Shallow Water and Monster Channel Cats By Brad Prather Some of the best channel catfishing can be had in only one foot of water. It is true we all know that catfish come up to the shallows to feed at night. We have been taught this, but most of us just do not practice it. Well my friend it is time to clean off the cobwebs on the idea of shallow water cats and get back into hearing hog channels rolling when the hook is set. I have recently gotten back into shallow water cats in my favorite lake that I fished while growing up. It is sad to say that the shallow waters I fish now are not the same places I used to fish when I was growing up. We all target catfish in shallow water to an extent even if it means only fishing the shallow ledge adjacent to a drop off. But, haven’t you ever wondered how far the kitties go into the shallows? They go as far as they can smell bait. Wherever you find a shallow flat there will be channels grazing the shallow water hungry for a bit to eat. Most lakes have a good supply of shallow water flats with plenty of structure. This method of chasing them will work in any state and in any lake. All you need is an ample supply of good cut bait and a couple of setups that will handle the largest of channels. Looking for the right flats The best kind of flats that I have found is wind swept flats, meaning the wind is blowing over them stirring up the water creating food for the hungry channels. Usually the best days to fish are the days that the wind is coming from the deeper side of the lake and blowing onto the shallow water flat. This blowing condition will force baitfish into the shallow water and blow dead fish carcasses onto the flats creating a buffet for the channel cats. You do not have to have a topographic map to find these flats. Looking out over a body of water it is easy to tell where the deeper water ends and the flat area starts. If the wind is blowing say 10 miles an hour the deeper water will be colored a darker blue or green and where it meets the flat it will turn a light brown color from the waves stirring up sediments. The waves will be more frequent and larger. A flat can have all or none of the components listed above and still be empty of channels finding the right place at the right time is the key. What time of year to start fishing a flat As soon as ice out occurs the channels will start cruising the flats in search of winterkill shad. After the ice out takes place, the channels and other species can be found through out the rest of the year feeding on the flats. As the summer progresses into the hotter months, the oxygen will be depleted and at this time, it will take a stiff wind or a storm front to get the fish active and feeding again. The cats usually feed on the flats until the water temperature cools to the high 30’s then they will seek deeper haunts for the winter months. But, as long as there are baitfish moving over the flats, the cats will feed till they are no longer there. What kind of bait to use There are many different kinds of dip baits on the market today, literally thousands from which to choose. At times, the list seems endless. If you want smaller fish to take home, dip baits are a good choice for this purpose. The rig of choice is the LOOPER RIG. This handy little rig devised solely for holding dip baits on longer on the hook works great on a wind swept flat and allows for longer casts while maintaining 80% of the bait. While fishing flats sometimes it is necessary to cast further than 60 yards and there is not another rig on the market devised for dip bait that will retain the bait like the Looper Rig. I personally have thrown this rig 85 yards only to find the bait to be still intact. Shad and other baitfish are the choice for me since I am hunting the largest channels on the flat with big cuts of shad work just fine to lure the hefty channels my way. Live baits are a great choice for hefty channels or the flatheads that graze the flats looking for a meal. It is not uncommon for a 6-pound channel to devour an 8-inch bluegill or even bigger bait for that matter. Therefore, the size of bait is up to you. Personally, the ideal live bait for me is a 6-inch bluegill or crappie .The smaller bait allows you to reach greater casting distances with out killing or throwing off the bait. Other baits work well at times but I like to keep it simple - too many baits and too little time. Terminal tackle As we all can agree there are more methods and rigs with which to catch catfish than there are catfish in this world; so many in fact that it gets complicated thinking of what to throw. The list of rigs that would be a good choice for this type of fishing is endless, but I try to keep it down to two rigs. The first rig of choice is the 3-way rig. This rig was devised for anglers who are hunting catfish in heavy current and is also used to throw baits very long distances. That is exactly what it is great for while fishing flats. As I have said before, sometimes you will need to throw great distances. The 3-way will allow you to do this with minimal effort. The rig itself is very easy to set up. It consists of a three-way swivel, leader line for the hook, and leader line for the sinker. To tie this rig, simply take the 3-way swivel and tie a 2-foot piece of line, preferably 20 lb mono to the bottom of the swivel. Next take a weight, preferably a bank sinker, and tie it on. Then take a piece of mono and tie on your