Daytime River Fishing
As some of you know, I love fishing mid-sized rivers during the day. I am going to attempt to share what little knowledge I have about fishing these rivers. Things like, scouting the river, locating fish holding areas, equipment needed for success, setting up to fish a location, how long to fish a spot and what you can expect. Before I start, I need to share a little background information on how and why I started fishing for cats during the day.
A few years ago, I met the man that introduced me to fishing for "Oversized" catfish. We got acquainted on the internet by virtue of a mutual interest in old military rifles. We learned we lived in the same state and other common interest. We started email each other on a pretty regular basis and eventually made arrangements to meet in a location central to both of us for coffee and chat. Long story short, we have become very good friends. Through the course of our developing friendship we found we both really loved to fish. I was a died in the wool bass fisherman and he was a devout catman. We would exchange emails and phone calls to discuss our fishing success or complain about the one that got away. As time went by I see a pattern developing that I thought was pretty strange. My friend was catching a lot of fish and some very large fish to boot. The strangest thing to me was he was fishing during the day!!!! I questioned him about it because I had always heard catfishing was better after dark. His responded by telling me that was a myth and he would be happy to share his knowledge with me. I jumped at the chance. Below is what he taught me and what I've learned as I pursue Day Time River Cats.
On a day in late July with the air temperature predicted to hit 100 degrees I was on the road at 2:00 am headed to my friends' house for my first day of "Catfish College". I didnt' really know what to expect but I was ready to learn. I had prepared my equipment the afternoon before. My lunch was in my lunch cooler and I had another cooler packed with bottled water and Diet Coke. When I arrived and started unloading my equipment I was told to put my rods back in my truck because they we not strong enough to hold up under the conditions they would be exposed to. I really didn't believe my friend but I was there to learn and followed his advice. He loaded a couple of extra rods and reel in the boat for my use. We refilled our coffee cups and headed for the river. During the hour drive he explained to me the basic tact we would be using and why. I was just a little skeptical but I was also smart enough to know that a man with knowledge I didn't have was speaking with authority so I listened carefully.
We arrived at the boat landing just as it was getting light enough to see a little. All necessities for day were loaded and the boat was launched. We headed down river just as the eastern sky was turning pink. Class had begun. We motored down river for approximately two miles and my friend cut the throttle and brought the boat to a stop. The turned the nose of the boat up stream and slowly idled into the position he wanted it. I noticed he was watching the depth fined intently as though he was looking for or at something. In a few seconds he kicked the motor into neutral and told me to drop the anchor. I did as instructed and in seconds the current had the boat snug against the anchor line. Our bait was going to be cut skipjack herring. My friend pulled a bag of whole froze skipjack from the cooler and started cutting them into stakes. He then turned the stakes on edge and split them into strips about an inch wide. He handed me a couple of pieces of the skipjack and then two 7' casting rods with Abu Garcia reels. He picked a rod out of the rack and said, "Now, watch how I hook the bait". I watched and then hooked my bait pieces just as I was shown. He told me where to cast each rod and how to engage the clicker on the reel. Once all four baits were placed exactly where he wanted them to be he started his teaching.
He said "Behind the boat about 50' the water depth drops from 12' down to 40'. We placed our bait in four different places to take advantage of the structure. Two baits we placed in the 12' water on the flat. Two baits are placed at the head of the hole. We placed our baits in those two locations for a reason. Catfish spend most of their time in deep holes. During the day, they will position themselves behind structure. The structure is a natural current break. The structure does two things for the catfish, 1. It provides cover from which it can ambush food. 2. It breaks the current and creates a pocket of slack water. He said, "Catfish will hold in these deep holes until late afternoon or early evening. As twilight descends, the fish will begin to move. It will start by searching the edges or rim of the head of the hole for food. Then it will move to shallow water and hunt for prey until daylight or until if gets its fill." I thought to my self, "well, if their full how are we supposed to get them to bite". As if he could read my mind the said, "Not all the fish will be successful catching prey. Some will return to the hole still needing to feed and those are the fish we're after". He said, "See, the unsuccessful hunters will position themselves at the very head of the hole right behind structure and the will actively take a bait that is positioned properly". By placing baits in shallow water near structure we were presenting food to fish returning to the hole and by placing baits just in the hole at it's head we had bait presented to fish that had already returned to the hole. The baits had been in the water about five minutes when the reel on my shallow water set began to "scream" at me. I grabbed the rod, engaged the reel and set the hook. I nice fat five pound blue was in the landing net in short order. Just as that fish was unhooked and placed in the cooler his deep water rig started "singing" and he jumped into action. In short order a blue cat of about 9lbs was in the landing net. In less than 10 minutes of fishing we had two fish in the cooler. I thought, "There might be more to this catfishing than I thought". We re-baited the two rigs and placed the bait back in the same locations they were in when they caught fish. After 10 minutes with no catches or bites, my friend said, "reel um in and pull the anchor". I didn't question him I just did as instructed. As soon as the anchor was secured and I was seated be headed down river again. I was thinking to myself, "Why did we leave that spot? We had caught two nice fish and we just up and left. He must be crazy!!!" Down river about a mile and again he throttled down and repeated the same procedure he had on the first spot. Drop anchor he said, and I did. We baited with fresh bait and again he told me where to cast my bait. Before the second rod was placed in the rod holder the first one started screaming at me. I quickly got the second rod in the holder and grabbed the one screaming at me. I hooked up and started fighting the fish. While I was fighting mine, one of his got a runner and he hooked up too. A double!!!! In short order we had two nice blue cats in the landing net. Each would weigh approximately 8lbs. This scène was repeated several times throughout the day. It was without a doubt the most fun I had ever had!!!! By days end we had caught over 40 head of fish. All fish were caught on rod and reel. We kept enough fish for both families and released the rest. Air temperature did reach just over 100 degrees. We were the only boat on the river. As we were loading up around 6:30 pm, there was two different rigs getting ready to launch. As we left the ramp and headed home I was completely hooked on catfishing and anxious to understand exactly what we were doing and why we were doing it. I also wanted to know if it would only work on his river or would it work anywhere. He gave me my answer as we drove.
