SUMMER SEASON CATS
by Daniel Kiazyk
Water temperature plays an important role in the location and feeding habits of big channel cats. Knowing that cats generally move into their summer haunts as water temperature rise is a significant and timely insight. The angler with this knowledge of basic channel cat movement, can capitalize on some of the most consistent cattin' of the year. Those other anglers who continue to fish those spring/early summer hot-spots find that as summer progresses, there are fewer and fewer fish to be caught. Fish by memories and you'll end up catching fewer and fewer fish. Realize that the seasons are a changing and you can keep right on making memories. Keeping in tune with the seasons means more and consistent cats.
As the warmest days of July radiate with heat and humidity, the channel cat's world below water surfaces goes into a predictable change. Granted there will always be cats in areas they frequent in the spring, cats and their location become very predictable as summer progresses in relative stability.
Initially, the one component of that summer world is the "channel/hole". These areas are very particular aspects of river structure. They are those deeper areas within the deeper part of the river that we normally associate with a channel. These areas are significantly deeper and localized. This does not mean they are not part of a river's channel. On the contrary they are like a spot on a spot in the main channel of the river. Cats will move to these particular holes/channel and will situate themselves throughout these deeper localized areas. It is such an important concept at this time of year that on many occasions, while fishing these holes/channel we have found that cats will even go so far as to situate themselves in specific areas of a hole/channel. The more hungry, more aggressive, larger cats generally situate themselves at the front of the hole. Cats in the middle of the hole will still bite, but the action will not be fast and furious. It also follows that cats at the back of the hole will be the least aggressive.
Now there will be exceptions to the previously described situation. If, for example, a "tonne" of rain falls and the river rises for a few days, cats will change their location in holes. Reading a bulletin board just recently (and having fished the river during the same period of time with some frequency) I understood a bit about why an angler had not caught as many fish as he expected to catch on a trip to the Red. Fish had moved because of rising water and current. The angler and his group were not fishing the spots channels had moved to with the increase in water flow – generally the back of the hole (they move to other areas when the water rises but that is another article!).
The "Channel" is that other part of the catfish world that invites consideration at this time of year. Fish do move from hole to hole and it follows that the best mean of transit is the general channel. These channels are like highways by which fish activity becomes localized at specific times. Generally speaking, the channels will not always hold fish. Three opportune occasions to work the channel are: "Morning" as fish seem to be setting themselves up for the day, and "evening" as fish are once again starting to go on the prowl. The evening "channel" bite can be the best and most consistent of these latter two as the fish seem to move more and feed more heavily in the evening at this time of year. The other time when the channel can be productive is prior to a change in weather. An incoming low pressure system can put fish on the move. But, this movement seems to subside when the low actually imbeds itself in the area. This past summer I had an excellent experience of this weather related channel cat movement when I saw that an extensive front was moving in and the cat bite remained consistent up until the heavens opened up. At that moment the bite stopped and I too was forced to leave the river because of the inclement weather.
Locational strategies to employ in this mid summer context in the Lockport area will include three areas: Holes, channel, the locks, dredged areas leading to this area and the channel itself. Fish will situate themselves in any or all of these three areas. Key to catching fish is a determination of where they are and in what concentration. It goes without saying that if you don't move you're wasting your time. I find that on most occasions during this period, moving every thirty minutes after a lull of 30 minutes is a good rule. Two, maybe, three fish from a hole is all you should hope for – and don't fish too long in a spot even if four came out of a specific hole. It seems that these top of the line predators need to have enough space (and forage I'd imagine) so there will only be a few active fish per hole in mid July.
Perhaps the only consideration not made here for mid summer fishing location (and it is significant) is that there are many fish to be caught when it's dark. I find that the transition to a night bite depends upon the summer. An extremely hot summer will push cats to being more active at night. It follows that if the summer is mild/cooler there is not as great a transition from the evening to the night bite (or at least there is no necessity to fish the night shift). Night fishing is very special and requires particular reflection and that too warrants an article of its own. If you do angle for cats at night, do so "safely: PFD's, lights, a clean boat, and knowledge of the area being angled are all a necessity! There will be those unfortunate accidents where you'll hit a submerged dead head ruining your prop but that's fishing eh...
Seasoned cat men will pay attention to locational changes brought on by the change in the calendar year. Getting a fix on channel cats is a matter of eliminating unproductive or no longer productive water. In most instances cats will settle in to a particular pattern which can be discerned with a little experience and experimentation. Figuring out the summer bite can be a challenge, but I guess it goes without saying if it wasn't a challenge, why would we do it with such passion!