So what's the trick? After talking to many of the River Rats and Pro's that fish the river, there is a little secret that will help the new person avoid the feeling of frustration that I did some years ago.
Here's my disclaimer. I'm not a good walleye/sauger fishermen. Don't claim to be, don't want to be. But I did want to know what we were doing wrong and it's always a great feeling to help out a fellow angler and to get a note from them after their fishing trip saying your advice help them out. /end of disclaimer
The river currents are slow this time of year making it a great time for the person that hasn't been on the river much. Couple safety tips that fit the river as well as lakes. Wear a PFD. The inflatables are inexpensive enough and comfortable enough that they can be worn all day without knowing you're wearing one. The whole idea is to stay in the boat, but 40 degree water isn't anything to play with.
Check in at a bait shop for any hazards you need to be aware of. On Pool 4 here, if a bait shop owner tells you where the few hazards are, it's not a big deal. If your lower end tells you were they are it becomes financially annoying!
Fishing overview. You'll be vertical jigging a plastic bait moving down stream at .3 to .5 miles per hour is 25 to 18 feet of water right down the middle of the river. Sounds pretty darn easy huh? The people that come off the river each day fishless might not agree. Hopefully I'll be able to help those folks out below.
First off, locate Everts Fishing Resort on your GPS. Why? Because they have a launch that's open all year round, (yes that means Dec/Jan/Feb/April too) they have the latest tips, river conditions and a fish cleaning house. All that and sometimes meat balls for the launch fee of $7. Once you stop in ask them what colors are working today. Generally speaking it's light colors on bright days and dark colors on overcast days. Once you know the colors, go over to the plastics wall and look for the Super Doo's. This bait has been around a very long time and is perfect for the beginner to catch fish with. Pick out a bag of each suggested color. This last Saturday Catalpa Orange (pictured) work the best for us. Sunday it was Firecracker. Don't ask me why, I leave that up to the fish.
Check with the bait shop again about the size of jig head. The person fishing up front by the trolling motor can use a 1/4 oz jig head. The person in the back might need to go to 5/16ths because of the back of the boat sway. Whatever weight it takes for you to feel the jig head touch the bottom of the river and that's heavy enough to keep your line vertical. Straight down and not angled at all.
Start fishing in no deeper then 25 feet of water. Yes there's fish deeper, but you don't need to fish there and any sauger no matter what size that comes up out of 25+ fow will die according to the MN DNR studies. As you're moving down stream, again between .3 and .5 miles per hour, drop our jig and Super Doo to the bottom then raise it 2 to 4 inches.
Here's the important part. Hold it as still as you can while you count to 20. Then repeat. The bite will come on the hold.
I know, vertical jigging is popping the jig off the bottom and moving it around, well that's what my dad told me anyway. This maybe true for lakes, but this is the river. The river is always moving. While you're counting to twenty, those tentacles of the Super Doo are DOOing there thing giving it the live action. In fact, if your sonar is telling you the depth isn't changing, eliminate the drop to the bottom. The only reason to drop to the bottom is to make sure you're with n the strike range.
"Let the river do the work for you." "Less is more." Are two common quotes I hear in river fishing instruction when it comes to plastics.
A good friend Kerry Harvey of Brownsdale, MN and I went out on Saturday for 2.5 hours and boated 38 fish. Kerry, an accomplished sauger fisherman complained that it was a slow day. I was very happy the day we had, of course good company had a part in this too.
Merry Christmas all!
By the looks of the fish cleaning house at Everts Fishing Resort, a person would think it's the well known March walleye or November sauger bite. Folks from all over the Midwest are hearing about and wanting to cash in on the hard fighting action!
Don't have a boat? There's shore fishing in Red Wing and near Everts Resort. The fishing is fantastic from the head of Lake Pepin all the way up to the dam. That's 11 miles of cat fishing paradise!
Here's a quick "how to" if you haven't tried channel cat fishing yet. Grab your heaviest walleye rod or better yet a medium weight bass rod. Add a 2 or 3 oz "no roll sinker, a sinker bumper, a swivel, about 8 inches of leader made out of your fishing line that's 10 pound test or better and finish off your terminal tackle with a Team Catfish 6/0 Dead Red treble hook. I pinch down the barbs on the treble for easy hook removal.
