Catfishing on the Lake or River Bottom.
By M.D. Johnson
Growing up years ago, the thought of using a bobber when fishing for channel catfish never would have entered my mind.
True, my dad and I caught plenty of catfish while drifting big minnows under bobber rigs for spring crappies, but it just never clicked.
Catfish, I believed, were bottom dwellers exclusively. If you wanted to catch them, you fished bait on the bottom. Period.
Well, times have changed, and so too has my way of thinking about channel catfish tactics. I still spend plenty of time plunking night crawlers or crawfish or chunks of chicken liver on the bottom; however, these days, you’ll never find me without a half dozen slip-bobber rigs in my catfish tackle box.
It’s true, channel catfish spend the majority of their lives hugging the bottom. However, it’s nice to be able to suspend a bait, live or otherwise, slightly off the bottom to enhance scent dispersal. And channel cats can, at any given moment, be found throughout the water column, top to bottom.
Bobbers allow a bait to be presented precisely as opposed to exclusively on the bottom.
Rigging a Slip Bobber for Catfish is Simple.
I start with a traditional Dacron adjustable bobber stop and a 3mm bead. This is followed by an unweighted balsa wood float, such as Cabela’s 3/4-inch Pro Float, a 5mm bead, and a Size 10/12 barrel snap swivel. I hand-tie my own leaders, which consist of 18 inches of 30-pound Cabela’s Ripcord Pro braided line, a pea-sized removable split shot, and a 1/0 Daiichi Bleeding Bait Octopus style hook.
All this is fished under a 6-foot, 6-inch Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 medium-action spinning rod set up with a Cabela’s Tournament ZX Spinning Reel spooled with 30-pound Ripcord. This outfit works well, as it has enough backbone for bigger cats, but is short enough to allow working in tight quarters.
My three favorite scenarios for using slip-bobbers for catfish are: rocky holes below low roller dams, brushy areas or log jams on rivers, and high-water conditions, such as flooded trees.
Often, the area just below a roller dam on a small river will be a scour hole that is deeper than the water directly downstream. Here, I’ll hook a lively 4-inch chub or fathead minnow through the tail, and work the bobber rig upslope from deep to shallow water. Catfish often lie on the edges of these scour holes waiting for the bottom eddy to carry food to them.
Slip bobbers are easy to work in and around log jams and brush, a favorite warm-water haunt of summer cats.
But give me high water and 100 acres of recently inundated trees, grass and maybe a rural gravel road, and I’ll float 3-inch shrimp doused with Catcher Company’s Smelly Jelly from sunup to sundown. Catfish will take advantage of these new surroundings, gorging themselves on insects, night crawlers, and anything else they can get their lips around.