Cats When It Crests
by Daniel Kiazyk
2002 was a very strange summer on the Red River. The River crested two times in July before finally subsiding in early August. Some said it was a summer to remember yet others said it was a summer to forget. From a Fishing perspective it was like "déjà vu" a couple of times. The funny thing was that this repetition of rising and falling waters meant for a lot of repetition of patterns, patterns that produced.
Perhaps the first "anti-reflection" that hit home early this particular season was that the cattin' was not going to be like every other summer. Nope it sure wasn't! The fact that the flow, levels of water, trash were indicative of spring conditions making this a summer that wasn't going to be like others that we'd had for sometime. Were the cats gone? Of course not! Could they be caught… Certainly! The difference was that we had to decipher a new puzzle of where the cats were and how we could get at them when the water was cresting..
What were the conditions that made cattin' a bit tougher this summer than other summers? Current posed the greatest challenge. Anchoring a boat in high water/current conditions is always a challenge. As the water rose, anchoring next to the channel or on the flats became more and more difficult. As I said on many occasions the key to successful angling is being able to adjust and not go fishing with some successful memory. It was in this vein that two new angling solutions suggested themselves to this new situation.
Firstly a good anchor was in order, navy style anchors just didn't cut the mustard in these higher water conditions. One anchor that did work was a homemade "special" that I'll always bring out in high water instances. The anchor includes 2 ½ feet of steel pipe with four cultivator shovels welded at a 45 degrees angle to the end with a 3 feet piece of chain welded to the other. This anchor digs then but can be pivoted two free itself in most situations. Another similar design involves 15 mm Rebar welded at the bottom to create a sort of grappling hook look. These particular anchors allow a boat to sit in areas where most other anchors can't hold. It's especially frustrating when you know there are fish holding in an area but an ineffective anchor doesn't allow you to sit and test out your theory. No anchor, unlike what I've read in some articles is a "silver bullet" for every condition we'll encounter on the river. On the contrary even the anchors described above would have to be cut on occasion because they held too well!
Secondly and most importantly in this new set of circumstances there was going to be a necessity to change where we were looking for fish. It was this latter change in view that opened the door to seeing where the cats were at in this cresting environment.
So what were the cats doing? To be quite frank the cats weren't actually giving us an easy pattern to follow. I'm not too sure, still to today, where they all went… However there were some things that helped to establish a few new patterns in this particular summer's higher water conditions.
Initially, if we spent any time near the main channel we not only had to anchor our boat differently but we had also to anchor our rigs a little differently. Most effective in this new situation were weights that were flatter and even more effective were the flat weights that had a hole through their center. Another consideration was that you would need at least three ounces of weight to hold the rig and bait down.
Secondly the length of leader normally effective at this time a year was far too long. Shortening the lead seemed to decrease the number of snags encountered in comparison with the longer leads we'd normally use. The shorter leads would not allow the bait and hook to move around as much reducing the hooks chances of catching stuff other than catfish. In addition to reducing snags we also hypothesized that by shortening up the lead we were keeping the bait's action more confined (the scent trail it follows would also be more confined perhaps not dissipating as much as it would with larger movements) allowing catfish a better opportunity to home in on our offerings.
Thirdly we had to choose our spots with a little more care. A few locales lent themselves quite nicely to this past summer's higher water conditions. It was strange watching anglers who had fond memories of parking their boats in front of the dam's curtains only to be blown away by the larger volume of water that was coming through the river at that time. With most of the dam's gates wide-open the latter was not a very good option.
In this fast water environment an inconspicuous locale showed up with a healthy population of catfish – "the locks" This locale held many cats even on those days when the water was cresting. Fishing in this locale, however, had some pitfalls. Firstly shore fishermen use the water just before and in front of this area. Common courtesy dictates that you don't drive over their lines. As obvious as this might seem, believe me I've seen some boat anglers do this with the resulting shore anglers responding with a variety of interesting expletives. Finally fishing in this area means that if the lock master asks you to leave you ought to do so as you really don't have a right to be there (unless you're actually using the locks to go up or down stream) and you're allowed to be there at the lock master's discretion.
A little further downstream are two smaller spots one on the east side and the other one behind a local establishment on the west side. Both of these points slowdown water to create a sort of "backwater eddy" – sorry Ed I just had to throw that one in. These areas were holding goldeye and shiners, two items high on a channel cats menu at any time of year. The strange things about these obvious fish magnets was that fish weren't always present even though the bait was there. On a regular guiding day I would check either spot, but wasn't shocked if fish weren't present at any given time of the day. However there were those days and particular times (early morning and later evening were best) when these spots would produce most of the action for a day's fishing.
A third area that became an active locale for catfish this particular summer was the floodway exit. Usually by the beginning of July the floodway has begun to dry up leaving its exit into the river high in dry. This was not the case throughout much of July 2002. The floodway was actually in use on two occasions when the gates were opened for the two crests that came that summer. I've written about this locale elsewhere as a summer locale to try after heavy rains, but this past summer was allowing us to fish as though spring had revisited us. Why is this particular location such a predictable fish magnet. It follows that with the water falling over the spillway oxygenating the water below, many of the predators we target would be chasing after the bait fish that would gather in this oxygen rich water.
A final locale on the main river that proved to be more effective than not were areas that were a lot shallower than we were used to fishing at this time of the year. At times it seemed as though a lot of catfish held in good numbers very close to shore… particularly in the morning and evening. There were, however, days when the fish would bite in this area all day or then again they wouldn't bite at all … Go figure that's fishing eh!
Ok during the summer 0f 2002 the fishery wasn't the same as it's been most summers, but this didn't mean that cats weren't around. On the contrary, with a little flexibility and and attention to a few significant details we were catching nearly as many catfish as we'd normally expect on the Red River on any given summer day. Cats on the Red when it crests…. yup can do!