High Water Cats
By Daniel Kiazyk
With all the changes we've seen of late related to weather many of our rivers are no longer as predictable as they once were. The Red River over the past 10 years or so has seen more high water events than we've seen over the past thirty. The new normal is to expect the unexpected and that our drier warmer summers can be cool and a lot wetter than we've seen in the past. Well, not necessarily, wetter but prone to extremes where it'll rain enough to bring either the Red or Assiniboine to flood level in a very short period of time. Why? .. well farming practices, drainage strategies used by municipalities and even global warming are some of the factors at play. OK, having said the prior still does not mean we're going to stop fishing for cats but it does mean that we will be required to changes some of our tactics and gear choices to make a catfishing day out on the water as successful as it can be.
So what kinds of changes to tactics are required when we experience higher water events?
A first shift in tactics is going to be where we set up to fish for the Red's great channel cats. Out of necessity it is important to realize that the river's current will move where the cats themselves are going to set themselves up when inhabiting different parts of the river. I've found that channel cats will move in closer to the shoreline near to structure that will hold what they might be foraging upon. A good check is to look at your sonar unit to see if there are any of the smaller fish that the cats might be foraging upon (not to ignore the evidence of seeing the cats themselves). So in general it is important to consider moving a bit closer to shore.
Within that last point there was a mention that moving closer to shore is a first line strategy but just doing so will not necessarily yield positive results. Even better is to consider those areas closer to shore that resemble those structure that we would normally fish for cats when the river is at normal levels. Slight drops in depth, changes in bottom composition and the recognition that end of turns or the back side of a turn may all now be places that catfish may show a preference to locate themselves at. Being flexible enough to develop a pattern for the day where you are fishing will have an impact upon your success. If they're not in one place go look for another. Such a strategy is a little more methodical and requires that you keep searching...
Perhaps the one tactic that challenges me the most in high water circumstances is knowing when to move or to stick it out. Generally the rule of thumb a lot of folks will follow is to remain in a spot for at least thirty minutes. With higher water I'll generally not stay on a spot for more than 20 minutes. The rationale behind this shorter stay is that with the increased flow scent from our bits will move more quickly to our intended targets.
As for gear changes a whole range of considerations come to bare upon high water catfishing. Firstly the length of rig used for bottom oriented rigs are going to be a lot shorter than what we'll use during normal water seasons. A large part of the reason for shorter snell length is related to the bait that'll be at the end of the rig. With a longer snell the bait will tend to roll or tumble more in higher current conditions if the snell is longer. Shortening up the snell tends to offer less opportunity for movement pinning it to the bottom.
Secondly, weight used to hold down rigs to the bottom will tend to be heavier. But just to make rig weights heavier is not going to be the only consideration required when thinking about weights. I'll suggest that shape of weight is also going to be an important consideration. A weight that will move and not stay in the same place under the increased current conditions that are being fished need to be changed out to be flatter and more water dynamically shaped (in particular this latter characteristic will allow the rig to settle more quickly to the bottom when cast out).
Thirdly, it becomes especially important to not cheap-out on the other terminal elements to the rigs that we'll often use. Good swivels will offer the capacity to allow for baits and rigs to spin (an inevitability) in higher swifter water conditions. Super sharp hooks are going to allow for more exacting hook ups. It's interesting to note that both of the components here are important parts of any occasion where you are fishing for cats.
Fourthly, and this consideration is one that will depend on preference and capacity to make changes that can be quite costly, line diameter and strength should also be on the block for consideration. It'll become immediately apparent that line diameter will impact how quickly and how easily you are able to get a rig down in places where you believe you can make contact with cats. Some lines are narrower in diameter but may suffer from a lack of abrasion resistance or knot strength.
Finally bait needs to be thought of a little differently. Bait tends to "wash-out" a lot quicker when the current is increased. It will be necessary to change your bait a little more offen when the current is higher. Another simple add-on when using smaller bait such as shrimp is to anchor the bait to your hook with a piece of plastic. Putting a piece of plastic on your hook to hold bait on your hook will mean you can rest assured that your hook isn't just down there with nothing for cats to chew on..
So there are considerations that you can include to improve your odds of success when fishing for catfish when the water is high and swift. Keeping in mind some of the suggestions mad here will certainly improve your ability to get that offering down to the Red's cats in higher water circumstances. Will they bite? Well that's the reason we keep going fishing…...despite the high water!