Summertime is catfishing time. Whether you fish from a $20,000 bass boat or a lawn chair, the catfish action can be hot and fast-paced as any summer fishing venture. The key is to be inventive.
The Warren Technique
Keith Warren, host of television’s "The Texas Angler" and "Hunting & Outdoor Adventures," has tried it all when it comes to catfish. He thinks being inventive is what separates a fisherman from a catfisherman. Borrowing from his wealth of bass fishing knowledge, Warren has developed a most unusual technique for catching roving river flatheads.
"What I do is take a Texas-rig minus the worm and put on a live shiner or sucker, which flatheads love," Warren said. "I fish it just like I would a worm. I have found that this way I can cover more ground and do something besides excite their sense of smell to catch them."
Its a myth that catfish have poor vision. In fact, vision often plays an important role in the feeding strategies of catfish, including flatheads, who sometimes visually pursue baitfish in open water. Flatheads like to attack moving baits, as evidenced by the many that bass fisherman catch while throwing diving crank baits and spinners.
Warren’s Texas-rig technique helps stimulate flatheads’ deepest predatory instincts and forces them to bite. Like junkyard dogs, flatheads can smell fear.
Unlike many catfisherman, Warren is a firm believer in chumming for flatheads. When in a boat, he likes to chum up flooded grass flats with Line Buster chum or Line Buster chum sticks and then fish his bait suspended below a float. He takes his line and sinks it straight to the bottom, marking the water line with a magic marker so he can rig his bait to stay about two inches off the bottom.
"After you get this chum going and the cork floating all around the grass bed, the catfish go crazy. You’ll bring in lots of channels, and if there are any big old flatheads around they’ll come in too. I fish with live bait when I’m after flatheads. I like goldfish or shiners for this technique, but make sure they’re legal in your state first," he said.
Warren prefers fishing with a saltwater-style popping cork. In high winds, these corks will blow all over the place, so he will often cut off the top of the cork so it doesn’t catch too much wind.
"All of my catfishing techniques pretty much revolve around one principle: Keep the bait off bottom. Believe it or not, catfish have a hard time picking up bait on the bottom, which is why we miss so many fish," said Warren.
I too am a firm believer in chumming for flatheads. When bank fishing though, it is usually difficult to get the chum where it needs to go. Big-river cats can be transient, seeking deep water holes during the hot summer months. More often than not, the deepest holes are in the middle of the channel, which aren’t exactly easy to chum from the bank.
To overcome this, I use a European technique called "ground baiting." This involves using a basic Carolina rig with a small chumming instrument attached.
What I do is take a 35-mm film canister and punch it full of big holes–the more the better. Then I punch a hole in the top and bottom center of the cap and attach it above my Carolina-rig. I fill this canister with Line Buster chum or soured grain then chunk it out there. When I must make long casts from the bank, this helps me bring the fish to my line. I look at big catfish as lone wolves on the prowl. My bait represents a wounded deer, and the chum flowing from the canister, the blood trail.
The flatheads, stimulated by the smell and attracted by the smaller fish the chum attracts, come running like great white sharks to a feeding frenzy.
Most catfish chum consists of soured grain or fish parts. A Texas man, however, has developed a technique involving chumming with oxygen.
Check this out. In more than 30 years of research, Texas wildlife officials have found that low levels of dissolved oxygen kills more fish in Texas waters than any other single cause. The potential for fish mortality increases dramatically during the summer months when rising water temperatures contribute to lower oxygen levels.
David Kinser of Anahuac, Texas, has a unique insight into this phenomenon that can benefit anglers. Kinser has spent more than two decades creating and modifying human life support systems for the medical field and has developed an uncanny understanding of the links between oxygen, life, and death.
Kinser, who owns Oxygenation Systems of Texas, has garnered quite a reputation among live bait enthusiasts and bass tournament anglers for his "Oxygen Edge" fish and bait oxygenation system.
Instead of relying on standard aeration to keep bait or tournament fish alive, Kinser’s system involves supercharging the water with pure oxygen.
"Standard aeration systems draw from the air, which is composed of 21 percent oxygen. Factor in that many units only achieve 65 to 80 percent efficiency and it becomes obvious what happens when water temperatures start to heat up. The fish start to die because they’re not getting enough oxygen," Kinser said.
Building on the success of his Oxygen Edge system, Kinser is set to release a new product that is designed to "chum" fish with oxygen. Kinser said this new unit is similar to his Oxygen Edge, but it contains some technical modifications and a long hose to allow chumming in deep water to create what Kinser calls a "Dissolved Oxygen Chum Line."
The concept, while seemingly contrived, was actually born by accident while installing an oxygen system at a bait camp on the Bolivar Peninsula.
"This guy had a big aerator running to a big tank full of mullet. All of the mullet were severely stressed with red noses and they were on top of the water, gasping. After the oxygen system was on for a short while, the fish calmed down and were all gathered directly over the oxygen stone," Kinser said. "That’s what first got me to thinking about creating an oxygen chumming system."
"This is going to be something that you have to use during the extremely hot months," said Kinser, "when there is little oxygen in the water and around structure where fish are. You’re going to use it just like you would regular chum.
"The only difference is that fish need oxygen more immediately than they need food. That’s why fish stay in a certain part of the water column during summer–that’s where the oxygen is. Fish seek and stay where oxygen is," he added.
How much oxygen will it take to draw in fish? In a pond it’s easy to see how it might work, but in an area as large as the Gulf, the perspective broadens tremendously.
"The envelope drifts with the current, and fish can detect 1/10 of 1 part per million oxygen change. Offshore anglers in particular know that chumming creates an oil slick that spreads way out and draws in fish. The only difference is that oxygen is invisible, but it spreads much the same," Kinser said.
Kinser’s confidence in his new product isn’t just based on personal observations and hypothesis either. He has a couple of aces in the hole already.
"Some of the top anglers on the Crappie USA tournament started using a prototype back in 1997 and did very well with it. Also, at a sports show, I met a commercial diver who uses oxygen bubbles to increase his buoyancy while underwater. He said he has major problems keeping fish away from him while diving. They’re drawn to the oxygen like a magnet," Kinser said.
And what do I think about the idea of chumming fish with dissolved oxygen?
I think it sounds crazy enough to work. (For more information contact David Kinser at Oxygenation Systems of Texas at 409-267-6458).
Cut bait is overlooked for summer flatheads, especially on reservoirs. Catfish become programmed to eat what is abundant, and although the variety may change seasonally, cut bait in the form of fish carrion is always present in one form or another.
On reservoirs, shad and other baitfish will school around the thermocline in the water or at the spot where the water temperature changes. Many of the fish take awhile to die and swim around stunned. They’re easy prey for big flatheads. The method of drifting these areas is popular with those seeking blue and channel cats, but there are also flatheads in these areas.
Anglers who don’t mind battling stinging insects should consider night fishing for big flatheads. These fish are fairly easy to program at night, especially if you have any knowledge of the river’s structure.
Look for shallow areas along river edges that have a sudden dropoff. Flatheads will gather in the deep holes during the day and move into the nearby shallows at night and feed on the abundant forage species. A good rule of thumb is to fish such areas for 30 to 45 minutes and then move on if you don’t find any action. The flatheads are either there or they’re not.
Despite all of these specific techniques and timetables, there is no wrong time to go catfishing if you’re having fun. And, of course, putting some fish into the frying pan never hurts. These techniques will help you do both, and you can take that to the bank.