Trolling for Reservoir Channel Catfish

Amy Channel Cat.jpg

Fast action for big fish!

By Spencer Bauer, Amy Smith

I like to have fun.  That’s what fun people do.  They have fun.  If you’re a fun person, let me introduce you to one of the best times you could possibly have on the water.  Hard fighting fish that smash a rod sitting in a rod holder to the point you question its staying in the boat.  That’s trolling for channel catfish.

Many fisherman and woman have perfected this method of fishing, but one of those anglers I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a boat with is Amy Smith of Oxford, Iowa.  Amy spends the majority of her time on Iowa Reservoirs, but has used these techniques on multiple bodies of water with great success.

Timing and Tactics

Trolling can be an effective method nearly anytime of the year.  Sure, sometimes channel cats are spawning. However, they don’t all spawn at the same time.  Sure, with high water, many fish will run up the river and out of the reservoir, but many still stay put.  

With all of that being said, when the water in rivers drops after catfish spawn in June, many fish slide down river and back into the reservoir.  This creates some of the finest channel catfishing of the year, for both size and numbers.  July through September is prime time for fast-paced, in your face channel catfish action that will even make bass fisherman question their fish of choice.

Fast action is often the norm when drifting for channel catfish in the summer!

Fast action is often the norm when drifting for channel catfish in the summer!

Smith: Speed is important and so is location.  You can’t move too fast.  We try to keep moving around 0.5 miles per hour.  Too slow, and you won’t put your bait in front of as many catfish.  Too fast, and they won’t have a chance to eat it.  

Smith: We like to try different spots, but usually try to stay close to the old river channel.  We will try humps and islands too.  If they are biting, we keep fishing that spot.  If we aren’t catching anything, we have no problem moving to a different spot.

Tackle and Rigging

Smith: We love our Whisker Seeker fishing rods.  The heavy and medium heavy actions in lengths of 7’ 6” and 9’ 6” are great for this kind of fishing.  They have a light enough action to allow a circle hook to land in the corner of the fish’s mouth and enough power to land channel catfish over 20 pounds.  For reels, the Okuma Citrix and other low profile bait casters work well.

Smith: We try a lot of different things with rigs.  We usually use a one to two ounce sinker, but other than that we will try different stuff until the fish tell us what they want.  We try Rattle Floats, PP-Seekers, Versa Rattles, and the Ultra Chub, all made by Whisker Seeker.  The Versa Rattles can be added to any rig and the catfish really seem to like them.  Our favorite hooks are 6/0 Triple Threat Circle Hooks.  

Tricks of the Trade

Trolling doesn’t have to be complex, but there are a few items that will make the process much more efficient.  The more efficient you are, the more time you will spend fishing.  This usually leads to more fish on the hook.

Smith: Once we pick a spot, we drop down the trolling motor and throw a drift sock out of the back of the boat.  If it’s really windy, we will use two.  The reason we use a drift sock out of the back of the boat is to keep the boat from swaying.  

What you can catch while trolling!

What you can catch while trolling!

Smith: When you reduce your speed so much, wind can really make the back of your boat swing back and forth.  The drift sock helps a lot with this.  When driving the trolling motor, you really have to pay attention to your speed.  If there is very much wind at all, it can really speed you up.  

Trolling for channel catfish on reservoirs and lakes is often nothing short of spectacular.  Catches of 20, 50, even 60 fish ranging from up to 15 pounds are common place in the upper Midwest where Smith does the majority of her fishing.  Give these tactics a try and make sure your rod holders are bolted well to your boat.

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