Driftfishing for Lake Channel Cats

Discussion in 'Outdoor Articles' started by Chuckb, Feb 17, 2006.

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  1. Chuckb

    Chuckb New Member

    Pana Illinois
    Driftfishing for Lake Channel Cats​

    One of my favorite ways to spend a relaxing day on the water is to do a controlled slow drift for big feisty channel cats. There's nothing more peaceful than relaxing in the boat, watching the scenery, and the raw power of a ten pound plus angry beast trying to rip the rodholder off the side of the boat.


    Lets start with the basics. You don't have to be rich and have the fanciest, most expensive gear to have a great day on the water. A simple 14-16 foot jon boat with a small motor, a couple decent rod and reels, two drift socks and a handful of weights hooks and swivels will do just fine.

    The first step is getting your bait. I always carry a small cast net for getting shad but if you don't have that or your lake doesn't have a good place to get shad, a dozen night crawlers will work just fine. Anything you can catch on a small hook with a tiny piece of worm will work just fine for bait. Be it bluegill, crappie, drum perch, carp, basically any type of natural forage that is legal in your native waters. One of my favorite baits are good old creek chubs or suckers seined from a local creek.

    Now that you have bait the next step is to study the wind pattern and the body of water you are fishing. You can find fish no matter what direction the wind is blowing but it is going to make a huge difference on where you start the drift and how long the drift will be. Take into consideration the season, time of day, and cloud cover to help determine the best area.


    If it is early spring or fall I will gravitate toward shallower water. Points and Edges of Islands are usually a great place to try along with large flats on a northern shore, as the water may be a couple degrees warmer in these areas.

    As the summer progresses I will move to deeper water areas with channels and old creek beds. The exception to this is when drifting at night. At night I almost always target shallower water. Some of the best fishing can be found in coves, especially a cove with a feeder creek after a big downpour. It is not unusual to catch 20 pound fish in one foot of water!

    OK now we have decided where to begin fishing. Personal hook choice is up to you but I prefer circle hooks 4/0 - 8/0 depending on the brand of hook and the size fish I am after. If you are targeting eater fish 1 - 5 pounds use smaller hooks with smaller pieces of bait. If you are like me and are looking for a hog channel, use the larger hooks and bait up to 1/2 pound.

    One of the best and easiest rigs I have found is a 1/4 ounce slip sinker followed by a quality swivel tied to your mainline with an 18-24" leader of a good abrasion resistant monofilament for the business end. A small float can be attached to the leader 6-8" above your bait to help keep it off the bottom in low wind conditions but is usually not necessary with moderate to high wind.

    The weight size will be determined by the size of bait you are using. You want just enough weight to keep the bait close to bottom. This will take some experimenting and experience but don't be dissuaded because I have caught many a cat in the top few feet of the water column.

    I prefer to hook the bait through the eyes if using a head or whole fish. Just make sure the hook is exposed when using circle hooks! The first thing to do is get the boat into position where you want to start your drift. You want the boat sideways to the wind so the wind is blowing your boat steadily from whichever side you want to fish off of.


    Drift socks, one at the front and one at the back of the boat will help maintain a slow drift and also help keep the boat straight. Now that we have the boat in position it is time to start fishing! It is usually best to cast the lines out in a fan shape and helps to have all of them baited before casting any of them out. Vary the distance of the lines to the boat to give you better coverage of the water you are drifting. Don't be tempted to pick the rod up at every tap tap tap or you may miss a lot of fish. If you are patient a fish will follow your bait for many, many yards before committing. I honestly believe that sometimes fish are like dogs, a little one is pecking away and big daddy sees the commotion and comes running to steal the bone (your bait in this case).

    90% of the fish I catch drifting hook themselves. Don't be afraid to try many different sizes or types of bait to see what they want on a particular day or night. Change bait often! I can't stress this enough it is important to leave a good scent trail in the water. Try chumming the area you are going to drift a couple hours before hand. One trick that sometimes works for me is to let the boat drift all the way to the bank and leave the lines in the water for 15-20 minutes before starting a new drift. Above all, have fun, be safe and only keep what you will eat. Help keep our environment clean and make sure there are times like this left for our Grandchildren!
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