leader. The leader needs to be shorter than the line tied to the sinker for tangling purposes. Tie on your hook. Lastly, on the top part of the three way tie on your main line. There you have it: easy to rig, but yet able to handle the biggest of cats. Another method of choice is the Carolina rig. We all use it, and it is a great rig while fishing with live bait. Simply take your swivel, tie on a 2-foot leader, and then tie on your hook of choice. This rig allows for long casts, but its advantage point is when fishing with live bait. It allows the bait to swim while not tangling in the rig. Additionally, the cats can hit and pull without feeling the weight of the sinker. Hooks are a tough subject for the simple fact there are so many different styles and shapes out there from which to choose. However, out of the many thousands of hooks, there is only a handful that fit the job at hand. My choice for hooks, regardless of species, conditions, and so forth, is the Gamakatsu brand. This hook company in my opinion makes the best hooks out on the market bar none. They have several different styles to choose from and their circle hooks cannot be beat. They are high quality and have a large gap between hook point and shank. This is vital when fishing for large cats. The size you select really depends on what size bait you use chunking shad I go with a 8/0 circle hook and use the same for live bait but if the fish get finicky and don’t want to take the bait I move to a octopus style hook. Using this hook allows to me to set the hook the first moment the hit is felt. At times, this technique of fast hook sets will play a vital role in catching fish. Rod and reels There is a wide array of rod and reels from which to choose and most can be used for this type of fishing. The choice of what type is left up to the fisherman. For my setups, I like to have equipment that can do the job at hand. Generally speaking, they have to be able to make a 60-yard cast with no problem. In the event of a big fish taking the bait, I would like my outfits to be able to handle a large fish without having to pray every second of the fight that one part of the outfit is not going to break down. For this, I choose an ABU6500 spooled with Ande monofilament. The weight can vary, but with Ande I can go with a lighter line for longer casts without having to worry about the line breaking. Most often, I will use 15 lb test when I am throwing long distances. When in structure-filled flats I will go up to 20 and larger. The rod you choose for this needs to be heavy enough to handle a trophy cat, but at the same time needs to have enough action to enable the detection of the lightest of bites. For this, I use a Berkley Big Game Series rod. The action that is felt through this rod is indescribable, yet it has backbone. I need to get a solid hook set, and at 8 feet in length, it gives me the leverage to make long casts without having to throw my arm out of joint. I own several rods, but this is the one I prefer for this type of fishing. Noise and light Flats fishing is different in may ways. Why, you ask? The reason being is that when fishing in shallow water every sound you make will carry extreme distances. Being loud will not get you anything but an empty stringer. You will be fishing in a array of depths, but the average is 2 to 5 feet. That is not a whole lot of depth. If you are dropping sinkers on the floor of the boat or breaking limbs to build a fire your chances of catching fish have just been slimmed down by 30% or greater. My experience tells me it will be the greater number. You do not have to whisper or walk on your tippy-toes. Just be aware of how much noise you make and keep it as low key as possible. The subject of light while fishing for cats is a source of argument for many anglers. In my journeys all over this great country, I have never met one angler that could show me that artificial light after dark attracted cats. With that, I would like to add that flats fishing isn’t the time to hang 2 lanterns over the side of the boat or hang them from the nearest tree. Keep light to the minimal amount necessary to see. Actually, I use none at all. A flashlight and rod holders will carry you through any night of fishing. The least amount of noise and light will ensure that you are not scaring off the fish and that they will be undisturbed until they pull your rod down and the hook is set. Rod holders I highly suggest the use of rod holders while bank fishing or fishing out of a boat for these monster channels in this shallow water environment. There are several reasons to use rod holders, but the best reason I can give is the fact that when these beautiful fish are hitting hard - THEY ARE HITTING HARD. In my younger days of fishing in the shallows I lost several set ups to these magnificent creatures because of the simple fact that once I noticed I had a bite, the setup took off like a rocket going into outer space. Since my usual set up includes the use of a circle hook the rod holders are necessary to ensure a good hook set is accomplished in the event a fish does hit. I hope that you have found this article informative and educational and I hope that you will try this technique soon and with much success. Just remember to ensure that our sport survives and flourishes we have to practice catch and release of our trophy catfish. Let them go to fight another day. The catfish for one will be happy you did.