by Daniel Kiazyk
I've written a bit about this before and I've even had the odd chuckle seeing anglers cattin' with their walleye outfits (ultimately to their demise), but something clicked this past season (in a positive way) with regards to light tackle and cattin' (in some specific circumstances). Don't get me wrong, being under equipped for cats is no fun. Good equipment relevant to the task is of the essence but there are those occasions where something "light" is definitely to your advantage.
Context (heavy duty)
Where I fish, tackle has to be tough… e.g. cat rods, big fiberglass-graphite composite rods and bait casters reign. I was recently told by a local repair shop that my reel's warranty was voided because of the braided line I had spooled on my reels (I do this to give my less experienced guests a better chance at landing that big cat). I generally do not fish anything lighter than 12# but 15-20# is more the rule of thumb. Rods are generally of a medium heavy to a heavy action with a fast tip and a mid/lower section that can load up under pressure. Tackle has to be tough if it is to stand up to the daily grind of fish in the 15-25# class. Neophytes to cattin' can be tough on equipment especially considering some of our techniques/locales that they are fishing for the first time. One broken rod a season due to angler error is not out of the ordinary.
To contextualize even more for those who don't have any idea about why we use the equipment we normally do, cats will use the current to bull dog down and away from the boat. Having spent much of their life in good current makes these fish very muscular and then there's that big forked tail that gives these fish an ability to accelerate powerfully away from the boat with just a few movements.
Why then the reference to "light" tackle? These fish for the most part, require heavier tackle. But, that's where I had one little epiphany this past summer. The river was up and extremely turbid due to a series of heavy rains. Considerably more run-off water was entering into the river at various points. The river itself had risen a couple of feet making some areas previously abandoned, quite attractive to cats. My quandary was how to approach these cats who were frequenting these clearer water run off areas which were not very deep. My heavier outfits did not seem to offer the finesse necessary to take cats out of this skinny and slower water. Cats in this water seemed extremely tentative, picking up the bait and putting it back down. My heavier outfits were just not cutting it in this new context.
The situation called for a lighter outfit able to deliver a smaller bait package into this slower shallow water. It followed that my 7 foot medium light action Berkley rod and my E-5 Quantum spooled with 10# Trilene would become the appropriate tool.
We moved into proximity to where we thought the cats would be holding out. Some other boats had set up on the line between the turbid water of the river and the clear run-off water area. It didn't appear that they were having much luck as they looked with some disbelief as we moved into the shallow clear water. My idea of moving into this water was to present a smaller more stealthy rig loaded up with bait that was probably washing down in the run-off water – frogs or worms. I loaded up a small #4 bait holder hook ( a walleye hook that I'll often use in the Fall) with 3 fat, juicy night crawlers on an 18 inch leader with a ¾ ounce Lindy weight (a basic Carolina rig). It wasn't five minutes until I had an almost imperceptible pick–up. My approach was to let the fish take the bait (this was one of those instances where an immediate set or a tight line was not appropriate) and set after a couple more seconds. It worked quite nicely with a 36" fish coming to the boat after a good battle. The fish was hooked by its outer lip and was released to swim another day.
To the disbelief of the other boats parked on the mud line (and one boat offered me a net, but I'll tail cats with a glove) skinny water cats can be extracted using lighter/more finesse oriented rigs/tackle. The only caveat to this approach would be to avoid using this approach where there was too much current and bringing a cat in short order is not feasible. Hence I'd propose that there are never really the hard and fast "faux pas" for cattin' only an ability (or inability) to surmise what's going on in this or that situation and an ability or inability to adjust accordingly. In this case cats" light" had an interesting ring.