Fall Channel Catfish Location
By Spencer Bauer
Sunday afternoons, in my opinion, should be reserved for the finer things in life. For me and many other catmen and women out there, the finer things is often defined as a day spent walking a small stream, catching channel catfish hand-over-fist. October can often be one of the best months to catch a bunch of hard fighting whiskerfish.
Location Changes in Fall
You can’t catch ‘em where they ain’t. What that means is, you have to find the fish if you want to catch the fish. In fall, channel catfish are often congregated in some very specific areas. Find these areas, and you may be in for some of the fastest action of the entire year. If you can’t find these spots, anglers often go home with a skunk.
I have a few theories, but I truly have no definitive answer as to why they do what they do. In October, especially during a warm, sunny day, channel catfish stack up below rock riffles. Not only are they stacked up below these areas, often in only a couple feet of water, but they have their feed bags on.
As October fades into November, and water temperatures drop below the 45-50 degree mark, fish continue their journey to wintering holes. Wintering holes tend to be the deepest water in a given stretch of river. Deep is relative to a point, but keep in mind some bodies of water do not support overwinter habitat, which means a large portion of the population leaves in the late fall. The smallest of streams that are loaded with catfish every spring likely have no adult fish living in them come November.
Now the trick to fishing a wintering hole that a lot of people miss is the spot on the spot. Most people assume that fish will be sitting in the deepest part of the hole, and they are, but these are not the best ones to target. Fish will roam around in the winter, searching for food. These fish tend to move up onto shallower mudflats adjacent to the wintering hole. This is where you want your bait.
Some Things (Like Tackle) Stay the Same
Tackle doesn’t need to change in the fall. Medium to medium heavy spinning or casting rods offer the power to handle a large fish, but still make the smaller ones enjoyable to reel in too. I will argue on end that the blank of the MH Whisker Seeker casting or spinning rod has the perfect action for channel catfishing.
Durable reels are preferred as you will be fighting strong fish in current. My favorite reel for channel catfish is the Abu Garcia C3-5500 Ambassadeur. Braided fishing line, like Whisker Seeker Sunburst Braid, gets the nod for this type of fishing. It is very thin, so it cuts through current extremely well, but still has the strength to handle hard fighting fish.
A short leader and a heavy sinker will prevent you from snagging as much and save you hooks. The heavy sinker saves you terminal tackle because your bait isn’t rolling around. The more your line drifts, especially in current, the more likely it is to get snagged. The short leader leads to fewer snags and I believe more fish caught. When your bait is not waving around wildly in a brisk current, and is less likely to hook onto something and fish have an easier time scooping it up and taking off with it.
Types of baits waver a little this time of year. Fresh cutbait, especially shad or creek chubs, is a great option. If you cannot find either, go to the bait shop and buy a couple scoops of big minnows. Dice them up and thread the chunks onto the hook. They work, I promise.
Another option is soured cutbait. However, I tend to avoid it. I do this for the simple fact that I consider it a pretty gross option, and in my limited experience has not produced results any better than fresh cutbait.
Worms will still produce fish, although not as effective as during the spring. One option that I know is effective, but I have not utilized is commercial dipbaits. These flavorful offerings are tough to keep at the proper consistency in cold weather, but from my understanding produce excellent catches at times.
Fall is an excellent time to target channel catfish. They fight hard and taste delicious from cold water. Keep in mind, on a wintering hole, you are possibly sitting on the entire catfish population for 10-20 miles of river or more. You can really impact overall numbers if you do not practice a little conservation, negatively impacting fishing for you and everyone else. Sure, keep a few for dinner, but let the rest go to provide fun for you and every other angler.