|By: Daniel Eggertsen|
Let's start with the species. If you want large fish, then only three species are worth consideration in the U.S. in freshwater. They are the Blue Catfish (Ictalurus furcatus). the Channel Catfish (Ictalurus puntatus), and the Flathead Catfish (Pylodictus olivaris). All other species are either too small to bother with, or their range is too limited.
The Blue Catfish is a true giant, and throughout 2019s range it is the largest sportfish available. Blues are a fish of large reservoirs and rivers, and especially beneath tail races in swift current. These bruisers can top 100 pounds, and 50 pounders are not uncommon.
Blue Catfish are native to the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi River Basins, but their range has been expanded through various stocking programs. Like the Channel Catfish, they are opportunistic feeders with a varied diet, but the large ones are always caught on whole live fish, such as large shad and bluegills (where legal).
The Channel Catfish is very similar to the Blue Cat, being slightly smaller and with a greater range and tolerance for more environments. Their ranges overlap, and they often interbreed, as their spawning habits are nearly identical. Channel Cats can in excess of 50 pounds, with 20+ pounders common.
They also are fond of tailraces, but can live in smaller lakes, rivers and even farm ponds. Channel Cats are native to the Eastern US from southern Canada south to northern Mexico, east of the Rockies and the Appalachians. Their range has been expanded to almost everywhere in the US through stocking. They are also raised commercially.
Both the Blue and Channel Catfish spawn in early late spring when water temperatures approach 75 degrees. Like the Blue Cat, the largest specimens are always caught on live fish.
The Flathead Catfish is another behemoth, growing to over 4 feet long and 100+ pounds. They prefer deep pools in creeks, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, with slow current and cloudy water. They will seldom be caught directly below tailraces. Their range is from the Great Lakes south along the Mississippi River Basin to the Gulf States.
Flatheads are strictly predators and only eat live food, mainly fish. They tend to be moody, and become inactive in cold water.
The largest catfish are almost always caught on either jug lines or trot lines. Suitable rods and reels for large catfish are heavy freshwater action rods from 7-12 feet long, with powerful baitcasting reels. Your line should be no less than 20 pound test, as you will be using baits weighing in excess of 1 ounce in fast waters.
Jug lines are simply plastic sealed jugs with lines attached. They can be allowed to drift free, or anchrored to the bottom. Usually, 6-12 jug lines will be baited with live bait, using 2/0 or larger hooks, dropped from a boat and allowed to drift.
The fisherman will follow them, and when one bobs, or takes off in an unexpected direction, the line is pulled in, usually with a large, protesting catfish on the end.