My bait of choice this summer has been Sudden Impact fiber bait. With the small fibers mixed into this bait it stays on the hook much better and longer then regular stink bait in these warmer waters. Find a good current seam and make your cast. Many have been catching fish in the 5 to 8 pound range within feet of shore making this a perfect shore fishing bite.
Do not leave your rod unattended! Many many rod/reels have been lost to the river by channel cat anglers that say "I'll keep an eye on it!" These guys mean business. They are hard fighting fish that would rather take your rod for a swim then meet the likes of you!
How do the Mississippi River channel cats taste? I've had people that tried channel cat for the first time tell me "they taste better than walleye!" Prepared correctly, there's a slight sweetness to the taste that might make you a closet cat fishing person! Ol' Pete a cat fisherman from way back taught me his way of cleaning them that I'll guarantee you'll have a very hard time telling the difference between a cat or a walleye at the very least.
Filet the cat just as you would a walleye starting behind the rib cage cutting along the backbone. Flip the filet over and filet off the skin. Now clean off any red meat that was near the skin along with the lateral line. Place your filets in a pan covering them with water and hold over night in the refrigerator. The following day, clean off any yellow that appears. This is fat. Chunk up and coat with your favorite fish coating and pan or deep fry. If you like fish, you'll love channel cat prepared this way!
I do recommend using selective harvest. My choice has been to Catch-Photo-Release channels over 8 pounds and under 3 pounds. But I'll leave that choice up to you.
If your kids have out grown bluegill fishing but still need the action of sunfish, catfish is the perfect fish to target. Relatively fast action, a fight that makes many walleye angler say "I've got the state record walleye on!" only to find out it's a 3 pound channel cat.
Right now is the best time to dial in on some of the years best action!
As fishing for one on Minnesota's top preditor fish, the Flathead and it's smaller cousin the Channel Catfish continues to grow, some like 4 Seasons Sports Shop in Red Wing see the opportunity to really make a splash in the cat fishing world.
This year on June 15th and 16th 4 Seasons will be holding what it hopes to be it first annual catfishing tournement. Not only geared to be a contest of who can hook and land the largest fish in each of the catagories, but also to bring attention to some of the best large catfishing in the Midwest.
Anglers will have to catch the fish and have a plan on how to move the fish that could, in the case of the Mighty Flathead, exceed 50 pounds to the scale without harming it or face a stiff penalty. Then, finally a live release. The Minnesota State record Flathead is 70 pounds.
The Minnesota DNR is starting to realize the passion of the catfish angler as they held three Catfish Work Shops last year. Out of that work shop came the law change where a person can catch a sucker or other rough fish and use it on the same water for bait. Bait is important to the catfish angler. Prior to this change, the angler could take the fish home or release it back into the same waters, but not place it on a hook and angle with it in waters designated AIS infested.
Just as many professional anglers asked the DNR for license fee increases, the cat fishing folks of Minnesota are asking for tighter controls to increase the size and opportunity of fishing for cats.
Hopefully the 4 Seasons Tournement will spark more interest in fishing for a great fighting and tasting fish that swims in many of the Minnesota waters.
Here's the details of the tourney from Chris Winchester of 4 Seasons Sports Shop himself....
It is official we are putting together our first catfish tournament. It is open to Pool 3 and 4 of the Mississippi River.
Thanks Chris Winchester
Rules For 2012 4 Seasons Catfish Roundup Tournament
*Entry Fee will be $25/ person. Shore anglers are welcome.
*Tournament will be limited to the first 100 anglers entered.
*Tournament Hours will be 12:00 p.m. (Noon) Friday, June 15th 2012 – 9:00 a.m. Saturday June 16th 2012. Scales will be available at 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m Friday evening and again Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. Check in with 4 Seasons to ensure upto date details.
*Tournament waters off limits Thursday, June 14th at 8:00 a.m. until Friday June 15th at noon.
