These Kittens Don't
By Mark Blauvelt
I’ll start this article off by saying that I am far from a
catfishing expert, but I’ve noticed a few trends and patterns over the last
several years that may help you land one of these strong, elusive fish. We
will mostly talk about the channel cat, since bullheads are rarely taken on
the fly and flatheads are typically taken more by accident on the fly than
by being specifically targeted.
The channel cat offers great sport with its long powerful runs and tenacious
ability to take you to the snags. In addition to its indefatigable fighting
ability, the channel cat is also known for aggressively hitting fast moving
presentations. Abundant in every local river system and state lake in the SW
Ohio region, channel cats can be caught from ice out until early November.
And they can be taken on anything from dry flies to streamers.
Why this under-rated fish is not heralded like a trout or bass within the
fly fisher’s chain of command is beyond me, but I’m here to tell you once
you catch a nice channel you won’t forget the fight you had. Most river fly
fishers are very familiar with the channel cat, but never target them
because they feel they’re tough to master.
We typically see channel cats appear in large numbers about three weeks
after the carp show up below all the Great Miami River dams, (typically
early May). The first to show are the male carp, these are smaller fish.
Once the much larger females show up the cats are all over the place! My
theory is that there are so many carp eggs floating around that the cats
follow the carp and tend to sit below them. The best holding spots are in
medium moving water troughs where water is focused between rocks and the
food is just rolling along. We (Phil Granato, Scott Lachecki and me)
have confirmed this by catching them on salmon egg patterns as well as
crayfish, hellgrammites and the ever popular Copper John.
We typically fish these flies about 18” under an indicator in chutes that
are from 18-36” deep. If the cats are eating, they will come up for it. It
is interesting because some days you won’t catch any at all, but maybe
you’ll do real well for the carp using the same patterns. Then the next day
you’ll not get any carp, but get two or three catfish. It seems like if you
get one catfish you’ll get more on the same day. I feel this may be because
the cats are triggered off the carp. If the carp are actively feeding then
they are stirring up lots of food for the cats. But if the carp are not
moving and hunkered down, then the cats have to be more aggressive and
actually look for food and chase it down.
This pattern seems to hold up all through the early summer. It will tend to
pick back up in mid September and into October when the cats are feeding
heavily, just like bass, to fatten up for the long winter. In June we focus
on large nymphs and even egg patterns, but as the water heats up and the
carp complete spawning we seem to pick up quite a few with crayfish or
hellgrammite patterns. A good choice is the ubiquitous olive woolly bugger.
As fall moves on, it seems the fish become more focused on minnows and they
are more likely to hit a Clouser minnow or a black or olive streamer. The
autumn fish tend to be in shallower water, since the water temps have fallen
and they are looking for food.
As far as equipment goes, most of these fish are similar in size to the
carp. They can be anywhere from sixteen to twenty six inches long and run
from two to seven pounds. A strong five weight rod, or a six or seven weight
will work well. We usually use straight 8 lb mono for our tippets. A longer
rod helps to keep the fish’s head up and steer him away from snags and
rocks. The longer rod also helps with line mending.
Flies should be kept towards the bottom of the water column. It’s wise to
experiment with drag free drifts, slow strips or even more aggressive strips
to see what the fish want. Keep at it and when one hits you’ll know you’ve
hooked one of our area’s greatest gamefish!
Tight lines to all.
Scott Lachecki and a fine channel cat
Channels cats on the Great Miami River at the Steele Dam in
Phil Granato with a nymph-caught cat