With last week's "Fishing Frenzy" article discussing walleye, this week's topic will discuss another fish that makes a great meal - catfish.
Catfish is one of the most popular sport fish, largely because angling effort is often low and the reward, the dinner it can provide, is high. The whiskered species thrives in Ohio and the lakes and rivers nearby provide the perfect habitat.
The channel cat and the flathead are the two most popular of the catfish family and many claim that channels are the best tasting. One thing the two species have in common is that size does matter in terms of taste. Catfish in the 2-to-4 pound range seem to have best flavor. Fish growing to larger sizes tend to be less tender. This may contribute to the channel cats popularity as the average adult size is about 2-to-4 pounds and the average adult size of the flathead is about 5-to-15 pounds. Flatheads regularly reach over 40 or 50 pounds with the Ohio state record weighing 76.5 pounds. The record channel cat was just under 38 pounds. For this reason, personally, I target flatheads strictly for recreation and will target channels when I desire a future sandwich.
The strategic difference when targeting one species over the other is bait selection. Their diets are very similar as both species consume fish and other smaller organisms, such as crayfish. However, the difference is that channels are more scavenger feeders, eating what they can find lying on the bottom, and flatheads almost exclusively feed on live prey.
This is the difference in fishing tactics. If I am fishing for channels, I will usually use cut bait or chicken livers, and if I am targeting flatheads, I will use a living fish.
Catfishing is commonly done at night, as the catfish are searching for a meal in shallow water. When fishing on lakes, catfish tend to be near creek channels, where water is moving under the surface. They also stack up in deeper holes on the lake bottom.
The largest catfish I've caught was while night-fishing at Mosquito Lake. I was using a live bluegill near the southern marina. I cast the bait in a channel that flows under the road and within minutes was hooked into a 25-pound flathead. This was a big fish, but catfish much larger have been caught at Mosquito.
Fishing the rivers in the area is another way to successfully catch big channels and flatheads. Deep holes and structure are two areas where catfish like to feed.
If on a boat, anchoring in front of log jams and pitching cut bait to a few feet before the structure is an optimal strategy when targeting channel cats. It is important to use heavy weights so the lure doesn't get pushed into the snags of the logs downstream.
Large flatheads live in similar areas, but tend to be more abundant in holes formed where the river turns and in swirling eddies.
A popular style of catfish, especially in the south, is the sport of noodling. Noodling consists of catching catfish, usually flatheads, bare handed. Noodling tournaments are increasing in popularity, possibly due to the reality TV show, "Hillbilly Handfishing." The title of the show sums up this sport well. Noodling is currently legal in 12 states, which does not include Ohio.