Many fishermen consider catfish to be terrible tasting scavengers that put up a mediocre fight.  And that's just fine with those who enjoy the Delta whiskerfish for his habitat, his tenacious battle, and his delicious flavor.  This is not a fish for everyone, and they'd like to keep it that way.

(I have a special affinity for the catfish because it's the first fish I caught.  I grew up in rural Illinois.  As a boy I would hop my back fence and follow a stream through the woods for a mile until it led to my favorite farm pond.  Fishing from sunrise to suppertime was my lazy escape for a summer day, and frequently my family had to come looking for me when night fell.)

Catfish are excellent eating, in fact.  I suspect the reason someone doesn't like catfish is the same reason a lot of people don't like fish at all: poor preparation.  That, and overcooking will ruin a person's taste for fish for life.  There is a good link at the end of this page for culinary catfish tactics. 

As far as a mediocre fight, this is an unfair and inaccurate assumption.   No doubt it's from boaters or people who use heavier gear, possibly angling for sturgeon or striped bass.   A sturdy freshwater setup is all you need.  Currently my catfish reel and rod setup is a Daiwa Jupiter Z 4000 on an 8-foot Daiwa Eliminator.  I use 12-15# test monofilament depending on where I'm fishing and the amount of snags in that area.  Believe me, when I'm pulling up a feisty catfish from the depths, trying not to get hung up on the rocks or stuck on a mudbar, it's more than just a decent battle.  It's close to a fair fight, as all the lost fish and lost tackle will attest.
 


 
 
 
There is little question that catching catfish in the Delta is a simple proposition.  Yet anglers often come away with only a few fish or a day's work or, worse, nothing at all.  Here are some points that will ward off the old Skunk.

1)BE MOBILE.  Once upon a time I was fishing at Whiskey Slough.  I had caught several catfish and was feeling proud of myself.  While I fished I noticed this elder statesman in an old battered pickup truck.  He would throw in a line, wait a little, then repeat it, and then drive on.  The area is flat and you can see for miles; I watched him for hours, moving slowly down the road until he disappeared.  I smiled to myself, thinking, "here's a guy with no sticking power at all."  At the end of the day I caught up with him and stopped for a chat.  I showed him my prized seven or eight fish.  He walked to the back of his truck and picked up a fish basket that was stuffed with huge catfish.   Since then I've caught more catfish by having the sense to move on if the bite is slow after, give or take, 15 minutes.  Naturally this is something that is harder to do when you have a party of fishermen or children.  But find a way, compromise, make it an adventure, a quest.  You will catch more fish.

2)BRING ALONG A VARIETY OF BAITS.  My best baits in the Delta are clams, grass shrimp, and fish (sardines, mackerel, and anchovies).  I've noticed that clams and shrimp are better in waters with slower movement and shallower depths, and fish baits work better in deeper, faster waters.  But those are trends only and sometimes I get results by switching strategies.  The point is, one bait may work when all the others do not.  By the way, I'm not much of a fan of gimmick stink baits or chicken livers, though others have found them effective.  Experiment and find what works for you.  Here two "bonus" tips:
A)You can get most of your bait at an Asian market; it's fresher and cheaper than anything in a baitshop.
B)If you have frozen clams, place them in a coffee can and fill it with hot tap water before you leave.  By the time you get to your spot, the clams will be thawed, open, and ready to put on a hook.  They will be the same consistency as a hard-boiled egg white.  Secure them with elastic thread and you're set.
 

3)KNOW THE WATER DEPTH AND THE TIDE.  You can find depth maps for the Delta in many baitshops.  The one put out by Fish 'N Map is excellent.   You can target catfish better if you know how deep it is where you are fishing.  For example, if it's a big channel catfish you seek, then you are wasting time in shallow slow water.  Or if it's windy out and your pole is shaking, you want to go deep where that extra movement is not a factor.  Tides may be mellower in the Delta than in the Bay System, but their importance is equal.  Moving water is better than still water for fishing, it's a fact.  And my own experience, for what it's worth, is that the most productive fishing occurs in the change in tides.   For catfish, the bottom of the tide can be the start of agressive feeding activity, a bite on every cast for up to two hours straight. 


PART II: A BRIEF PRIMER ON TECHNIQUE
& OTHER STUFF

 


 
 

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