CONDITIONS FOR CATTIN'
by Daniel Kiazyk
Without a doubt, anyone who has spent a summer cattin' on the same river has also realized that nothing is static in this world. Cattin' on occasion is tough and if you thought you knew it all, you'll be humbled on more than the odd occasion. But, I guess that's why they call it fishing and many anglers put in their time on the river taking up the challenge. Besides, if it were too easy no one would want to do it or at least they would get bored with it. Having said the latter does not mean reliable conditions for cattin' don't exist. There are recognizable conditions which can be taken advantage of by the angler. There undoubtedly are many conditions which will effect your cattin' success but in what follows I will reflect on some of the more obvious situations I have experienced on the Red River of the north over the past few years which have had a definite impact on whether I have experienced a successful day.
Heavy rainfall over a period of time will either turn' ‘em right on or right off. My own experience is that the latter is more often the case than the prior. It would seem that the increased current moves forage around a bit more than normal and the cats follow to places we don't normally associate with summer cats. A generalization in the Lockport Selkirk area is that cats will move up into the heavier current or they will drop back further down the river. Many intermediate holes and the channel seem void of cats as do the front of holes. Generally, we'll fish further back in holes and further back down the river. Also important for the period subsequent to a series of rain storms are areas where run-off water draws cats into skinny, clearer water. Cats will move into these shallow waters looking for washed-in food. Given this new location and the idea that cats are keying in on washed-in forage, the angler can size down baits and fish with smaller rigs. Cats also seem to be a little skiddish to larger offerings so downsizing is significant for this other reason. A smaller rig loaded up with night crawlers or a frog seems to fit this new context quite well (or so it seems the cats have verified on numerous occasions).
As opposed to the latter situation, a long dry spell with its incessant hot/humid weather presents another challenge. Lower water and the warmer weather does not turn off the channel cats. Rather cats set themselves up in deeper channels and holes. In effect, cats actually become very vulnerable during this time as their location becomes very specific and quite defined. Deeper holes and the deepest sections of channel become better places to check for active biters. The bite will also shift from all day to morning and night/dark during this particular situation. It follows that you need not sit out all day and punish yourself in the blazing heat. Set out to fish the morning and recommence in the evening. If you are an experienced night fisherman or know a fishery quite well the night bite can also become very productive indeed.
In a more specific way, there are also areas around the locks which can be effected by how they're used/or not used. The locks area, for example holds more fish behind it when it has water in it. When left empty, (the locks master may be waiting for someone to go up river) there is no flow/current and the Goldeye or other baitfish don't seem to be in the area behind the locks. When water is kept in the locks, water escapes, creating a current to draw in the cat's forage (and of course the cats too!)
One final condition for cats would be to not be static with baits. Certain periods of time (calendar period) have the cats showing preference to certain baits. There are also those instances/after a storm or with the appearance of a new food source (in an unlikely abundance). An ability to be flexible with baits will go a long way to putting a couple of more cats in the boat on most days.
Cattin' is far from a science and more like an art, but there are a few experiences when reflected upon that suggest things to do and others to avoid. Some of the conditions described here should provide at least a starting point for your own reflection on what works and what doesn't. The end result of this process is simple; I'd rather catch a couple more than just a few!