Dog Day Catfish

by Free Speech on July 2, 2010

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

River Currents
by Gary Engberg
©2010 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Matt Jpnes with a big catfish caught during the dog days of summer.

Matt Jpnes with a big catfish caught during the dog days of summer.

Summer is here and soon we will be at that time of year when fish are harder to find and often hard to catch. When you have day time temperatures in the 80’s, it makes comfort on the water a hard thing to find. Warm weather and warm water can increase weed growth, encourage algae blooms, and at its worse deplete oxygen levels in lakes causing fish kills. These “dog days” of summer don’t help fishing, since most fish have moved to deeper water and mid-lake structure earlier in the summer while searching for their “comfort zone.” Fish now have a tendency to move around more and roam chasing schools of baitfish out in the main basin of most lakes. The vast majority of fish that were in the shallow water early in the season, have moved to their mid-summer haunts and only make forays into shallow water to feed during low-light periods and at night.

Wisconsin and much of the country have numerous lakes and rivers that have good catfish populations. Maybe, the reason that catfish (channels and flatheads) are so plentiful in this part of country is because many anglers are out fishing for bass, walleyes, muskies, and panfish. Catfish don’t get the respect that other fish species receive which is odd because they give a good fight and are great table fare. I think that some of the negatives around catfish is that they are harder to clean and many anglers don’t like handling them because of their barbs which can cause a painful sting.

There are a few anglers that do well fishing in the warm and hot weather by adapting to the fish’s ever changing summer patterns, but many more anglers have their fishing success significantly decline as the summer progresses and the temperatures rise. But with catfish who are one of the last fish to spawn, fishing gets better as the weather warms and things heat up! Summertime catfishing is a way to extend your summer fishing while getting some excellent eating catfish fillets. Most Wisconsin rivers like the Mississippi, Wisconsin, Wolf, Fox, Rock, Crayfish, Pecatonica, Kickapoo, and Yahara Rivers all have good waters for summertime catfish. Many of the inland lakes in Wisconsin also contain good numbers of catfish, especially if they have a river draining into the lake and running through it. All of the lakes in the Madison Chain and the Winnebago system are excellent locations for summer catfish. If you travel around the many rivers in Wisconsin, you’ll find that people who live in close proximity to rivers are usually catfish anglers. These “river rats” have learned over the years to appreciate catfish for the reasons that I previously mentioned; their fighting ability, ease in catching, and again their great taste. Many of the catfish that I catch on the Wisconsin River are caught while fishing for walleyes or other species of fish. These river ‘cats are usually caught on live bait when anchored below a river snag-hole, when lindy-rigging, or trolling and drifting with nightcrawlers and spinners. If you plan to go fishing for catfish, I’d suggest that you go out toward sunset and plan to stay out well after dark. Catfish move up on feeding shelves, rock bars, and into shallow water after dark and throughout the night making them easier to find and catch.

Large flathead catfish caught on Lake Wisconsin by Greg Thieman

Large flathead catfish caught on Lake Wisconsin by Greg Thieman

Catfish anglers always seem to have some “secret” concoction of stink bait to catch these fish. These mixtures often contain cheese, chicken livers, fish, shrimp, and blood mixtures that are “cured” for a few days to gain their distinct odor and consistency. A couple of the better stink baits are; Sony’s and Uncle Charlie’s Catfish Bait. A problem with these mixtures is that as the weather warms its harder to get these stink baits to stay on your hook. There are now devices like sponges and tubes that hold the bait longer on the hook and keep you from constantly re-baiting with stink and cut baits.

I’ve talked to many “old-timers” who swear the best catfish baits are small bluegills, sunfish, chubs, and even nightcrawlers. If this is the bait that you want to use, then you have to go out before fishing and catch your bait for the night. To catch bait, use a light wire hook, 4 # test mono, and a piece of worm. Another bait choice is to use bait cut from ciscoes, suckers, and chubs which both channel and flathead catfish will readily eat. These rough fish are cut into V-shaped pieces about an inch and a half long and hooked on onto a No. 2/0 red catfish hook. The rest of the equipment and gear that one needs is a good stout 7 to 8 foot rod (Berkley makes a good one that is reasonably priced) combined with a quality baitcasting reel like a Garcia Ambassador 6500 spooled with 30 to 40 # Berkley Big game monofilament line. On the end of the mono, put on a slip or egg sinker (1/2 to 1 ounce), tie on a barrel swivel, and finally a two foot lead to the hook. Catfish are usually on the bottom, so that’s where you want your bait. This rig should work for most catfish that you’ll run into in all of the Midwest.

There are endless locations to fish for catfish in Wisconsin and there are usually some close to your home. Try anchoring near wood, deep holes, river bends, and the mouths of bays off the main river channels are all good locations to start your catfish adventure. Again, I suggest that you fish at night or early in the day because catfish are much more active after dark and easier to catch as they move into shallow water. Try giving catfish a half an hour to bite when you start fishing likely locations because this is enough time for the bait- sensitive catfish to find and hit your pungent bait. If you don’t have any action in a half hour, move on to your next location. Bring along some good lighting, plenty of bait, and a chest cooler full of ice to put your catch in if you don’t have a live well or are fishing from shore. Shore fishing for catfish is common and can be productive on most rivers and lakes in Wisconsin.

Both the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers are full of catfish of all sizes from the smaller channel catfish to the big flathead catfish. On the Wisconsin River, the area directly below the Prairie du Sac Dam is a good place to start. The scour hole below the dam is over 40 feet deep and always holds catfish because the water there has an abundant oxygen supply which can be hard to find in some waters during the heat of summer. The waters below the Prairie Dam to the Highway 12 Bridge contain many good locations for catfish from a boat or from shore. Another good and local spot is on the north side of Lake Mendota, where the Yahara River enters the lake near the Mariner’s Inn. You’ll find water 20 to 25 feet deep here and catfish like this area year-round.

The smaller catfish are great eating, if you cut out the mud-vein on the fillet. Soaking bigger fish in milk overnight also is another way to prepare catfish and can take away any “fishy” taste. Let the big fish go and keep the “eaters” from 15 to 20 inches long. Fishing at night for catfish is a great way to spend a summer evening and another way to catch fish during summer’s hot months when fishing can be difficult. You may always contact me for advice and current information at

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