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Baby, It's Cold Outside....But There is Still Catfish!

May 23, 2008
Winter can be the best time of the year to catch catfish, if you know the tricks. Fishing pressure for them in winter is very low and they can offer some much needed therapy for cabin-fever and the wintertime-blues. There are several species of freshwater catfish in the U.S. Their habits are similar, but not identical. And understanding of each species is necessary in order to be consistently successful for these tasty aquatic entrees.

The most popular and widespread species is the Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus). It very closely resembles its cousin, the Blue Catfish, and where their habitats overlap, will freely interbreed with them creating hybrid crosses. This can make exact identification difficult in some areas, but it is only important if you are trying to claim a record catch. Suffice to say that, although Blues and Channel Catfish both have deeply forked tails and a similar general appearance, Channel Catfish have rounded anal fin with 24-29 rays. They grow to around 40-50 pounds. The average size is less than 10 pounds. They usually have black spots scattered along the body, but these fade as they get larger. Coloring is Slate to Blue-Black on the back, fading along the sides to creamy white on the belly.

Channel catfish live mainly in larger streams and rivers, but do well when stocked in ponds lakes and reservoirs. They prefer mid-depth water with a gravel, or rocky bottom. They like a moderate current. Contrary to popular belief, channel catfish are active predators rather than carrion munchers. They will eat carrion, but prefer live or fresh prey. They spawn when the water approaches 70 degrees. In spring summer and fall, they cruise the mid-depths during the day, moving towards the shallows a night in search of food. They are not finicky eaters, and are fond of shad, mollusks, minnows, large insects, worms, and especially crawfish. They are very opportunistic and will eat dead and rotting things off the bottom if the smell attracts them.

When winter hits, catfish remain fairly active, but they will move to deeper water along channels and riverbeds. Since winter usually causes many baitfish die-offs, channel cats will spend most of their time picking up dead fish off the bottom. This is your best winter bait, cut fish, or commercial baits with fish scent in them. Look for channel cats along channels and start at the upper end. Drop your bait to the bottom and give it up to 30 minutes before you move.

Work your way from deeper water to shallower until you find them. This even works through the ice.Blue Catfish (Ictalurus furcatus), as stated earlier, resemble Channel Catfish with the exception of having a flat anal fin with 30-35 rays. Blues are fish of large rivers and tributaries. They are found in some large lakes and reservoirs, but they actually prefer strong currents and are the main species present below tail-races within their range.

Other than that, their spawning habits and water temperature needs are similar to channel cats. Blues can reach 100 pounds and be over 4 feet long. Average size is around 10 pounds. Blue catfish are primarily night feeders and prefer crawfish, mollusks and fish.
About the Author
Dan Eggertsen is a fishing researcher and enthusiast who is committed to providing the best catfish fishing information possible. Get more information on winter catfishing here: http://www.askcatfishfishing.com/
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