Understanding the behavior of catfish is essential for determining the best time to catch them. Unlike humans, these fish do not have calendars to guide their activities. Instead, they rely on water temperature to dictate their behavior.
While catfishing can be productive year-round in many regions, targeting specific species of catfish during certain seasons can improve your chances of success. In this article, we will explore the behavioral patterns of various catfish species and discuss effective techniques for each season.
The Catfish Feeding Pattern
To catch trophy-size catfish, understanding their feeding patterns in different seasons is crucial. This knowledge helps anglers determine what, when, and where catfish are likely to eat. Armed with these insights, anglers can set realistic expectations and increase their chances of success.
Now, let’s explore three important catfishing patterns that you should be familiar with.
Hoppers on Top for Channel Cats
Channel cats are known to feed on the surface if they find an abundance of their preferred food. Fish farmers use floating chow to fatten the cats, and when they scatter the food over a pond, thousands of whiskers can be seen as the cats rise to feed.
Grasshoppers are particularly enticing to channel cats and can lead to a topwater bite. When startled from their grassy habitats, these insects will often end up in the water, where hungry catfish eagerly devour them. While catfish may also consume other insects like mayflies, moths, caddis larvae, and hellgrammites, these smaller bugs are not as appealing to larger cats as a plump grasshopper.
Grasshoppers can be used as bait on the surface, at mid-depths, or on the bottom. However, fishing them as topwater baits provides the ultimate thrill. Watching a catfish chase your bait, seeing it boil beneath the surface, and then setting the hook is an unforgettable experience in catfishing.
Blue Cats on Skipjack
Skipjack herring are often found in Arkansas rivers with blue catfish. They make excellent bait and can be caught using different methods like cast nets, sabiki rigs, or small jigs/spoons. Skipjacks are lively baitfish that swim in groups and mainly feed on minnows, shad, and other small fish. This makes them very attractive to blue cats, especially in late summer.
In July and August, large schools of skipjacks churn the water’s surface as they pursue young-of-the-year shad. You can see the fish swirling near the surface, with shad jumping about as they try to elude the skipjacks. This activity usually occurs near dawn and dusk, frequently near creek mouths or at the junction of two rivers.
When skipjacks appear at the surface, it signals the presence of blue cats. They are enticed by the abundance of skipjack and shad leftovers when the skipjacks attack. Sometimes striped or white bass also join in, creating more injured baitfish that attract hungry blue cats.
For avid blue-cat anglers, this unique setting offers great opportunities. Use a small silver or white jig (1/64-1/32 ounce) and cast it towards the swirling fish. A strike from a skipjack can be used as bait. Cut the skipjack into small pieces, hook one, and cast it towards the swirls to attract hungry blue catfish below.
Flatheads on Sunfish
Flathead catfish often coexist with sunfish such as bluegills, green sunfish, and longear sunfish. These smaller fish serve as a preferred food source for flatheads, particularly in certain parts of Arkansas.
During the summer, flatheads stay in deep water during the day and come out at night to feed in shallower areas. They prey on sunfish, which are found in shallow waters and along the shoreline, making them a good bait choice for anglers.
To catch bigger flathead catfish, use larger sunfish as bait. Position the bait precisely using a boat and rigging it up. Nighttime fishing near woody cover in shallow water is recommended. Trophy-class flatheads may take time to find the bait, so keeping it in one spot for longer periods is common. Study the feeding habits of catfish in your area by examining their stomach contents to develop your own strategy.
Catfish Behavior During Spawn and Post-spawn Season
During the catfish spawn season, the male catfish takes on a crucial role across all catfish species. He assumes the responsibility of selecting and preparing the nesting site, clearing away any debris to create an ideal environment. His efforts are then focused on attracting a female to the bed or nesting site. Once the female catfish has laid her clutch of eggs (3,000 to 4,000 eggs) her involvement in the process concludes.
When targeting post-spawn male catfish, their aggressive behavior is important to consider. They snatch and grasp the bait firmly before swallowing it. This valuable information helps tailor your approach. Although blue catfish typically bottom feed, they can sometimes suspend in the water, adding a dynamic to your strategy and allowing for different targeting techniques.
Weather and Best Time to Catch Catfish
During the spring months, when the water temperatures climb to the mid-50s and 60s, you can expect catfish to become more active and eager to feed. Specifically, they will congregate along the primary current seams found in rivers. It’s important to note that unless the water level is exceptionally high, the catfish will position themselves right on these seams, taking advantage of the faster currents in these areas.
Barometric Pressure in Catfish Activity
Barometric pressure fluctuations have a significant impact on catfish behavior, so it’s important to know the ideal pressure conditions.
During high barometric pressure, catfish become less active and seek deeper waters for shelter. Conversely, low barometric pressure stimulates catfish activity, leading them to explore shallower areas. Optimal opportunities to encounter actively feeding catfish occur during periods of low pressure.
