Catfish Fishing in Michigan

By: Kirk Howes

Walk into my house and right there in the main entry you’ll see my fishing poles. It’s easier to find them that way.

michigan catfishIs it strange that I feel anxious at the sight of my catfish rods? The level wind reels strung with fat mono and olive sized egg weights are a pure joy to me. The hope of a monster catfish is an obsession, although I am quite happy with the eaters I catch.

But, lets slow down and talk first of “how-to”, before we lapse into the holy blabber a certified cat man surely does when he talks of “his” fish.

For the most part catfish are greatly miss-understood, although in recent years more has been written about them. All ages of people fish for them with equal success They fight hard, bite readily, and make great table fare.  Catfish fishing in Michigan can be quite fun.

They are a fish that family gatherings are planned around; fish of legends, fish of tradition, fish worthy of more respect than most give it.

To catch catfish, you can use a simple worm rig fished close to the bottom. Each body of water has it’s own good spots, a typical good spot is deep water, close to a shallow flat.

Just like more famous game fish species catfish are predators. They are eating machines at night, they will eat whatever they can get their mouths around. Their head makes up 1/3 of their size. Catfish can crush a small carp with ease, think big baits for big fish.

Catfish will feed around the clock, however for the best “feed” times try nighttime. The bigger the fish, the later the bite. Big cats don’t get big by being foolish. They wait until late when all seems quiet to us, they will easily swallow a whole carp 2 pounds plus on some waters. Imagine the carp, active all day rooting in the sunshine, dropping it’s guard for one minute on the “night” river and becomes cat food in an instant!

Equipment used for catfish varies from a snoopy rod to salt water type gear. Any medium action rod will handle eating sized catfish, but for the monsters that roam the water after dark you’ll need heavy gear.

Many a fisherman has hooked a big catfish only to be left wondering “what was that”? I have hooked cats that ran 100 yards downstream, with me pulling as hard as I could. It never phased them the least. Those fish are the legends I fish for, once you tie into a legend you are forever lost.

Catching a 40 pound catfish, if only to pat it’s ugly head and say goodbye, is something only a few have had the pleasure of. You might laugh, but wait until you have the chance to go “one on one” with a monster.

My personal gear consists of a matched pair of Ugly Sticks, 7 footers with ABU reels. I use 20 pound mono and sometimes, a Penn reel loaded with 30# line. I will be checking out the newer “fire line” lines this year, I’ve had fish snap 20# mono as if it was sewing thread.

Hooks are 2/0 –4/0 heavy wire, “strong” is a key phrase with these fish! Rigging is a simple egg sinker or bell sinker. The fishing line is threaded so it slips through and the weight doesn’t impede the bite. Anything that the cat feels strange may cause it to become shy. I use hand snelled hooks with a 20”-36”, 20# leaders.

Bait can be anything from worms to cut bait. Big shiners, Smelt, Bluegills 4-5” are all a favorite of mine. Fresh bait seems to work best, and I will sometimes squeeze bait until it kinda pops. I think this allows the juices to travel down stream. I often fish for the bait earlier in the day at the same hole I’ll fish that night. A woven wire fish basket keeps the bait lively until nighttime.

If the water is muddy don’t worry. Catfish have more sensory receptors on their body than any other type of fish. I have read they can smell through their skin.

You’ll want some good bank rod holders. Big cats can pull your rod into the water in seconds! When they cost $150.00 you tend to want them to stay on dry ground. Rod holders can be made from PVC pipe and a 2’ length of ¼” steel round stock and a couple of stainless hose clamps. The PVC is laid next to the round stock for about 8”, the two hose claps are used to secure them together, you’ll end up with a 16” tail of ¼” round stock to stick in the ground. You can vary the size to your needs, Cheap and easy.

You’ll want a salmon sized net to for big fish. Once a big cat looks you square in the eye you’ll think twice about sticking your hand in its mouth.

Ok, we have the gear ready to go and we picked a good hole on a river or lake. Now we put the baits out and wait. I use bells to keep in touch with the bites, on some rigs I use the clicker mode on the reels too.

Now what? Well, build a fire, open a cold drink, or eat a sandwich and wait. Good liars are welcome souls around the catfish holes; they keep time at bay. The night passes easy with them. Although sometimes it is nice to just settle back on the bank and watch the glow of a lantern. The shadows dancing in the night add to the excitement. This New World of night fishing can test the nerves of those used to daytime adventures. Sometimes you run into raccoons and skunks. Even the odd large snapper will investigate what’s happening. Be careful!

The river has it own pulse at night, the woods sound a strange chorus and the night sky becomes the world’s largest drive in. The experience is one I would recommend to all who have never tried it. In the summertime you’ll share all of this, bug dope is a plus. I set the lantern away from me then too. The lantern’s glow seems to draw the bugs to it and they burn up.

Night fishing is peaceful. That all passes as a bell sounds off, it will ring, trust me. Set the hook! Catfish have a tough inside mouth you need to SET the HOOK! Then hang on, a big catfish will pull harder than you can imagine. Cat’s will turn and run for the deepwater and snags, if any are present. Never give them slack, but let the drag work them on a high rod tip. Many times they will make several runs so don’t rush it.

To keep, or not to keep? Pictures are good, eat the 2-8 pound fish. You decide, but let me remind you that any fish over 30# is rare in most places. I believe the Michigan State record is about 58 pounds. In Michigan we have two types of catfish the Channel Catfish and the Flat head Catfish. I’ve never caught a Flat head, I hear they like live bait, and grow very large. I understand that most fishermen get the Flatheads on the SW part of Michigan, they are on my list of things to do.

To clean a catfish I simply filet them then skin them like a walleye. Cooking them is easy. Cube the filets into 2” pieces, dredge in a batter and drop in hot oil.

So if you find you time is limited during the day, go find some cat water and relax. Relax? That is until the creature on the other end starts ripping line! And you are screaming “It’s a Monster”.

2 Comments on Catfish Fishing in Michigan

  1. catfishhunter39 // July 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm // Reply

    Would like to see more

  2. catfishhunter39 // July 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm // Reply

    new on this site,so here we go. I have did a lot of catfishing on the sag bay and would like to hear from other cat fishermen out on the bay. the biggest one i have caught was about 30# off rose isl.

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