a delightful day outdoors and a catch for your dinner table!


What Are The Best Catfish Rods and Reels?

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For bigger fish, you need longer rods, so you should go with at least a 6 to 7 foot rod made of fiber glass (both e-glass and s-glass are fine) and with quite a long handle. A longer handle will give you better control once you have a fish on the hook, and the material of the rod is important because of the necessary flexibility - a graphite rod will not bend and therefore cannot handle the weight of a heavy catfish. 
All catfishing rods are built strong enough for handling trophy catfish, so your decision ultimately depends on what bait you plan to use. Well-known rods are, for example, the Bass Pro Catbuster, Cabela's King Kat, the Ugly Stik Catfish Rod, the Whisker Seeker, and the Denali Bottom Feeder.
Your reel should have a large line capacity and a smooth drag system. A tried and tested favorite reel for catfishing is the Abu Garcia 6500C3.


What Winter Baits To Use For Cat Fishing?

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While channel catfish and blue catfish are mostly scavengers, flatheads are known to prey on live fish - including other catfish. 

Shad
If you want to catch large flatheads, shad is the way to go. Cut up the shad by first cutting off the head and the tail and then cutting across the body to create strips. Depending on the size of the cats you target, you might want to cut these resulting strips in half. Especially during winter you should divide the strips into smaller portions. Because the catfish move around less when it is cold, they also need a lot less energy and don't eat nearly as much as during the warmer months. Also, don't neglect the entrails of the shad! They produce a very strong smell and are especially recommended to get started at a new spot and to lure your prey into the direction of your setup.

Smaller Baitfish
During winter, catfish are mostly feeding on the live prey that is available to them at this time of the year, like small panfish, minnows, or even emerging larva. If you rig a treble hook with a live minnow as well as pieces of a dead one you will give the cats twice as many incentives to bite: The dead bait will engage the catfish with its smell and the live baitfish offers the added attraction of its movement.

Chicken Liver
Even though the catfish's general preference for stinky bait is mostly recommended to be ignored in winter, there is an exception: chopped chicken liver is probably the most essential catfish bait and you can rarely go wrong with it. You won't fish huge catfish with it, but its strong, meaty smell proves irresistible for channel catfish around 10 pounds. Rigging the liver and making it stay on the hook can be a bit tricky. I recommend using treble hooks and wrapping the bait around them. Remember to re-bait your rig about every 20 minutes, because by this time the liver has lost most of its juices and thus its smell and appeal for the catfish..


Best Places to Fish When Looking For Cat Fish

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Catfish come to the same resting ground every winter. That means that when you found a place to fish, you too, can enjoy the bounty of this spot year after year, but of course, you got to keep in mind not to overfish, so that there will be enough fish for other people and for generations to come.

Especially flatheads prefer deep creek channels, scouring holes and flats with murky water and a slow current. Blue and channel catfish can also be found in streams, lakes and reservoirs with slow to moderate currents. It is good to keep an eye out for certain geographical features: at places where a river makes a sharp bend or where a point protrudes into a lakes there are likely holes where catfish like to hide. 

During the winter months you will mostly find catfish deeper down, often between 20 and 30 feet. On sunny days, though, you can also find them in shallow flats next to deep water. The shallow water will warm up, which works to attract both baitfish and cats. 

Another good spot for finding catfish during the colder season is at the edges of melting ice. When water freezes, baitfish often freeze inside of it, which means that when the ice finally melts, dead shad will fall out, providing a veritable smorgasbord for lazy catfish!

While it is often said that cat fishing is best done during night, this is not true for winter, where fishing in daytime is recommended.



Cat Fishing Techniques To Use During The Winter

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Winter fishing is all about slowing everything down since the catfish are quite lethargic and will not chase the bait.

Fishing on Anchor vs Drift Fishing
Once you have located a promising spot, stay there for a while and fish with a setup of multiple rods, with baits at multiple depths. So you can make sure you are getting the full potential of the location you found.

If you have not found the perfect spot yet, drifting lets you cover a lot of ground - but remember to not go to fast, try to keep the speed of your boat under 0.5mph. 

Ice Fishing
If you live in a region where bodies of water are covered under a thick sheet of ice, ice fishing catfish can be an exciting wintertime event. Steve Ryan from In.Fisherman recommends a setup consisting of three concentric circles to cover a large area with a group of anglers. 
Getting the fish out of the hole can be quite a challenge, too, and is best done in twos. One person steers the cat into the hole and the other person pulls it out. As above, in ice fishing, too, it is important to have set up several rigs that fish at several depths until you know with certainty where the cats linger.


The Equipment You Will Need To Fish During The Winter

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Apps
We live in the 21st century where fishing is no longer a battle between you and a trophy-sized catfish alone - there are countless apps available to help you find the spots where schools of fish hang out. A fish finder app can help you locate bait fish, and just below a cloud of baitfish there are the catfish waiting to feed. 
GPS maps are also very useful, especially during winter, when the natural structures you are looking for are hidden under ice and snow.

Electric Bait Alarm
When you are fishing with several rigs, you can't have your eyes everywhere. This is where electric bait alarms are helpful, alerting you with a signal when you got a biter.

Sonar Device
Like a bat, a sonar device locates prey via sound waves. The sound waves are sent through water, or, in winter, through ice, and bounce back once they encounter an object, like a school of fish.

Clothes
When it is really cold, it is best to dress in layers! The base should be something close-fitting and moisture-wicking. Then follows an insulating layer, like a fleece jacket, and something weather proof, water-resistant on top. It is always a good idea to have some spare dry clothes in your bag. When you spend the day on water, there's a high chance of you getting wet - and what would not be a reason to worry during the hottest days of summer could prematurely end your fishing day in icy cold weather.

Controlling the Boat
It is important that you know how to slow down your boat to the low speed required for drifting. Drift socks can help you with that! Imagine them as small parachutes that are attached to your boat with a harness and a buoy. They do not only slow you down but also ensure that your boat stays straight and moves in the direction it is supposed to.


Other Hints & Tips

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Catfish are quick biters, so always think of the obligatory Fifteen Minute Rule: if you have been fishing at a spot for fifteen minutes with no bites, recast, move your rigs, or leave.
Birds can function as mother nature's fish finding app! If you keep a lookout for birds that feed on baitfish, you will also know where catfish congregate.
For extra warmth you can stick adhesive body warmers to the base layer of your clothing. They are available in different shapes and sizes and can give off heat for up to 12 hours.
All in all, cat fishing in winter is a challenge, but it also provides the opportunity to spend a day outdoors with family and friends, which is especially needed in the cold and dark months to come.

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