How to catch catfish in the winter, it is important that you have the right spot location, bait, tackle, and cold weather gear. You also need to be sure that you hook the fish that bite. Wintertime fishing is slow, so you may not get many chances. There are many tools you can use to find good cat fishing in the winter.
Plan accordingly. Be ready for those big fish. Blue catfish get pretty big, as in over 100lbs big. The chances of catching a bigger fish increase dramatically in the winter time. My average fish in the cold is usually from 20-50 pounds. Make sure you have the gear that can handle those big fish! The last thing you want to do is hook a huge catfish and break him off!
Make sure if you’re using braid at LEAST 50 lb, and for mono at LEAST 20lb. This is the bare minimum however, so feel free to go higher. For rod I would say at LEAST Med Hvy, but I usually lean toward the heavy option. Length does not matter; just make sure it works well from the area your fishing (bait, bank, pier, etc).
As for the rig you should be using, you do not have to get too fancy. I prefer a standard Carolina rig. This is just a sliding sinker, bead, barrel swivel, and leader line with hook. I usually like to use at LEAST 50lb mono for the leader line. I know a lot of people like to use Santee cooper rigs, which is a rig that floats your bait off the bottom. I somewhat see this as counterproductive in the winter, simply due to the fact it’s cold, so more than likely the fish will be right on the bottom, not a foot off the bottom. This of course all depends on your body of water and water temperature. Generally, when catching catfish in the winter, they will be directly on the bottom.
As far as bait goes anything that is fresh and in your local river system is the go to. I often use carp, shad, and sometimes mackerel. If you do not have access to these, another great alternative is shrimp. It is very easy to find at the store and still works great. Fresh bait is very important in the winter. If you are using pre frozen bait, or old bait from a previous trip, you may not have as much luck.
I recommend going to your local fish market and looking for any kind of fresh fish. When you cast out your bait, you want it as fresh as can be. I usually give my baits 45-1hr in the water until I decide to freshen up. In the winter, your bites will be slower anyway, so there is no need in baiting up every 20 minutes.
An important tip, in the winter catfish tend to have a slower metabolism. This means smaller baits will be more effective for getting bites. I generally downsize my baits to about half the size of usual baits.
Winter Spot Location
The first thing I look for when targeting catfish in the winter time is DEEP WATER. When the water temperature gets to about 50 degrees or lower, the fish will start to congregate in the deepest parts of the river. Picking a spot that has deep water is the MOST IMPORTANT step in winter cat fishing. Don’t get me wrong you may get lucky and pick off a few stragglers in the shallower sections of river but, like I said we want to MAXIMIZE the chances of getting a bite.
Other locations to look for during the winter are warm water discharges. These can provide warmer water to the river or lake you are fishing, and possibly attract more fish.
If you cannot find the deep parts of the body of water your fishing and you have no access to warm water discharge, then start EXPLORING. Regardless of any tips on the internet you may find, trial and error has provided me with the BEST RESULTS. Sometimes you skunk, and sometimes you can find some amazing spots.
What I do to find deeper spots is use navionics. Research depth charts of your Local River or lake and find those holes. I have had the most luck with one bait at the entrance of the hole, one in the middle, and one toward the end. If you don’t have holes in your river you can try targeting the main channel, as this is a great alternative to holes. Really anything deeper than your usual water depth will be a great spot selection.
Also don’t be afraid to fish the current! I have had as much success if not more in wintertime current. Depth charts can be your most important tool in finding the deep parts of the river; especially if you have no clue what the layout of your river is. I have learned so much about my river by reading depth charts, and I am still constantly checking out new spots.
Make the Most of Your Bites
Capitalizing on your bites is SO IMPORTANT! Your chances (generally) are limited to get a fish in the winter so you need to hook those fish that bite. The bite can be very finicky in the winter. Small taps pick up and drop, and slow runs are all common types of bites. I find the best way to capitalize on these bites is playing it safe. When you get that first initial bite, pick up that rod and feel the fish. Usually you can tell if they are slowly running, or mouthing the bait. Once you are convinced the fish has the bait, give it a few more seconds. Don’t get excited and set the hook too early, because that may be the only bite you get.
It’s not uncommon for me to wait 10 15 even 30 seconds before I set that hook. Make ABSOLUTELY SURE that fish has the bait. Don’t rush the hook set, feel the fish, then commit. You will be surprised how many people I have seen jump the gun in the past. If the fish wants to eat, then he will, just give him some time.
How Long Should You Wait?
How long to stay in one spot. This is quite a controversial topic for many. The “rule” is usually if you don’t get a bite within 15-20 minutes in the winter time than move. I have tested this theory multiple times on my body of water and found this is not the case. Yes moving every 15-20 minutes gives you a higher chance of finding a dense population of fish. HOWEVER, I have found usually waiting for an hour to 1 1/2 hours is best. The bite slows down anyway in the winter, so the fact of the matter is you probably will be waiting longer than usual.
Finding Consistent bites is the key. Sometimes I fish 4 hours in a spot and get 4 bites. If you are getting bit every hour, or every 30 min, or 45, that may be a sign you have the right spot. If you like getting up and moving every 15 minutes then so be it but, give those spots a chance. Say the bite consistency is once every 30 min, but you moved after 15. Get what I’m saying? You never know what could make its way over to your bait.
Cold Weather Gear
Last but not least you want to be warm out there. Winter fishing can be long and cold! In my area the temps get to the teens so it can be very cold outside. You want to always be safe and make sure you have warm clothes. I suggest long Johns, a thermal shirt as your undergarments. After this I usually put on some fleece pants, and a long sleeve shirt. Next I finish off with a warm hoodie, and lock it all in with a ski and rescue suit. I also forgot to mention I wear a beanie, neck gator, and warm gloves.
The ski and rescue suit keeps the warmth and heat close to my body, and prevents heat from escaping. Also it is very wind proof so you don’t need to worry about a wind shell. I have spent many cold nights layered up and was rarely cold. So layer up! And don’t be afraid to bring extra layers if you feel you need it!
Cold water catfish can be very tricky. One day you can’t find em, the next day you can and they aren’t biting. It can be very hit or miss but it is imperative that you maximize your chances.
May I also note that these tips do not guarantee anything, as every body of water is different.
I hope I was able to help you all get some valuable information on catching catfish in the winter. It can be very tricky, but with the right spot, bait, and technique, you can get on some quality fish.
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