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Here's several methods of handling catfish that may help you out on your next trip out on the water!

Gill Cover Hold - The best holddepends on size. To net or lift a catfish weighing less than about four pounds, try the gill cover hold. Slide your hand forward from the rear of the fish, sliding your palm behind the dorsal fin, which usually is erect. Place your thumb behind one of the fish's pectoral spines, and then grasp the other between your index and middle fingers. Hold it firmly, but without squeezing too hard. This pressure helps to immobilize the fish, making it easy to remove hooks and then release the fish or pop it into the livewell.

Gill Lift - If the cat's over four pounds, slide an index finger inside the gill flap and your thumb into the corner of the mouth, and raise the fish vertically. Use your right hand to show off the fish's left side for a photograph. This isn't blind groping, mind you. Slide your finger along the bony interior wall of the gill flap, staying away from the delicate gills and theirsupporting tissues. You won't damage the fish because this tissue can support lots of weight. It feels as if you're holding a triangle by it's apex; your finger slides to the top, and the fish is secured. Using your thumb to secure the fish's jaw prevents the fish from flipping violently. From this position, raise the middle of the fish's body with your other hand for a horizontal photo or to help release the fish.

Belly Lift - When cats are hooked on crankbaits, or other lures equipped with multiple treble hooks, keep your fingers clean until you have complete control. Some anglers prefer to net crankbait-caught fish. Others prefer not to net them because the hooks tangle in the mesh. To do a Belly Lift, first bring the fish alongside the boat. Reach around the fish and press it lightly against the boat hull. Feel with your hand to find the fish's balance point near the center of it's belly. Then lift the fish straight out of the water. The resulting pressure on the fish's belly helps to quiet it. Once it's boated, cradle the fish with your left hand and forearm and remove hooks with your right hand. The belly lift works best with fish over about three pounds. The weight creates more downward pressure and a more definitive balance point. When handling cats this way, though, you'll find that a fair share of them eventually end up on the boat floor.

Lip Lock - Small flatheads can be landed like largemouth bass, by placing your thumb in from the fish's tongue on the inside of the lower jaw. Support the bottom of the jaw bone with your curled index finger. This hold seems to sedate fish, allowing you to remove the hook with your other hand. If the flathead's over about ten pounds, turn your palm down and grab the fish's lower jaw with your whole hand. Exceptional fish might require both hands for a vertical lift. Don't try the lip lock on large blues and channel cats, though. Their jaws are built to crush mussels, and are capable of doing the same to your hand.
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