The old Coleman lantern still gives off quite a glow amongst the lightning bugs on the shore. I have a cooler full of ice and pop, two lines in the water, half a bologna and cheese sandwich, and the world by the tail on a warm summer’s night. I also have a coffee can full dough balls and a small Styrofoam tub full of…ugh! I’m not sure what it is really, but somebody should have buried it a couple of days ago! Eddie’s outdone himself this time. “It’s stink-bait!” he says, understating the obvious as I try to keep my composure and my cookies. It should be called Stank-bait with an odor like that. “That’s real good, Eddie. You’ve outdone yourself again. What’s in it?” I ask, fearing the answer. “Oh you know, the usual stuff; ground and aged chicken livers, oil of anise, some rancid fryer oil and a little secret ingredient I am not going to disclose!” Truth is, I didn’t really care to know just so long as he’s the one who mixes it up and any place except my kitchen.
As the dog days of August settle in upon us, I return to one of the classic summer past-times; fishing for catfish. It’s a pursuit I had to learn as a teenager and perfect as an adult while catfish were not valued much when I was growing up. To this day there is a consumption advisory for catfish from the Black river, and many of us remember that photo in Newsweek magazine about the sores on fish from our River. It’s a hard thing to live down, but get away from the river and a few miles south you’ll find “cats” are a whole different story. Easy to catch, mild and delicious, these bottom grazing hogs of muddy waters are fun to catch and excellent table fare.
Maybe the best thing about catching catfish is that it takes less skill than falling out of a boat. While the bass fisherman are busy pitching lures at lily pads, it’s often the inattentive novice, letting her bait sit still on the bottom, who brings in the biggest catch of the night. That’s not to say there isn’t a science to catching cats. Remember the stink-bait?
Catfish have a developed sense of smell, as do most fish, and having a bait with some real bouquet on it can help make it stand out amongst all the other rotting stuff on the bottom of the lake. Chicken livers and dough balls soaked in beef blood are traditional winners, but night crawlers work pretty well too. I’ve seen some serious wale hunters even use whole chicken legs to bring in the big ones.
Catfish aren’t known for their fight, in fact they often just swallow the bait and lie there all night, not moving until they are brought up close to the surface. Then they do this characteristic head waggle to try to shake your hook and if you’re giving him slack he might do it too. Often the angler pulling up a big catfish will think he’s snagged a log or some piece of junk as cats offer no resistance at all until the last second.
Strong rods, heavy line (braided line like Spiderwire is my choice), and big stainless J-hooks are the preferred gear for cats, but you can have success on your regular rod too. There are a number of “cheats” or things you can do tip the odds in your favor, including bank-lines (a line tied to a tree limb on the bank), jug lines (a line suspended beneath a float or empty milk jug), and trot lines (a horizontal line from which many hook lines are suspended). It’s a common misunderstanding that trot lines are not legal in Ohio, but the fact is they are legal in certain areas and bodies of water, and even Lake Erie with a special license. Running a trot line is akin to setting traps for catfish as you can bring in multiple fish and don’t even have to be around to attend it. Because they are so effective, there are differing opinions about how ethical it is to use a trot line. I feel that in public waters these concerns are well founded, but some anglers use them to harvest cats they have stocked and fed in private ponds, and to those ends I can see no issue as a conservationist.
Before you try any of these lines, be sure to consult the Ohio Fishing Rules and Regulations as the restrictions are many. However, don’t let that dissuade you because catfishing can be really fun, and a really tasty treat in these lazy, hazy, late summer days. Get Outdoors!