GEARING UP FOR CATS
by Daniel kiazyk
I've seen it often and it's not funny (although the guys on the river will hoot every time it happens) when the visitor with his walleye rod spooled up with 10 lb takes on one of our larger channels on the lower Red. Visions of “The Old Man and the Sea”, a monumental struggle with a feeling of potential victory (and subsequent frustrations/futility) often runs through my head. But I know better… The result more than often is a high pitched loud “snap” (when graphite goes its usually a good “pop”) followed by the obligatory explicatives !#@** and @#!!. This scenario, which has played itself out more often that I would like to remember, does not have to occur. On the contrary other options exist that allow the angler to enjoy his/her catfish outing. When I say options I refer to tackle available to either the once-in-a-while cat angler or the grizzly old coot who spends night and day hunting for the biggun'. These tackle options don't require that you have sponsorship with one of the big tackle companies as we often see on the big time fishing programs. Rather they are modest investments, which if made once with a modicum of thought there's no reason to not expect season after season of reliable performance on the best of cat waters.
Rods have come a long way since the day of the hardware store fiberglass rod (but in an ironic fashion, they have been reincarnated in a different form for cattin'). For the average river cattin' expedition a 7'-8' flipping stick is all that is required. But as cat fishing has grown leaps and bound in popularity, a new generation of composite and fiberglass rods have appeared on the market. These rods 8'-9' feet in length are able to take the enormous load that a 20-30 lb Channel cat or a 50lb Flat or Blue will put on a rod. These new rods are tough, capable of being knocked around and showing up when it really counts. These new rods are not necessarily the most expensive and they have been designed with cat fishing specifically in mind.
In the end, perhaps what is most important when thinking about buying a cattin' pole is to consider whether or not the rod is sensitive enough and whether or not it has the requisite strength. Sensitivity usually corresponds with the graphite and some composite rods. Strength has usually been associated with fiberglass. Ultimately, and despite what manufacturers are saying, the prior seems to be a fair generalization. But that is all it is; A generalization. Some heavy graphite flippin' sticks have backbone when required and some larger fiberglass poles (most are of a composite nature —fiberglass/graphite) which are remarkably sensitive. Perhaps it's better to generalize as to what a cat pole should do while catfishing: It should be able to feel the first bite and the rod should load up not to slowly (allowing the angler to get his pole out of a rod holder if necessary) and it should have the backbone if a fish needs to be horsed just a little. Finally, the jury is still out as to whether cork handles are better than EVA handles. EVA is easy to clean and holds out well for those who handle bait, fish etc. Cork, however, allows the angler to feel what is transferred from the line to the rod. The choice for many anglers is sensitivity versus the functionality of an EVA handle.
Rods are a personal thing – despite what some might say about you needing this or that quality or this or that new development. Whatever factor makes you more effective out on the water that's what's right for you. Just making yourself aware of some of the options might help you to choose that one piece of equipment that will make you a better angler.
Generally a bait caster is what many cat men prefer. These reels often feature a smooth drag and adequate line capacity. A thumb-bar definitely aids in casting (as does the appropriate rod). This does not preclude reels with a casting button on the side of the spool such as the Abu Garcia 6500 C3. Once again personal preference is paramount. Choosing the most reliable and rugged reel, which will give good service over a long period, is important. I've seen many reels just give out after one season of cattin' on my home waters, the Red and Assiniboine rivers. Spending a few extra dollars in this area is an investment that you probably won't regret. Besides I've found that if they do break down you can have either parts and or repairs made at a shop place close to you.
A spinning reel is an option if it is heavier in construction and can take on heavier line. Some cat men like a spinning reel, as they are easier to cast. And the latter is an important consideration. If you are flinging off your cut bait every second or third cast you're wasting time. Or if you have to untangle a “tangle up” after every second or third cast you might consider a heavier spinning reel as a viable option. Hence two factors seem paramount when choosing a reel. How does it cast and how is its drag system/ line capacity. A reel is more than a “line holder” as one of my buddies tells me. Rather both considerations can make or break your day and should be brought to mind when purchasing a reel.
Much development has occurred in this area over the past 6-7 years. Various generations of the super line have come and gone and mono has undergone a couple of new manifestations. A low stretch abrasion resistant mono is a plus to the cat fisherman. Tough conditions can fray line and cause the loss of a good fish if you are not super vigilant with nicks and scratches normally incurred while cattin'. Castability is the other concern with mono. Does it get off the spool aiding the angler to get his rig out to where he wants it to go? One new development is mono which helps cat men is the new fluorescent lines. These lines when used under a black light can really be helpful with night fishing. Being able to see the line at night under a black light really helps to pick up any bites, nibbles or bumps. Fishing at night which has primarily relied upon feeling has now an added dimension of sight --- making the angler that much more effective on the water.
Super lines, finally, have really changed the cattin world, as they are incredibly strong and extremely sensitive. They do pose some challenges. Super lines don't all spool well on the reel spool under pressure without digging in to the line that's already there. You're next cast out can be a problem as line does not feed off the spool as easily as it should. Super lines also tend to tangle a bit more easily than mono – hence a knife is required to cut out the problem ( I also use see a knife as a necessity because this line is so tough to break!). My own preference is with super line. It really telegraphs what is going on down below and it doesn't seem to fail nearly as often as mono. This doesn't mean mono doesn't have a place e.g. nighttime fluorescent.
Cattin equipment has changed – for the better most feel. The equipment referred to here is not too expensive and once purchased should give the cat man few, if any problems for many years to come. Choice ultimately has to be made by the angler given the specific conditions in which he plans to fish.