Get the Blues

What would you rather do this winter: clean your reels, or tie into a catfish the size of a small deer? We understand. Deep within your long-suffering soul is the need for a fish so huge you'll hurt yourself hefting it for the camera. But if you're like many freshwater fishermen, you probably believe that anything over 20 pounds would be the catch of a lifetime. Even in pro tournaments,most of the bass cheered on by spectators at weigh-in wouldn't strain the biceps of a 10-year-old. But take heart. There is one sweet-water species out there capable of herniating the burliest of anglers: the blue catfish. These behemoths, commonly caught in the 30- to 40-pound range, can weigh more than a small deer. They're also getting easier to hook, thanks to a surging wave of catfish addicts who've perfected the best techniques. One thing these junkies have figuredout is that some of the very best fishing for giant cats starts right now. The following guide distills the rest of their knowledge into simple-to-follow tips and tactics. Read it over, study it well, then hit the water and get the blues. You just might land the largest freshwater fish of your life. The Gear A Dozen Things You'll Need to Catch the Bait, Land the Trophy, and Claim yourself the Bragging Rights 1. Anchor A four-pronged model, like the Bass Pro Shops Folding Grappling Anchor ($20; basspro.com), holds well in sand or mud and on hard bottoms. 2. Cast Net Get something fresh for your hooks by casting this net over schools of baitfish in quiet bays. Betts' 8-foot version with 3⁄8-inch mesh works well and comes with full instructions ($55; 919-552-2226). 3. Depthfinder A high-resolution LCD unit marks baitfish, catfish, and structures worth fishing. Humminbird's Fishfinder 565 ($195; humminbird.com) has a 5-inch monochrome display with 640x320 pixels for excellent image clarity. 4. shad-Keeper Shad Holding Formula Add this to your bait tank to eliminate ammonia and surface foam while providing electrolytes that keep bait active longer ($9.50; wholesalebait.com). 5. Scale Small cats make good eating, but the trend with trophies is to weigh them, snap a picture, and put them back unharmed. Rapala's Magnum XL Lock 'n Weigh Fish Scale ($100; basspro.com) accurately weighs beasts up to 125 pounds. 6. line Green Trilene Big Cat monofilament is more visible at night than clear line; it works just fine during the day, too. Go with 30-pound-test ($7 for a 275-yard spool; www.berkley-fishing.com). 7. REEL Yours should hold at least 125 yards of 30-pound-test line and be able to withstand heavy pressure. A clicker alarm that tells when a catfish runs with your bait is also an essential feature. Garcia's Ambassadeur Trophy 6500TC ($90; www.abu-garcia.com) is a great choice. 8. Landing Net It's the best way to land a big blue without injury to you or the fish. A Frabill Pro-Formance model 5555 ($75; frabill.com) will handle true trophy cats. 9. Sabiki Rig This consists of a leader with dressed hooks attached to dropper lines and a split shot for casting weight. You can often catch three or four skipjacks at a time with one. Try a No. 4 Hayabusa Hage Kawa Sabiki ($3.50; tackletogo.com). 10. Rod Holders Serious catfishermen set out multiple rods. Driftmaster's Pro Holder and base ($25; outdoorsuperstore.com) acts like an extra arm as you wait for a bite. 11. Aerated Bait Tank Frabill's portable Aqua-Life Bait Station ($70; frabill.com) runs off two D cells or one 12-volt battery and has enough room to provide an angler with lively bait all day long. 12. ROD One-piece fiberglass baitcasting rods with double-foot guides are sturdy, durable, and affordable. A perfect example is Quantum's 7-foot 6-inch Big Cat medium-heavy-action rod, rated for 15- to 40-pound line ($40; quantumfishing.com).