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Time to start catting around

Larry Woody • May 9, 2018 at 12:00 AM

This time of year during the spring fishing frenzy most anglers’ minds are focused on crappie, bass and schools of big stripe.

It’s easy to overlook Mr. Whiskers.

Granted, there’s no rush – catfish spawn well into late spring, and they’ll still be hanging around in the shallows this summer long after those other species have been worked over.

But it’s still fun to devote a springtime trip or two just for cats, or to spend part of a day fishing for them after icing down a mess of crappie.

Fishing buddy Bob Sherborne and I discovered what he christened “Cat Cove” on Old Hickory Lake a few years ago, puttering into the secluded little pocket in search of crappie.

We were casting minnows and jigs. Sherborne, a devout minnow-dunker, lobbed out his bait which dangled a few feet beneath a bobber, and almost as soon as it hit the water it plunged under. His rod bowed and line screeched off the reel. It clearly was no crappie.

After a few minutes’ tussle a 3-pound channel cat came twirling to the surface.

Minutes later I felt a tap on the little tube jig I was twitching along the bottom. I flicked the rod to gently set the hook on what I assumed was a crappie, but once again it wasn’t. It was another channel cat, this one about two pounds.

Over the next couple of hours we caught two dozen cats ranging from a pound to one seven-pound lunker. Sherborne out-fished me with live minnows, but I stuck with jigs and caught a good mix of cats and crappie.

Some of the catfish were bulging with eggs, and we released them, along with the seven-pounder. We kept a dozen of the smaller ones – the best eaters -- for the skillet.

I suppose some fishermen would be aggravated that prowling cats interfered with their crappie fishing. Not me. I like to catch fish of any species, catfish included. They fight hard and are delicious to eat. Fried catfish are a Southern dinner standard.

If Mr. Whiskers wants to interrupt my crappie fishing, he’s welcome to do it.

When catfish begin to spawn in the spring they’re easy to catch. They move into the rapidly-warming shallows, lurking in two to eight feet of water. They don’t seem picky about whether the bottom is mud or rock.

They’re also not picky eaters. I’ve caught cats on just about every artificial lure in the trackle box, from plastics to spinnerbaits and crankbaits. They hit the slower-moving plastics, like crappie jigs, more readily.

But for the fastest action you can’t beat natural baits or commercial concoctions. Cats will hit minnows, as every crappie fisherman knows, along with nighcrawlers and other worm species. Chicken and turkey liver are old standards (the latter is tougher and stays on the hook better.)

In recent years I’ve started using chunks of skipjack. I keep a few skipjacks frozen, and thaw out a slice to be diced up before heading on a catfish trip. The chunks stay on the hook well, and in the water they emit an oily ooze that attracts every cat in the vicinity.

I’ve tried a variety of commercial “stink” baits but they’re hard to keep on hook, and I’ve had better luck with crawlers, liver and skipjack cut bait.

The great thing is, you don’t have to sacrifice fishing for crappie and bass to catch a mess of cats. There’s plenty of room in the cooler for both.

Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at larrywoody@gmail.com. 

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