A Beginner's Guide to Catching Big Blue Catfish

What would you rather do this winter: Clean your reels? Or tie into a giant freshwater fish the size of a small deer? Here's how to hook into a monster.

Mark Hicks Tells You How To Catch Catfish

Mark Hicks Tells You How To Catch Catfish

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 figured out 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.Field & Stream Online Editors
The Equipment To Catch Catfish
1. 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. 2. 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. 3. 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-Aurora Sabiki. 4. Cast Net Get something fresh for your hooks by casting this net over schools of baitfish in quiet bays. Bettsユ 8-foot version with 3レ8-inch mesh works well and comes with full instructions. 5. Rod One-piece fiberglass baitcasting rods with double-foot guides are sturdy, durable, and affordable. A perfect example is Quantumユs 7-foot 6-inch Big Cat medium-action rod, rated for 15- to 40 pound line.Field & Stream Online Editors
The Equipment To Catch Catfish

The Equipment To Catch Catfish

1. Anchor A four-pronged model, like the Bass Pro Shops Folding Grappling Anchor, holds well in sand or mud and on hard bottoms. 2. 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 in Weigh Fish Scale accurately weighs beasts up to 125 pounds. 3. Aerated Bait Tank Frabill's portable Aqua-Life Bait Station runs off two D cells or one 12-volt battery and has enough room to provide an angler with lively bait all day long. 4. Landing Net 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 will handle true trophy cats. 5. Depthfinder A high-resolution LCD unit marks baitfish, catfish, and structures worth fishing. Humminbird's Fishfinder 565 has a 5-inch monochrome display with 640x320 pixels for excellent image clarity.Field & Stream Online Editors
The Bait To Catch Catfish

The Bait To Catch Catfish

The Bait Trophy Blues relish fresh baitfish, including shad, skipjacks, and blueback herring. Use what's common to the water you're fishing. You may be able to buy suitable bait near popular big-cat waters, but most anglers catch their own with Sabiki rigs or cast nets. Live Bait (picture above, right) Where there's little current, use a 6- to 9-inch live baitfish. Hook it through both nostrils, or up into the lower jaw and out the nose, or under the dorsal fin to keep bait lively. Dorsal hooking lets it swim more freely, however, which can be an advantage in still water. Cut Bait (pictured above, left) This works well in current, which washes scent downstream, drawing catfish from long distances. Scale and fillet a 1- to 2-pound skipjack herring, cut the fillets into 1-inch sections, and bait you hook with three to five chunks.Field & Stream Online Editors
The Rigs To Catch Catfish
The Rigs 1. Basic Bottom Rig Thread your line through enough 2-ounce egg sinkers to maintain bottom contact, given the depth of the water and the strength of the current. Then tie off to a No. 5 barrel swivel; add a 12- to 24-inch, 50-pound fluorocarbon leader and an 8/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook. 2. Bobber Rig Attach a bobber stop to your line, then slide on a small bead, a 10-inch slip bobber, and a 11-ounce egg sinker. Tie the line to a No. 3 swivel rigged with an 18-inch, 25-pound fluorocarbon leader and an 8/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook. 3. Tip Loop a tiny rubber band around the line for a bobber stop. This holds better and is easier to adjust than the string stoppers that come with most slip bobbers.Field & Stream Online Editors
The plan To Catch Catfish
The Rigs 1. Basic Bottom Rig Thread your line through enough 2-ounce egg sinkers to maintain bottom contact, given the depth of the water and the strength of the current. Then tie off to a No. 5 barrel swivel; add a 12- to 24-inch, 50-pound fluorocarbon leader and an 8/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook. 2. Bobber Rig Attach a bobber stop to your line, then slide on a small bead, a 10-inch slip bobber, and a 11-ounce egg sinker. Tie the line to a No. 3 swivel rigged with an 18-inch, 25-pound fluorocarbon leader and an 8/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook. 3. Tip Loop a tiny rubber band around the line for a bobber stop. This holds better and is easier to adjust than the string stoppers that come with most slip bobbers.Field & Stream Online Editors
The plan To Catch Catfish
Hotspot: The Edge
Look for blues suspended off the edges of points, humps, and offshore flats in at least 15 feet of water. At 20- to 35-foot depths, they often hold 5 to 10 feet off the bottom. Tactic: Suspended Animation
Mark catfish with a depthfinder. Then set your slip bobbers to keep the live bait 1 to 2 feet above the blues. Put your rigs out 25 to 75 yards behind the boat. Place the rods in holders, and drift over the fish. If there's little wind or current, you can run very slowly back and forth over the cats with an electric trolling motor. Either way, the boat doesn't affect the fishing because it's 25 to 75 yards away by the time the bait reaches the fish.
Field & Stream Online Editors
The plan To Catch Catfish

The plan To Catch Catfish

Hotspot: The Pool
Hefty cats stack up in the heads, in the tails, and along the steep edges of deep pools on the outside of river bends. You may need your depthfinder to pinpoint them. If you're fishing a river that's been channelized by a lock-and-dam system, concentrate on the banks of the old river channel. Tactic: Give Them The Slip
Anchor 100 feet upstream of a pool. Slip the boat downstream to the head and cast bottom rigs with cutbait, positioning one on the shallow side of the drop and the other on the deeper side. Put your rods in holders. If you don't get any takes in 20 minutes, slip another 20 yards downstream.
Field & Stream Online Editors
Roger A. Rohrbouck with 101lb catfish

Roger A. Rohrbouck with 101lb catfish

Roger A. Rohrbouck of Alliance, Nebraska., landed this blue catfish on March 2nd, 2000. It weighed 101 pounds. He caught it on 12-pound-test line while fishing the San Vicente Reservoir.Field & Stream Online Editors
Charles Ashley Jr. with 116 lb catfish

Charles Ashley Jr. with 116 lb catfish

Charles Ashley Jr. of Marion, Arkansas. landed this blue catfish on August 3, 2001. The fish weighed 116 pounds, 12 ounces. He caught it on 16-pound-test line while fishing the Mississippi River, near West Memphis.Field & Stream Online Editors
Zachery Lovelady with 109 lb catfish
Zachery Lovelady -- 14 years old -- from Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. caught this blue catfish on March 31, 2006. The fish weighed 109 pounds, 12 ounces. He caught it on 8-pound-test line while fishing Chickamauga Lake.Field & Stream Online Editors
Timothy Pruitt with 124 lb catfish

Timothy Pruitt with 124 lb catfish

Timothy Pruitt of Alton, Illinois landed this blue catfish on June 3, 2005. The fish weighed 124 pounds, an all-tackle record. He caught it on 40-pound-test line while fishing near Alton.Field & Stream Online Editors