Fishing for catfish comes with its fair share of rewards, but you might be wondering what you can do to crank in more from the river. Let’s have a look at some river fishing tips for catfish that can help you to catch more.
Tip #1: Know the Catfish Species
You have three different types of catfish species, and all three of them behave different. You have blue catfish, the channel catfish and the flathead catfish. Each of these fish species will behave different, but you will commonly find channel catfish in the rivers.
The advantage of going for channel catfish is that they tend to be the most abundant. You won’t necessarily find them as the largest catfish out there, but you will catch a lot of them. On the other hand, if you want a trophy catfish, you would aim for the blue catfish. These tend to get much larger.
For a beginner, I wouldn’t recommend going for flathead catfish. In fact, a lot of people won’t be right for flathead catfish because of how rare it is to catch them. You can fish for them all day and only walk away with one–it takes a special type of person to go after flathead catfish.
Tip #2: When to Fish Them in the Rivers
Since catfish tend to prefer low light, you will want to fish either in the nighttime or in the early mornings. You can catch catfish in the rivers during the day, but most catfish anglers will recommend that you go for them at night because you’ll have the most luck.
However, this serves as a general rule of thumb because of how you can catch them at almost any time. In some cases, they’re even aggressive during the day in the river, but this depends on the river.
Tip #3: Mirror Their Habitat
You want to look at the natural habitat of the catfish and mirror it back to him with a bait. While most catfish aren’t terribly picky about what they eat, you still want to mimic the same things that they might go after because it will mean that you would catch more catfish.
With any type of fishing, you want to mirror their habitat as much as possible because you tend to have the most luck.
Tip #4: Look for the Confluence of Two Streams
Catfish love to hunt for prey at the confluence of two streams because of how it gives them a resting place, and they can pull from two different streams.
In particular, you will find this tip especially helpful when you check in areas with tons of food sources. Like with most other fish species, they don’t stray too far from the prey. They will usually remain close to it. Check for mudlines because the catfish will often be hiding in areas like this.
Why do catfish like to hide in places like this? In particular, they like these areas because of how they can sniff out their next meal from here, and it provides them with a good hiding area.
Tip #5: Holes in Rivers and Heads in Pools
A lot of catfish like to hide in deeper than usual water because of how they don’t have to work as hard in water like this. The current isn’t as strong. Many times, you can catch catfish below the dam because it gives them a resting spot, and if it gives a resting spot to them, it provides a resting spot for other fish as well.
Catfish like these areas because it gives them the opportunity to search for their next meal. In general, you may want to check anywhere where the current slows down. For example, catfish also like to hide at water bends for the same reason.
Not to mention, other fish will often come to these areas too.
Tip #6: Look for Underwater Obstacles
You can catch a lot of catfish hiding near some of the underwater obstacles. They might hide at a point where a fallen tree fell or a boulder is at. Bridge abutments have become a popular place for them as well. That’s because of how it disrupts the river current, and it gives them a place to stop and think.
Many times, their own meal will come here in search of a rest. In this case, however, the hunter becomes the hunted as you crank in a delicious meal.
Tip #7: Fragrance Matters
Catfish hunt on smell, and in fact, channel catfish have been known to have a powerful sense of smell. This means that you can use their sense of smell against them to catch even more catfish. Dipbaits have proven powerful, and in fact, I’ve rarely not caught a catfish from using them. Even if they’re far away, they tend to come running at the irresistible scent.
Any bait that is sticky, oily or smelly will usually draw them in. In fact, you’d be surprised at some of the hilarious things that catfish will go after. Check out some of the hilarious baits that catfish will go after here in my article, “Catfish Bait: Baits to Hook the Big One.“
Tip #8: Gear You Need for Catfish
Some of the essential gear that you will need for catfish include:
- A pair of long-nosed pliers
- Shore-style rod holder (if fishing from shore)
- Net for catching catfish
Especially with river fishing, you don’t necessarily need a boat to catch catfish, but it can certainly help. You can cover more water, and this will increase your chances of catching the big one. Luckily, catfish gear can be as complicated or as simple as what you want it to be.
Tip #9: Tailor Your Strategy
You have times in the river where the catfish will hit hard and fast. They will take the bait without much warning. You have other times where the catfish will wait it out and nibble on your bait. After a time, you might learn their strategy and tailor your strategy to them.
When they nibble, don’t make the bait act aggressively. When they strike hard and fast, however, you can sometimes drive them in to bite on your line.
Tip #10: What Season is Best?
In general, the most productive time to go fishing for catfish in the rivers will be from May to early June. Early spring can offer up difficulty because of how many rivers will flood due to the snow melt. Floods can make it difficult.
Prime time catfishing season in the rivers will happen from late July to early October. The catfish will go to spawn in late June, which makes them an easy target. When looking on the river for this, you will want them in water at around 18 feet deep, and it will be in width of 50 to 100 feet.
