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By Peter Slis
Catch’em in daylight for your fish fry
Looking to catch delicious freshwater catfish-big ones-in broad daylight, one after the other?
In many Florida watersheds, the key is finding the right tree. Mature catfish hang around the submerged root systems of old, large trees. Seeking the shelter and security of these underwater labyrinths, the catfish feel safe enough to spawn.
Where I fish along the St. Johns River, we have “the catfish tree”-a lone cypress. Average depth around there is about 4 feet. Fishing with weights in this kind of snaggy terrain will cost you a lot of time in re-rigging. Using a simple bobber is the solution.
My father and I fish this spot using rods of 6 or 7 feet spooled with 12-pound monofilament, with about three feet of 17- to 20-pound-test leader. We use a size 2/0 or 3/0 circle hook, in order to cut down on the number of swallowed hooks. As for the bobber, a traditional red-and-white model works fine. We set the bobber so that the bait is close to, but not touching, the bottom-say 3½ feet in 4 feet of water. There’s a timeless appeal to watching one of these round fishing relics disappear within seconds of splashdown.
We always bring a long-handled net to scoop up the fish (some of them are quite heavy). You may also want a rag…catfish are slimy. You know you’ve been successfully catfishing when your fishing line is slimed up and unrecognizable.
Find one of these honeyhole trees, and you can rely on it when nothing else is biting. Dad found our spot by accident, after the crappie would not cooperate. He was hoping to find some bass, using those Missouri minnows. But much to his surprise, he found the mother lode of catfish. At our catfish tree, the cats are always there, even when it’s not really spawning season. I’m sure nightcrawlers are fine to use, but the Missouri minnows have been the hot ticket. Over time we realized that just casting to the base of the tree is most productive.
In the same lake, I watched a friend have success using the cork method, drifting along the banks below a spillway. In that case, it appears the large cats were in dugout areas under the bank. We think they ambushed the drifting livie from these lairs. If you’ve watched any of those noodling shows on TV, it makes sense. My buddy simply made the 20-foot drift, and then repeated it. I watched him catch three within half an hour doing that, with a few missed strikes along the way.
When you go prospecting in the St. Johns river system and its lakes, or similar rivers in Florida, look for tall trees in the water. It doesn’t matter if it’s shallow-see if anyone’s home. Use your depth finder to determine how far up to put the bobber. Splitshots come in handy (6 inches above hook) depending on current or depth.
A last note about cleaning catfish: Skinning small catfish using pliers or a skinner tool before filleting is the traditional method. For larger specimens (over 5 pounds), you might fillet the fish and then lay each fillet skin side down and run the blade between the skin and meat, discarding the skin and outermost quarter-inch of fillet. What you are left with is prime meat without the gamey taste bigger cats can get. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine July 2016