*Late weigh in will have a 5% weight Penalty per minute. More than 10 minutes late will be disqualified.
*Weigh in will be at Bay Point Park in Red Wing, MN
*3 Divisions – Largest Flathead Catfish, Largest Channel Catfish, Largest Carp or Buffalo.
*Tournament limit is one fish per species per angler.
*All Fish must be weighed alive and released. 25% weight penalty for dead fish.
*Ties will be broken by a coin flip.
*All fish must be caught by Hook and Line.
*Tournament waters are Pool 3 & 4 of Mississippi River. Shore fishing is permitted.
*Entry Must be received prior to June 8th. $15 Late entry fee after June 8th.
*All Minnesota laws pertain to this event. If you receive a ticket while fishing this event you will be disqualified.
Payout: Based on Full field of 100 anglers. 95%
Largest Flathead: 1st $500, 2nd $250, 3rd $100, 10th $50 Gift Certificate
Largest Channel : 1st $500, 2nd $250, 3rd $100, 10th $50 Gift Certificate
Largest Rough Fish (Carp or Buffalo) 1st 100 Gift Certificate, 2nd $50 Gift Certificate
$425 in Prizes to be randomly drawn at weigh-in.
To register please Contact 4 Seasons or Chris Winchester for entry form.
Or Download Registration Form HERE<<<
Four Seasons Sports, Attention Chris Winchester, 2301 West Main St, Red Wing MN, 55066
Please call 651-388-4334 or 612-598-7802 with any questions.
Located in Red Wing MN ~ Pool 4 ~ Mississippi River
Monday - Thursday 6-7
Friday and Saturday 6-7
Let's start off with the rod. There's many schools of thought on what makes a great flathead rod and I'll go into that a bit
later. What I would suggest for the new person is to pick up a good fiberglass cat fishing rod in the $60.00 range. This price point will give you a great starter rod, without breaking the bank. The Team Catfish 7' Catfish Warrior fits the bill well. There's very few cat folks that keep using their first rod after the first year of flathead fishing. It seems we try other folks rods and end up upgrading sometimes two, three or more times until we find one that's just right.
My boat has all the new for '12 I-Cat Carbon Fiber rods by Team Catfish. They have the sensitivity of graphite and more strength than fiberglass. Dragging the sinker across the bottom of the river and you know with very little practice what the bottom make up is as well as knowing if your bait is gone or there's a leaf stuck to your hook. The price is higher than a starter rod, but then these American made rods are for the serious Trophy Hunter.
Then there's the choice between bait casting rods and spinning rods. You'll have to flip the coin there. I was afraid of bait casting reels until I realize I was casting 3 or 4 oz of lead along with a 7 inch bullhead. All I had to do was to put my thumb on the spool as the sinker hit the water. We aren't distance casting and you'll be surprised how easy it is. I know many folks that do use spinning reels and are very successful.
Reels. There's three factors in selecting a reel in my mind.
1. Strength. You will be playing Tug O War with your trophy. If she makes it back to structure, you just lost in most cases.
2. Drag. A smooth drag is nice, but not totally needed to a certain degree. But it better be a strong one!
3. Line out alarm (or clicker). This needs to be tight enough to hold a live 7 to 10 inch bullhead from continually pulling out line and giving false alarms.
This year I've changed my reels over the Shimano Tekota 600's. A great looking work horse with an impressive track record. In the past, I've used Garcia 7000's and have been very happy with them. When folks step down to the Garcia 6500's I wince a little. The line out alarm is very hard to adjust and once adjusted to your bait, they need to be readjusted to cast. I feel they are just a little on the light side for continuous flathead use.
You might be wondering how the river guys can land large flatheads while using walleye gear and 6 pound line. It's very possible to do this in snag free areas and your odds are with you if your trolling motor is keeping your boat over the fish. Toss in some wood and have your anchor out and the little walleye reel will be in need of new fishing line as the fish of your life time spools you!
