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.
Ice out Walleyes & Saugers on the Wisconsin River.
After another long Wisconsin winter, most walleye guys are more than a little bit anxious to get the boat out on the water. Rivers will generally become ice free long before natural lakes and reservoirs. Where I live in south central Wisconsin, come late February or early March, the running waters of the Wisconsin River will lose enough of its icy cover to permit hardy anglers to launch a boat and begin fishing for spring run walleyes & saugers.
How I target walleyes and/or saugers at this time of the year can and does vary from year to year. Most of that is based on the conditions of the river when ice out actually occurs. High water conditions are definitely going to see me using completely different tactics than low water conditions.
Easy pickings at ice out:
On an average year, the ice will open up enough for us to start fishing in late February to early March. Under normal river levels & flow rates, the first place to check for some fairly consistent action is the deepest water available. We generally are not going to see a lot of big fish at this time but that doesn’t mean you won’t catch a trophy either. Normally, what we see most of in the deep holes are plenty of short fish with some decent keepers mixed in and the occasional upper slot size fish. Most of these fish are males with the occasional “hen” mixed in here and there.
There are certain times of the year where I will ignore small to keeper size fish just so that I can have a crack at a big girl. This isn’t one of those times. I want my line stretched and I want to take home enough fish for a fish fry. After a long winter of “not” fishing from a boat, getting my line stretched and consistent action rank pretty high on my fun scale.
Quite frankly, this early, open water fishing doesn’t require a ton of skill. Minnow rigs, whether delivered via a 3-way or sliding lindy style sinker work well. Anchoring above the hole or slipping the current downstream while staying vertical works also. Slowly back trolling upstream will also put fish in the boat. A bare jig tipped with a minnow will many times work just as well.
Same goes for a ringworm, paddle tail, twister tail or a 4” moxi from B’Fish’N Tackle. I usually start out with a jig/plastic combo and see what the fish want. Many times, that jig & plastic or some variation of it, never comes off.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many other options for fishermen at this time of the year. Most lakes are not only still covered by ice, but walleye fishing season is closed on inland lakes until the first Saturday in May. So the rivers really are essentially the only open water option, which means we usually have plenty of company. And that kind of pressure can turn the bite from fairly easy to pretty tough after the first couple of weeks. The rivers around these parts are not big and with more than a hundred boats per weekend day running up and down the river, bouncing jigs, minnows & plastics thru every hole, it tends to have a very negative effect on these fish in a relatively short time.
The easy pickings of dumb fish that haven’t seen a fishermen’s bait in several months is usually over by early March and most years, it’s certainly over by the middle of March.
Catching better fish between ice out and spawning time:
One of the best ways to improve your walleye & sauger catching skills is to join a good website where other anglers are willing to share their tactics. One of the best I’ve ever found is IDOfishing.com. Here on the Wisconsin River, after the first couple weeks of open water have passed, we find ourselves fishing for “educated” walleyes & saugers. These are the fish that didn’t get caught during the early rush of anglers and the newer, migrating fish that are just arriving from down river.
These fish will continue to move up from down river along with a big push by the larger females just before spawn. By mid-March, the only reason I might still be fishing in the deeper, middle of the river holes is if the flow is really low.
Under very low water conditions, the fish will generally not feel the urge to move up river. High water has the opposite effect causing more fish to move up and sooner than they may have otherwise. Under low water conditions at this time of the year, I do tend to find myself targeting middle of the river spots more than the edges. I don’t usually fish the deepest holes anymore though and the only reason I would still be using a plain minnow rig is if the bite was especially tough.
Under low water conditions, the tactic that has been the most consistent for me has been dragging jig & plastics. I prefer either a 4” ringworm or a 4” moxi from B’Fish’N Tackle.com but there are times when the fish seem to want a paddle tail instead. Water depth could be anywhere from 8’ to 20’ deep.
The one thing I’m really looking for under low water conditions is moving water. Back eddies are almost non-existent under these conditions so if you want to fish in current, the middle of the river is usually your best option.
Dragging downstream is my favorite way to go but here again, it’s best to see whether the fish prefer dragging upstream or downstream. Check both ways and give them what they want. For downstream dragging in 10-15’ of water, I usually find myself using a 1/8oz Precision H20 jig if it’s not to snaggy. Jig eating rocks and other snags will quickly have me tying on a Draggin Jig instead.
These jigs do a great job of sliding thru the rocks, wood and old discarded line. And although they may cost more up front than a regular jig, under snaggy conditions, they easily pay for themselves in a hurry. My typical downstream run has me making a short to medium cast behind the boat and using the bow mount electric motor to pull the boat downstream at about .5mph.
Adjust the amount of line you have out behind the boat so that the jig isn’t constantly in contact with the bottom. I want my jig to suspend a few inches off the bottom from time to time, then fall back and hit the bottom again before lifting off once again.
The more you do it, the better you will get at this.
That .5 mph down river dragging speed is not a hard and fast rule. What is important is what you’re feeling at the business end of your line. Speed is important but it’s not the primary factor here. Not that you want to go flying down river but if it feels like your jig is doing all the right stuff, lightly ticking the bottom here and there, and you find yourself going .7mph plus your getting bit, don’t stop or slow down just to hit some imaginary magic number.
The objective is to bring together and balance all the factors necessary for the dragging technique to work its magic. Boat speed, jig weight, current, depth, length of line behind the boat, line diameter & the lift created by it are all factors that can affect how far off the bottom you’re jig ends up on the dragging run.
