How to Catch Winter Catfish Through the Ice

Keep the fish fries going with cats from under the ice

Dog days and catfish nights are a hallmark of summer, but the whiskered fish don’t just bite when it’s balmy. They feed all winter long under the ice and, when hooked on a light jigging rod, put up a much better fight than trout or walleyes. The trick to catching a mess of them is getting the first one on the line. After that, the action should be drop-and-reel.

1. Fish deep, warmer water near structure.

A catfish’s metabolism slows down considerably in winter. As a result, they seek out the warmest water, which is often found in the deepest hole in the lake. If you find one catfish, you’ll usually find a dozen or more, all lying close to the bottom, tucked tight against humps, rockpiles, or wood structure.

2. Use glow-in-the-dark baits at night.

Just like summertime cats, wintertime whisker fish are most active at night. Dawn and dusk are good, but if you can stick it out until well past sundown, you’re likely to be rewarded. Cats under the ice also respond well to glow-in-the-dark baits and jigs, and the later it gets, the more effective these become.

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3. Work baits on the bottom to shake things up.

Even for bigger cats, smaller baits are more productive, so stick with fathead minnows, juvenile chubs, and my favorite catfish bait: three or four waxworms threaded onto a tiny teardrop-style jig. Drop your baited jig down to the bottom and work it aggressively. This action stirs up sediment and starts a feeding frenzy.

4. Bring a big enough rod.

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Lean on longer rods to win hard-water cat fights. Catfish hooked on an ultralight combo are fun to fight, but between the energy of the fish and the need to work it up into a hole in the ice, the angler often loses the battle. For this game, I leave the panfish rods home and step up to a longer, medium-action stick. The 29 1⁄2-inch Whiteout from 13 Fishing does a great job of wrenching winter cats through the hard water.