Locations: In Minnesota we are blessed with the St Croix River, the world class fishing on the Minnesota River and the Mighty Old Mississippi River. Each one has it's unique features that make them great cat fishing waters. In the next few weeks the water temperatures are going to be approaching the 65 to 70 degree range with our early spring. This is the time you want to be out looking for the trees laying down from shore into the deeper water. Piles of wood held by a bend in the river and wing dams on the Mississippi River. I should mention that any large sunken tree or large branch partially under water will hold flats. If it's an area that you would worry about your prop being bent, well that's flathead water!
If your fishing from a boat, know the area you'll be fishing by becoming familiar with it during the day light and know the way back to the launch well. A good GPS with new trails for the route home and waypoints for areas you would like to fish is very very handy. Bank fishing for flats is very possible in the metro areas as well as on many stretches of the three rivers. Check in at your nearest bait shop for the best bank fishing in your area.
A few bait shops I know of that could give pointers and have bait and the gear your looking for are
Scheels in Mankato, MN Minnesota River
4 Seasons Sports in Red Wing, MN Mississippi River
Everts Fishing Resort and Bait Shop in Hager City, WI Mississippi River
Thorne Brothers in Mpls, MN Minnesota and St Croix Rivers
Once your geared up, then the hunt begins. It might take a few evenings out to finally hook into a flathead. It might take a few more evenings to hook in to a trophy flathead. Or you could be the one in a million guy like Dan Thiem of Zumbro MN pictured above on his first trip out hooked into a 59 pound angry flathead catfish!
See you on the river!
As a Trophy Catfish guide, I field many of the same questions each year. Although I love talking Big Flatheads with anyone, I thought I would type out a "how to" on some of the more important portions of Flat Fishing that might help someone new to the sport get started.
Part One: Terminal Tackle for the fish of a life time...the Trophy Flathead Catfish!
First off, we have to keep in mind that we're talking about 30, 40 and even 50 pound fish that love the snarreled mess of tree roots and underwater logs. Getting a bite is only the first portioin of getting your photo taken with The Minnesota River Monster!
My terminal tackle starting from the hook end consists of a 8/0 Team Catfish Super J hook, 80-pound Team Catfish Tug O War braided line for a 8 inch leader, an 80-pound swivel, Team Catfish Sinker Bumper to protect the knot, a 4 oz no roll sinker and finally more 80 pound Team Catfish Tug O War Braided line in high vis Nuclear Yellow spooled on a winch type reel like a Garcia 7000 or a Shimano Tekota 600.
I typically will use a 4 oz weight all year, since a no-roll sinker is a flat sinker with the line runing through it's center, the fish isn't going to feel any extra weight. Plus the 4 ounces should keep the live bait from moving into unwanted places like the tree snags we often fish around.
I choose Team Catfish Tug O War 80 lb test because it's tough as cable which is needed for playing Tug O War with a big cat. Tug O War doesn't fray or loose it's Nuclear Yellow color as other lines I've tried do. Dragging a pig out of the woods requires a strong line…if the cat makes it back into a wooden snarly snag, we lost! I normally have a few wooden dowels along to break off the line when it becomes snagged and I can’t get it loose any other way. It’s impossible to break this stuff with your hands…you'll draw blood trying.
Remember to keep the leader short. Six to eight inches is pleanty. Flatheads like a livly bait...but the don't like to have to chase it down and a short leader gets tangled less! There is a school that believes you should go with a lighter test leader or even mono. The lighter leader will break saving you the cost of the swivel and the sinker. The mono does that and works as a shock absorber. They all work…take your pick.
I prefer a Berkeley swivel in the 80-pound test category…no weak links.
To tie this all together I use what is known as a Uni knot. Most folk use the Palomar, which is a good strong knot. I chose the Uni because I’ve used it on mono for years and can tie it with my eyes shut (this comes in handy in the dark). Use what you're most comfortable with.
By using the above, I can keep a very small, but heavy tackle box for chasing the big ones.
I should add that using the above rigging but changing the hook to a Team Catfish 3/0 Double Action hook works exceptionally well for using cut up sucker for channel cat or sturgeon fishing as well.
As prime time Trophy Flathead fishing approaches, I hope this answers a few of the rigging questions.
Next topic, Rods, Reels and locations for Trophy Cats.