Get it right and your day on the water has a chance to be something special. Get it wrong and you can be right on top of fish and never know it. Hits can be quite aggressive but they can also be little more than the classic “tick” of the line. The hard hitters are easy to catch. It’s a little harder learning to set the hook when you sense that classic “tick” of the line but with practice, setting the hook does become second nature.
Regardless of how the hit feels, by all means set that hook the second you feel the bite. Fish that bite while dragging a jig & plastic tend to get the bait well into their mouth and normally, there is no need to hesitate. When dragging or casting plastics, my rule of thumb is to set the hook at the first indication you’ve had a hit. If you find your missing fish, then start hesitating or even allowing the rod tip to drop back a bit before setting the hook but always start aggressively with hook sets and then slow down if necessary.
Dragging upstream will usually require a jig roughly twice as heavy as what it takes to go downstream. Here again, let the conditions of the situation your fishing dictate how heavy your jig is. When going upstream, the combination of current, speed and jig weight must come together in a way that allows you to keep that jig & plastic combo within a foot or so of the bottom. The only way of knowing if the jig is close enough to the bottom is to let your rod fall back several feet and watch your line. You should be able to see some slack in your line when the jig hits the bottom. If your line never goes slack, it means your jig is too far off the bottom. In this case you need to let out more line, tie on a heavier jig or slow down.
Dragging upstream usually requires you to move the boat considerably slower than downstream. GPS speed going upstream is usually around .1 to .2mph but can vary depending on current, jig weight, amount of line behind the boat, depth of water, wind and how aggressive the fish are. Dragging upstream takes more practice to get good at in my opinion so if you’re just starting, you may want to try perfecting downstream dragging first.
One thing I love to do when dragging upstream is to zig-zag. Another words, don’t pick a line that takes you straight upstream. Intentionally slide cross current as you move up. This works going downstream as well but I’ve had more luck zig-zagging on the upstream runs. High Water: Under high water conditions, my favorite technique is to anchor on the edge of a current eddy and fan cast jig & plastics.
I usually have at least two different rods rigged and ready to go with different size jigs on them. One for casting to the deeper faster water and another for the shallower, slower back eddy current along the shoreline. When casting plastics latterly across the current, my goal is to have the current wash the jig across the bottom of the river. If the jig is too heavy, it will sit on or get hung up on the bottom. To lite of a jig and it may never reach the bottom. I like my jig to occasionally get hung up but not constantly.
For the most part, the current against my line should cause the jig to gently bounce over the rocks without constantly getting hung up. Casting upstream and retrieving with the current is kind of tricky but always worth doing simply because you just never know where the fish will be laying for sure. Here you will need to retrieve line at a rate approximately equal to the current in order to keep the jig from getting hung up on the bottom.
Quite often, the upstream cast is done parallel to the current seam. Make sure you cast to both sides of the current seam. The current seam is one of the most common spots to find active fish. Regardless of which side of the current seam you’re jig is, take up line at a rate which will keep slack out of your line but not so fast as to lift your jig well off the bottom.
By doing this, you will be able to feel the classic walleye “tick”, which of course means you need to set the hook asap! Be sure to watch you line closely. Some people are better at detecting hits by watching the line and some by their sense of feel. Sounds tricky but with practice, it’s really not all that hard. The quickest way to learn how to do this properly is to fish with someone who is good at it. Watching another person in the boat pull in walleye after walleye has a way of making the other person learn faster.
Much faster in most cases! I always make a few cast downstream at an angle that will land my jig well out into the faster, deeper water. You will need to wait while your jig sinks and travels downstream as is sinks before beginning the retrieve. Once your line becomes tight, if your jig weight is right it will be either on or very close to the bottom and hopefully, right alongside the current seam. Now you can work that jig slowly back to the boat. Typically I will pump it forward a foot or two, stop with my rod pointing at about 10 o’clock and hesitate until I feel the jig hit bottom again. Many times it’s slack in the line that tells me the jig is now once again on the bottom. Hold for another ten seconds or so then repeat.
Continue this retrieve until the jig is close enough to the boat that it’s no longer possible to keep the jig on the bottom.
Don’t be lazy - change your bait!
The biggest single reason why people don’t catch more fish is they get lazy. Good fishermen don’t get lazy. When the fish don’t bite they change things. They change locations. They change tactics. Most of all they are constantly changing the plastic on the back end of their jigs. Good walleye fishermen will never stop changing the color they are using. If that doesn’t work, they’ll change to a plastic with a different profile.
They never tire of retying jigs that don’t work well enough for what they expect. If you look at the dash board of there boat, you will see a huge pile of jigs tipped with a wide variety of ringworms, paddle tails, moxi’s along with an assortment of hair jigs and perhaps blade baits. They just never quit and because of that, sooner or later, they find what the fish want on that particular day. In the end, it’s all worth it. Especially when you come back to the boat landing and repeatedly hear how tough the fishing was and you’re not one of them. Some will say it’s just luck but more often than not, good fishermen create their own luck!
Joel “Boog” Ballweg
Ballweg’s Guide Service, LLC
Specializing in Walleyes, Saugers & Crappies on Lake Wisconsin & Wisconsin River Boog's been guiding for over 9 years and fishing Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River since he was old enough to hold a pole.