Tiny Tips For Tough Big Cats 
by Daniel Kiazyk

Last summer’s doldrums made cat fishing especially challenging some days. The issue of course in this “tough times” context is, “How do you get cats to bite when you’ve got a feeling the whole fishery has gone “lock-jaw””. Well to be honest, a few slight adjustments can make all the difference for making a slower day become a good fishing day.

Well to be frank there are some days when cattin’ is going to be tough for anyone . Why they aren’t biting can be related to a whole number of factors. On the lower Red a sudden changes in flow can throw catfish for a loop. I’ve seen the lockmaster at St.. Andrew’s Dam and Lock close the dam’s curtains and lower the rivers water levels below the dam by 3 feet leaving a prime fishing area next to useless. On other occasions when the curtains are opened allowing the river to run freely, catfish will shut down. Both these situations require a bit of flexibility/adaptation on the part of the angler.

The solution I’ve found for the lower water context is to get either get closer to the dam or to move back in the river to deeper water. Higher water seems to push fish to “seams”, and backwater “eddies”, obstructions that slow current or cats just move back into other spots further back down the river. Too often I’ve seen people thrashing water closer to the dam in these high water contexts and not just moving to another area further down river. Perhaps this latter tendency suggests a good rule of thumb for cat fishing in any context, if you don’t get bit in 20 minutes.. move. But I guess “where” to move to becomes even a better question.

Of course, there’s the opposite situation where an angler is over “antsy” and doesn’t’ give ol’ whiskers a chance to find their offering. Some days just hunkering down and letting the cats “find you” is another viable option, especially when the water is high.

The latter situation may be one created by human activity (eg. raising the curtains) but then there are those times when the river will rise due to large amounts of precipitation falling in the region as well as areas to the south. One particular year comes to mind when after the usual spring runoff the floodway was opened two more times to divert rising water around Winnipeg. In this situation the curtains of the “Carriere” dam technology are opened to allow for water to flow freely and the floodway gate at the south end of Winnipeg is raised to divert water around Winnipeg.

When this water system is at work catfish behaviour will change to some extent.

Firstly the outlet area of the floodway becomes a “viable” or more appropriately a “flushed” area for cats. Catfish by their very voracious nature find their way into the area because the aerated water draws forage interesting for catfish. I personally have turned to this area for goldeye fishing when the rising waters seem to displace goldeyes from those areas near to the dam. The higher water context will also roil up the water in the main river seemingly putting the cats off the bite for a little while. It is exactly in this chocolate water condition that a viable piece of water will present itself in the floodway.

High water can make it tougher to successfully catfish. One other tactics I’ll employ in this context is to look for mini points (obstructing flow) or humps behind which I can anchor. My strategy here is to find points of refuge for fish or locales which will hold baitfish which catfish are foraging upon. A final consideration in this context is to suggest that obstructions closer to shore are always an option in higher water.

The hot summer sun, falling water levels, all seem to impact upon the Red’s catfish fishery. I’ve been out there when it gets so tough that the river is void of anglers. Parking lots are empty and even the infamous shore anglers are few and far between on the shores of the Red. I’ve been out there in this situation and have personally enjoyed the solitude of sorts having the river all to myself. If I’m fishing daylight hours in this context I’ll fish much further back in the river experimenting with some of the deeper channel areas wherever the river bends. I’ll also adjust the rig and its components. When it gets really tough I may be using a weight that may weigh as little as ½ - ¾ oz and I’ll also size down to a reduced hook size. Don’t forget that the length of leader on these tough doldrums days can be extended out as far as 3 feet. Using circle hooks and placing some rods in rod holders also helps to pick up those “light” biters. Changing baits from the tried and true to some experimental formulations can also pay off. I’ve seen a ball of night crawlers save the day when the bite gets tough. A bit of adjustment, moving into newer areas and going deeper all can make a difference in this context.

Changeable weather also has an impact upon the catfish bite. I’ve seen those years when three days of steady weather are almost an exception rather than the norm. This context does on occasion frustrate the catfish angler. One of my best adaptations in this context is to size down whatever I’m using. Bait, size of hooks, weights all need to be reduced. Lengthening the leader works some times but can pose a whole other set of problems when the water is high. This particular set of circumstances has a greater impact at the end of the catfishing season as opposed to the beginning of the season (which itself can be brutal with rain, sleet, snow all falling on the same day).

Another factor few account for on regular basis from season to season is how cats can be contacted at all levels of the water column. I’ve seen some days where cat after cat are hauled in using a float rig. Perhaps one clue that cats have suspended is being attentive to where the baitfish or goldeye in particular are suspended. Another obvious hint would be a lack of bites and seeing cats break surface all around you. Finally if you start catching a whole bunch of cats while fishing for goldeye… you’ve got a pattern… and a whole lot of fun. During one mid summer evening session last year we couldn’t catch a goldeye. Rather we spent 2 ½ hours cutting cats with our light, rods, reels and tackles. I don’t’ really make fishing cats like that something we do on purpose, but a happy “accident”. At a certain point we would decide to leave these cats alone because fighting them for 20 minutes at a time isn’t the best for these big creatures (tough or not!)

These little observations and attempts to be flexible have resulted in a few more cats on days that were pretty tough (tough for the Red means fewer than (10 @ 20#!) I guess everything is relative.