Tip #11: Location, Location, Location
Many catfish anglers have the mistaken belief that you only have to put out some stinky bait, and you will drive the channels in abundance. Truth is, stink bait can help, but you still have to put it in the right area. Most likely, stink bait will draw them in if you have any in the area, but it doesn’t do any good if you put the bait in the wrong area.
Tip #12: Refine Your Approach and Presentation
Presentation does matter, and you want your bait to look at much like the natural foods in the catfish habitat as possible because this will draw them in. You need to constantly refine your approach if you will catch more. Fishing can be extraordinarily simple where you simply drop a line and wait. However, you will want to refine and improve your technique over time.
Tip #13: Consider Catfish Rods and Reels
You have two main types of rods and reels when it comes to catfishing. First, you have the ‘7 medium heavy rig, which is the more conventional type of catfishing rod. Second, you have the spinning outfit, which will offer you a spinning reel. Most anglers tend to prefer the spinning reel because of how much easier it is to cast. You might check out both of them to figure out which one suits you the best.
Tip #14: Boat Not Necessary but Helpful
One of the best things about fishing on the river is that you can often catch just as much from shore as what you could in the boat. You reduce some of the disadvantages that you might face on the lake. In addition, you can access just as many of the good areas as what you could from the boat because of how rivers tend to be narrower.
You have multiple public access fishing areas that you might visit to try to catch some catfish.
Tip #15: Catfish Fishing Techniques in Rivers
From the boat, many catfish anglers will cast for cover on the river. They will especially look for outside of bends. The debris and what not offers them protection, and they can use this to get into the shade during the hotter months.
One of the best approaches that you can use on the river is to drop anchor and cast down into one of the lower snags.
Tip #16: Water Level Does Make a Difference
Where the water level on the river sits will dictate where you will find the catfish. When you have fast, high and dirty water, the catfish will look for areas to rest away from the current.
During this time, you might direct your attention to the sloughs and eddies. This gives them a place in the river to ambush prey without having to worry too much about expending their own energy.
In low water, you want to concentrate your fishing efforts toward the deeper parts of the river. The current will be less here, and this gives you ample opportunity to crank a monster in from the river. That’s because they have fewer places to hide. Usually, you will catch the lower water levels in the hotter months. During this time, they will usually demonstrate more activity during the night hours.
Tip #17: Fresh, Live Bait for the River
Fresh bait is the advantage on the river. You get your most distinct advantage from fresh shad, suckers and creek chubs. I like to use the 8 to 10-inch sucker. The livelier the bait the better. That’s also one of the reasons that catching fresh bait with your own net has its advantages. You can take the bait much sooner.
In fact, if you use shad, you will most likely have to cast out your own net because most bait shops don’t sell shad. That’s because it is notoriously hard to keep with most shad being dead within 24 hours.
Tip #18: Why I Choose the River for Catfish
You will drastically increase your chances of catching more catfish if you decide to fish on the river. Sure, you could fish on a lake, but you might only catch one catfish all day, or you might catch no catfish whatsoever. After 12 hours of sitting out on the lake, that can be pretty disconcerting.
On the river, you will find that catfish exist in a much higher abundance. In addition, the unpredictability of being on the river offers its own rewards worth considering.
Tip #19: The Several Locations to Find Catfish
You can find catfish in several locations on the river that include:
- Creek mouths
- Outside of bends
- Tails of holes
- Sunken structure
Any one of these areas will offer you prime real estate when it comes to catching catfish. If they don’t seem to be biting, you might cast your line in one of these areas to see if you can increase your chances.
Tip #20: Be Aware of the Thermocline
On many rivers, you will have what is called a thermocline. This happens when the water at the top gets hot, but the further down you go, the colder and less oxygenated the water becomes. This happens whenever the water doesn’t mix too well with the rest far down.
During the daylight hours, catfish will usually feed closer to the top, but they will drop to the lower depths to cool off. Usually, they won’t stay in the lower water for too long because it is less oxygenated. You can use the thermocline to your advantage through suspending your bait just above the thermocline. You will have the catfish coming to your bait in droves.
You can tell when your bait goes below the thermocline because it will die because of the lack of oxygen. For that reason, you want to keep your bait above the thermocline.
Tip #21: What Size for Eating
The most delicious catfish will usually be between 2 to 6 pounds. For good eating catfish, you don’t necessarily want the bigger trophy catfish because of how they will have a much fishier flavor. That’s the type of catfish that you’d want to mount to your wall, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to eat it. You can simply catch and snap a picture of them as well if you don’t want to eat it. Some of these catfish can live in the rivers from 20 to 30 years.
These are some tips that can help you to catch more catfish. Hopefully, you have found some value in the river fishing tips for catfish within, and you can use them to refine your technique to catch more catfish. One of the great things about fishing is that you don’t need a lot of skill, but you can make it as much of an art as you want through learning more about it. To learn more about catfishing, check out my article, “How to Catch Big Catfish.”