Bait options for the Red's Channel Cats
by Daniel Kiazyk
I have been asked the question on a number of occasions and felt it might be a good idea to reflect a little on what bait options there are for the Channel Cats of the Red River. Bait options are just that, as they provide the angler with choices that can be made to provide for the conditions of possibility for success. In some instances just to jog a person's memory of what they can consider as bait may open angling possibilities that may not have previously been considered.
Take for example one incredibly hot early August day when after many moves and much concern an angler expressed themself to me saying they had tried their best spots and bait but to no avail. My first question was to ask what they were using for bait. They answered saying that they were using shrimp and some frozen goldeye. I had asked if they had ever considered using frogs. Their response was unique insofar as they said they'd heard of the possibility but had not tried it to that point in time.
The prior example speaks volumes for the importance of "what kind of bait" and "when" you might consider using it. Bait, of course, is but one part of the puzzle but it's just that – a part of the puzzle that can make or break a day if you don't have a handle on some general options for inviting ol' whiskers to come in for a chew.
At the beginning of the catfishing season in early may I find that catfish can bite on a variety of baits. Firstly shrimp does work and is very easy to obtain. I try to pick shrimp with a low 40's count meaning they are a bit larger. I also prefer they be raw. To match up with these shrimp I like to pair them up with a #6,7 circle hook or #5 J-hook. Taking your time to thread the shrimp around the hook can have some very positive consequences. The advantage to shrimp is that they are neat and tidy and can be used whenever it's necessary. Shrimp for that matter works all season long and it should on most occasions have a place in your bait box.
OK, shrimp are an all-around good choice for bait but there are other options to consider than the simplicity and convenience provided by the prior. It is certainly important to consider that perhaps there are other options that fit in with the bait available in the catfish's realm. Perhaps that is what is key for what is being suggested here. What is being suggested here is something like what Cesar Millan does each and every week with dogs throughout America. Thinking like a cat and know what they eat is important to considering what might work at any given time.
In the spring it is a good idea to go out and find some suckers to freeze for bait. These fish are very much a part of the catfish's world and are more than likely a part of this omnivore's diet. But they are especially apt to be a part of a catfish's diet because of what happens to many suckers when they go to spawn. A percentage of suckers meet their demise as a result of this process. The spawn which usually takes place during the middle of April means that when the first large rains of Spring come along any fish that may have died in these feeder creeks are washed into the main river. As such they provide a first wave of plentiful food for the ever hungry channel cat.
Next on the menu for old whiskers would be the fish that seems to arrive early to mid June in the Red River, the goldeye. Goldeye are mysterious little critters that at times can be incredibly easy to angle but on other occasions incredibly difficult. In particular they become difficult to acquire around the second week in August (once the Red River's mayfly hatches get into full swing). The prior is a difficulty as goldeye become so pre-occupied with a particular source of food that the regular float with a worm becomes almost useless. I'm speculating on the hatches becoming a primary source of food at this time in so far as it's what I see happening. It is a more probable food source than the emerald shiners that also show up at this time. If it's the shiners that are the reason for the goldeye's apparent distraction from the regular float hook and worm presentation then frozen shiners should work to catch them…..and they don't.
Whatever speculation might provide a reasonable explanation for their sudden disappearance is of no importance as the goldeye start to bite again towards the end of August and can again be used successfully to tempt channel cats to bite. A very strange occurrence seems to also happen at this particular time in so far as goldeye – if available – don't seem to garner a whole lot of attention with the cats – very strange indeed!
A very interesting twist in the forage cycle that should be considered to the advantage of the avid catfish angler is the use of frogs. Frogs more than likely start to migrate to the river in August as the creeks, sloughs and ditches start to dry and catfish being as opportunistic with forage that might be available eat frogs with notable aggression. The frog bite generally doesn't last more than the month of August but as a period of opportunity this bait option can be found with some consistency and numbers at this time of year. It seems as though the Frog bite picks up as the goldeye bite diminishes to some extent. Coincidence? Who knows..... as very little research has been done regarding the preferences of catfish vis a vis food sources at this time on the Red River.
Of course there are other prepared options for catfish that do and don't work. I have found that those which are based on "blood" are for the most part the most effective. Other formulations do work but with less effectiveness than those baits discussed above. Hotdogs, cheese based dips, chicken livers all have a potential place in the bait box. However it'll be suggested here that you have a variety of these possibilities as they may have no impact whatsoever on the Red's sumos. The one element that makes the Red hard on some bait options is its current. I've seen some prepared baits washed off in a matter of ten minutes.
As a hybrid to the last point I've taken the opportunity to do some experimentation over the past couple of years. In particular my experimentation has focussed on some of the spray baits that you can spray onto your regular offering. What I've done differently in this context has been to "soak" bait in the formulations for a half hour or more to allow for a comingling of the essence of both baits. The results? Well let's say there are some prepared essences that are more effective than others… Perhaps not the most scientific of approaches but at least it suggests a means for determining if a bait is a deterrent (given that they bait it is being used with is at least an attractant).
So it goes without saying that the Channel catfish's diet does seem to show some preferences through the season. There are some baits that do work well throughout the season and others that seem to work better than others at particular times of the season. Perhaps it might be suggested that he best practice for choosing this or that bait would be to operate with some general ideas but ultimately leave the catfish to tell you what they really want.