Fishing For Catfish Beneath The Ice

By: Daniel Eggertsen

Whenever we think about fishing for catfish, most of us get these mental images of warm, sunny weather, bare feet, cane poles, and a generally summery outlook on things. So, when we start talking about icefishiing, no one ever mentions catfish as a possible quarry.

However, factually, lots of catfish are taken through the ice each year, and some species, especially Blue Catfish and Channel Catfish, are actually fairly eager biters in the cold water. So, the issue, really is one of first deciding to get yourself outside, and do some icefishing, and then, of setting up your rig to do the job.

There appear to be two "schools" of icefishing thought (pardon the pun), where cats are concerned. The original, old-school, lazy one, is that of finding a nice, comfy-looking spot that at least appears to be a likely hookup point for a decent fish, drilling a hole in the ice, and sitting next to your fire tub, or in your "fish house" (tent on the ice), and enjoying the outing, as much as the catching of any fish that might happen by. The second way of seeing things, is that each outing is a competition for a record volume catch, and as such, the fish must be militarily tracked down, cornered and exposed, and then taken by the bucketload.

For sure, a scientific and tactically-planned approach to your outing will probably yield the most fish. However, this viewpoint also requires the most equipment, as its proponents work among perhaps two dozen holes in the ice, and track the fish from spot to spot with sonar fish finders, while racing to the next hole on snowmobiles, and attempting to "head off" the fish at each hole as they move.

While the top producers in this "sport" can bag over forty fish an hour, there is still something to be said for skill and patience, in selecting your spot, baiting up, and playing on a level field, without a pile of electronics and machines to remove all hope for the catfish. After all, the sport of fishing includes both finding the fish, and the actual fight, once you set your hook. It just takes more nerve and determination, on the ice.

Regardless of your approach, you'll need the usual sturdy gear for cats - a strong rod with a decent spinning or star-drag reel, good braided or monofilament line, proper terminal rigging, and some nice, stinky bait. If you want to use a more conventional icefishing rig, a flag float or tip-rig will work OK, but remember the size of the fish you are after - these kitties are going to be a tough fight, and handling them without a rod is even tougher.

As far as bait goes, smell is even more important in cold water, than in the warm months, as the scent doesn't spread as fast, or present as strongly in the water, so the more potent the bait, the better. Small dead fish are still an excellent choice, especially for Blue cats. Puncturing the bait, or dipping it in some stinky adjunct, may be another possible improvement, to really get the scent going.

Some anglers feel that the color of the bait is of importance in icefishing for cats, due to the reduced spread of scent in the cold, but in deep water, it's quite dark, and catfish are known to have weak eyesight, so the importance of this factor is open for discussion. In nature, cats eat fairly dull-colored, smelly food, so, give 'em what they want. With smelly, natural bait, the only other issue is where to fish it, assuming the fish will take it, if they find it.

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