by Daniel Kiazyk
We were in the period I like to call the "dog" days of summer; The sun had shone bright and strong for over a week and even the grass and leaves were starting to wilt from the oppressive heat. I had recently had a great deal of success "cattin' doing the night shift, but another "micro season" was beginning to emerge on the Red.
Each year about the end of the first week in August a gradual shift starts to occur on the river. Goldeye, our normal cut bait for cats, starts to have its good days and its not so good days. Goldeye themselves become a bit harder to catch and cats in general seem to become a bit more finicky with any particular bait.
It's about that time that I'll consider switching over to a "new" weapon – frogs. Not such a big secret, but a timely change. Why frogs? It would seem that the subtle shift towards frogs corresponds with the life cycle of these amphibians. Having laid their eggs in late May, frogs start to move out of their nursery into the larger environments by about the end of July. The number of frogs that actually move into the system is enhanced by the searing heat of late July. The small swamps, ditches etc. start to dry up forcing frogs to move to other watery environments – the Red River being one environment with a relatively constant amount of water. All of the latter is to a great degree dependant upon the summer and the amount of heat/dryness that we do see…..some years it's not as pronounced as it is on others..(and frogs don't surpass goldeye as a bait of choice)
Catfish are opportunistic feeders, they'll take advantage of many different sources of food as they become available. It's surprising how focused cats can become during this or that particular micro-season. In the spring I've tried Goldeye and to no avail. Suckers, which are abundant in the system at the beginning of the season, are a preferred bait. Later on as suckers move out of the system and goldeye move into the system cats will capitalize on their presence. Finally during the latter part of summer, I've seen their focus on frogs become so acute that frogs will out-fish any other bait hands down.
So, it was that day when I had a couple of guests out on the Red for a day of cattin'. My plan was to start out the day to see if there were any bait preferences for that day. Not so surprisingly our first cat took a sizeable chunk of cut bait. I thought that we were on to a pattern for the day. After a few more minutes at that particular hole (with no luck) it was time to move on.
Our next stop was to set the tone for the rest of the day. Still not positive as to what the cats were keying in on that day, I decided to offer frogs and cut bait. Well if we had stuck with just the cut goldeye our day wouldn't have been the same.
In our new spot, we caught three good cats at or a bit smaller than 32" (approx. 18 lbs.). It also became apparent that the cats would key in on bait that was cut or mangled wee bit. Also significant for size of cat was the amount of bait offered. Generally one frog is enough. However, on that day, two frogs (I would put the 5/0 hook through their heads) were more effective.
At our next spot, having arrived at some conclusions about how the cats were behaving, we began in earnest tackling some good cats. At first we saw a "double" with two fish over 20 lbs. The difficulty I'll often have in this context is being able to unhook a fish fast enough to get the net under the next fish. In most instances, I'll un-hook in the net and not even touch the fish when making a release. However when folks want measurements and pictures, the situation is complicated a bit. In the latter situation I'll put the first fish at my feet on a real rubber "cat mat" and go net the next fish. However a 20 lb.+ cat with a 5/0 or larger hook in their mouth tends to be a little more than aggressive; they're down right ornery. When the second fish hits the mat the first seems to get a bit excited and I'll usually take a few good swipes from cat 1. Once all the measuring and photos are done we'll quickly and gently put the big fish back to swim another day.
With a few doubles under our belts, I decided to move up into another area where I've caught a few cats over the years. Generally, I'll leave a hole after three fish, but on this day, we would see more than nine good cats from the same hole (the best being in the 24 – 25 lbs. Range). Once in position, the action quickly heated up to my surprise as I was netting the first fish, my rod took off from where I had laid it to rest. Luckily, the $250.00 outfit was stopped from going for a long swim by the reel catching on the edge of the transom. The fish that had been netting was quickly brought in the boat. I let go of the net (it fell into the river, but to my surprise it floated because of its fiberglass handle). I then dove for my rod and reel and fish that was hanging precariously out of the back of the boat. Success! And luckily (after handing the rod off to one of my guests) I by chance just grabbed the handle of the fleeing net that I had previously let fall into the river. Now if you think that last sentence was complicated you should have seen what I was doing in the boat! All had ended well as my guests had helped me through this situation by bringing in all fish that had been hooked.
A special day it was for "all" on board. The cat attack pattern for that day had focused on a particular bait. Knowing a bit more about the "frog cycle" was an important component in unlocking that behaviour. My guests were pleased with their specialist performances that day. From my point of view I had survived a fun cat attack.……….