Say the word “catfish” and anglers automatically think of bottom rigs.
But that would be a mistake if you’re looking for a cooler full of fish when fishing tidal or moving waters where catfish thrive.
While mammoth catfish are fun to catch, eating-size fish at 14-24 inches are very easily targeted by using a float rig and fishing the edges of ledges, shoreline, or seams in the water.
Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate this is to use a tidal river that has undeveloped shoreline full of trees, snags, and other cover.
Anglers wishing to take advantage of this method of fishing simply need to get uptide or upcurrent, toss their line out to within a foot or two of the cover or shoreline, then ride along with the current and watch their float until it disappears.
There is one big reason that fishing for eating-size catfish with a float is good business. It is extremely effective because the bait covers a lot of territory, making the chances of getting a bite more likely.
Rigging for such a jaunt on your local river or stream is simple. Upsize your childhood sunfish rig and place the float high enough so the bait does not snag the bottom, but deep enough so that the fish typically near the bottom notice it.
I use a stick float because it offers less resistance to the fish when they do take the bait. Honestly, it probably does not matter though. Use a float that is easy to see and you are in business.
The size of hook that should be used is whatever is appropriate for the size of fish you’re catching or want to catch. I use a size 2 or 1/0 baitholder hook, but sometimes I go with a plain shank hook if I am catching alot of fish and don’t want to rub my finger raw unhooking them.
The bait chosen for this type of fishing is again based on where you are fishing and what the fish are feeding on.
I have used chicken liver, stinkbait on those ribbed worms, whole night crawlers, beef liver, shrimp, squid, clam, and dead minnows. However, my personal favorite is shad that’s fileted and cut in small chunks or strips. The shad smells strong, is bloody, and will stay on the hook if you leave the skin on the fish.
While this fishing is best done from a boat so you can move around and unhook snags or change spots, bank anglers can dive into this method with success too.
In my time as a kid fishing along the rivers, I often searched for a rock or log jutting out from the shoreline. Then I would drop my rig in at my feet and freeline the bait and rig as the current took it downstream.
Once the float went under, I reeled in any slack and then set the hook.
Taking up the slack in the line before setting the hook is obviously important. Circle hooks can be used if you prefer to make hook set easier.
If you have a boat and relatively inexperienced anglers aboard, you can position your boat with two anchors (when safe) such that the boat is perpendicular to the shore and use the same technique and freeline your baits with the current.
Otherwise, casting upstream or uptide—whether from a boat or from the shore, or towards cover such as overhanging limbs, seams in the water current, log jams, or boulders—and watching as the float makes its way downstream through the kill zone is easy enough.
Once your float gets out some distance, it’s best to bring it back in and recast. It’s hard to set the hook on a long line.
Don’t think twice about casting in the same spot multiple times. Although probably half of my strikes come on the first cast, plenty more come after that on repeated casts. Fish move and the tide and currents move food around. You never know what can happen.
Oh, don’t leave your line dangling in the water just over the side of the boat. Catfish are everywhere— some places more than others—but they are everywhere. You might end up donating a rod to the depths of your river. Don’t ask me how I know this either!