Maximize your fishing results by targeting barometric pressures between 29.80 and 30.30 inHg. Within this range, catfish are more likely to strike your bait. Plan your fishing trips accordingly to increase your chances of success and make the most of your efforts.
|High Pressure 30.20 (inHg) & above
|– Catfish prefer deeper water
|– Use smelly baits to entice them– Fish in deeper areas
|Low Pressure 29.80 (inHg) & below
|– Catfish become active– Move to shallower areas
|– Use live baits to attract them– Fish in shallower waters
|Rapid Pressure Drop
|– Catfish can become hungry
|– Fish just before a storm for better fishing
|Rapid Pressure Rise
|– Catfish might be active
|– Fish after a storm for continued activity
Winter offers exciting opportunities for catfishing. Cormorant catfishing is an exhilarating option that guarantees action in deep or shallow waters. You can also catch plenty of suitable-sized blue and channel catfish during this time. While flathead fishing may be more challenging as it is not commonly targeted, winter remains a great season for pursuing both trophy-class catfish and abundant smaller fish.
In spring, as water temperatures rise, catfish enter a transitional period, which can be challenging for inexperienced anglers. Understanding the patterns of seasonal transition cats during early spring can lead to incredible fishing opportunities.
When there is a significant change in water temperature, catfish scatter and become harder to locate. However, once water temperatures stabilize, fishing patterns and catfish locations become more consistent.
As the weather warms and water temperatures stabilize, catfishing becomes more active. Coming out of a lethargic winter, catfish are hungry and actively feeding to regain their body weight.
Late March, April, and early May are prime times for blue catfish fishing, offering both quantity and opportunities for trophy class catfish.
Channel catfish action is consistently excellent during this time. Warm spring waters trigger a feeding frenzy among flathead catfish, as they regain lost winter weight and prepare for spawn.
Summer is an ideal time for catfishing. All three species of catfish spawn in early to mid-summer. While catching spawning catfish, such as blues and flatheads, may present a challenge, channel catfish offer a rewarding experience with good numbers and fast-paced action.
Flathead catfishing before spawning is excellent. Some of the biggest flatheads are caught during this time. Anglers often fish for catfish at night, either for comfort or believing that catfish bite better at night.
Late summer can be challenging for blue catfish in warm water, particularly in areas with a thermocline. However, channel catfish remain active and biting well during the summer, while flatheads also show good activity. Additionally, post-spawn blue catfishing is a great opportunity to catch them.
In the fall, falling water temperatures can make it challenging to locate catfish. They tend to move quickly until the temperatures stabilize. Lakes with a thermocline will experience a fall turnover, which can make fishing difficult.
During the transition in mid to late October, catfish fishing is excellent. Blue and channel catfish are abundant, including trophy class catches. Flathead catfish are particularly active as they feed voraciously in preparation for winter. Anglers commonly use drift fishing techniques to target blue and channel catfish during the fall season.
In areas where cormorants gather, splat fishing can yield both action and trophy-sized catfish. Many anglers also take this opportunity to stock up on bait for winter fishing.
Time of Day and Night Fishing
The best time to catch catfish varies with the seasons. During 3 seasons, the prime time is an hour before sunset until 2 hours after sunrise. In winter, catfish are more active from late morning until just before sunset. To increase your chances, focus your efforts during specific windows and consider factors like weather and location.
Winter is a crucial time for catfish fishing as they seek warmth. They tend to hide in the deepest holes near reservoir fingers and stream mouths, resting on the bottom. To increase your chances of success, target these deep locations.
If you catch catfish during winter, it’s common to see a layer of mud on their bellies. This is because they prefer these habitats.
For the best results in winter catfish fishing, focus on late morning to near sunset. Fishing at night in winter may not be as productive due to the cold conditions.
During the spring season, the timing for catching catfish varies depending on the stage of the season. In the early spring, it is more effective to fish during the middle to latter part of the day. However, as spring progresses and temperatures increase, fishing for catfish at night becomes more productive, particularly from sunset until sunrise.
During this time, catfish become more active and actively seek out bait, making shore fishing a good option. While catfish can still be caught during the middle of the day, they are usually found in deeper water at that time.
To catch catfish when they’re most active, go fishing at night during the summer. The best time to fish is 1 hour before sunset until 2 hours after. At this time, catfish leave their hiding spots and move to shallow areas to hunt prey like bluegill and shad. Nighttime fishing offers great opportunities to catch hungry catfish, especially if you’re fishing from the bank.
In the fall, catfish are more active and feed aggressively as the shad population thrives. The best time for catching catfish during this season is from sunset until sunrise. Adjust your fishing strategy as the water temperature drops, focusing on the middle to latter parts of the day. Both live and cut bait can be effective, such as using live small bluegills for big flatheads and cut shad for blue and channel cats. Fall is a great opportunity to catch quality catfish. Follow these tactics and bait choices to increase your chances of a rewarding fishing experience.
Knowing the seasonal patterns that affect catfish is essential for successful catfishing. Here’s a guide to the best times to catch catfish, considering water temperature, spawning behavior, and feeding habits. By aligning your fishing trips with these cues, you can enjoy year-round catfishing. Each season offers unique conditions, so gather knowledge and embark on your next fishing adventure with confidence.
If you have any questions about the best time to catch catfish, please leave a comment below. We’ll love to answer them all for you.
- Catfishing by Season in Texas: https://www.txcatfishguide.com/catfishing-by-season/
- When is the season to catch a catfish: https://www.heartlandcatfish.com/when-is-catfish-season/
- Early season catfishing tactics: https://www.in-fisherman.com/editorial/early-season-catfishing-tactics/156127
- How to catch a catfish in cold weather: https://captainexperiences.com/blog/winter-catfishing-how-to-catch-catfish-in-cold-water
- How weather conditions impact catfish fishing: https://freshwaterfishingadvice.com/weather-catfish/