He started like this. "Catfish are really very basic and if you understand their needs and habits you can easily find and catch them. They need three things, food, comfort, and structure. All three of these needs can be found in one spot, "holes". Holes are the deepest pockets of water on any given stretch of river. Holes are formed when the bottom substrate is made up of soft substance. Just above a hole you will find a hard bottom substrate. What happens is the water being restricted by the rivers banks is forced up over the hard bottom which causes the current speed to increase. As soon as this faster current encounters a soft bottom substrate a hole is scoured out. The current carries the loosened bottom substrate down stream. As the current slows, the substrate falls out of the current and is deposited on the river bed. This forms what is known as a flat or pool. This cycle repeats over and over until the river either empties into another river or the ocean. So, he said, every river is made up of a series of fast water (ripples) holes, and pools (runs). To be consistently successful your goal will be to locate the holes. Think of the holes as fish hotels. The structure accumulated in these holes as rooms, and the current as room service. Holes can be found anywhere on a river. There will always be a hole on the outside bend of a river. Some of these bends are deeper that others. The sharper the bend the deeper the hole will be. Holes with lots of woody or rocky structure are better usually more productive than holes with little or no woody structure.
With the above information in mind I will start a fishing trip on a new river or new section of rive by scouting. I will either decide to scout up river or down river. I use the internet to help me make that decision. I use Microsoft Terra Server and pull up an aerial photo of the river and then zoom in and follow the river up or down stream five or six miles. What I'm looking for here is sharp bends and wooded areas along the river bank. When I find a section with lots of sharp bends and woods on the bank I know it's a good area to scout. On the river, I scout the areas looking for visible structure like logs, drifts, stumps and rocks in deep water holes. I use my electronics to determine depth, hole layout, and find structure not visible above the surface. I scout the entire section of rive I looked at on Terra Server before I make a cast. Once the scouting is complete, you can put a plan together to fish that section of river effectively.
Setting up to fish:
Once I have my plan for a section of river formulated it's time to put it into action. Lets say for example I have scouted a six mile section of river and located five holes with exactly the type of structure all catfishermen hope to find, deep water, heavy woody structure and moderate current. I also located three other holes with less structure but deeper water and they just might be holding fish too. What to do? Analyze the river and structure layout of the river. Determine if it's more productive to motor up river and fish down or fish as you motor up. This decision will be made based on where you think the most fish will be holding. Your most productive period of the day will usually be from daylight to around 10:00 am so you want to use your time effectively. Bottom line is to fish the direction that will allow you to fish the best locations first. Once the plan is made and you are ready to fish, locate the head of the hole (up-current end). Use your electronics to determine the length of the hole and the width of the hole. Now, idle your boat a cast distance plus distance allowed for good anchor hold and drop you anchor. You know where the head of the hole is located, you know the left and right edges are and you know where the structure is located. Cast your bait where it is just in the front edge of the hole near structure. If using more that one rig, place each set in a different location in and around the hole. As soon as the last bait is settled and set, check your watch. Allow 15 minutes for action to start. If after 15 minutes there have been no bites or catches, pull anchor and head for your second hole. If you have caught a fish add five minutes to the original 15. Do this for each fish caught until you set a span of 15 minutes without a fish or a good bite then move. The key to this type of fishing is moving!!!
You are fishing for active fish. You're looking for the poor hunters. You're looking for the fish that only caught a snack when they wanted a full meal. If the hole contains that fish, he will bite your bait within 15 minutes. Dont' set and waste valuable fishing time presenting you bait to the good hunters.
You too can catch fish during the day. Not only can you catch fish but you can catch big fish. Last June, during a thee week period, I caught a 29 lb blue, a 30 lb blue, a 35 lb blue, and a 62.5 lb blue by following the method detailed above. Along with the four fish I talked about, was several between 10 and 25 lbs.