Summertime, And The Fishin' Is Easy

By Ted Peck - July 29, 2015
Channel cats are a wonderful fish for folks just realizing "endorphin" ends in "fin" in what can become a lifelong passion which knows no bounds. By following a few simple guidelines becoming proficient in catching the "whiskered walleye" can provide the confidence to graduate into catching more exotic species.

My first paid guide trip was nearly 50 years ago, chasing cats on backwaters of Mississippi River pool 13. I think it paid the princely sum of five bucks-roughly $1.3 million in today's dollars.

When I started catfishing commercial dipbaits were not even on the horizon. "Stinkbait" was the moonshine of the catfishing world, conjured up by strange and mysterious men who skulked silently into the darkness when approached by other humans.

My stinkbait "connection" was an old River Rat named Beezey Guenzler. He's been dead for 20 years now and I'm still afraid to reveal "secret ingredients" he said was in his bait.

Thirty five-or maybe 40-years ago I met dipbait maestro Clarence "Sonny" Hootman. His bait was even better than Beezey's concoction. So good and so consistent that the formula hasn't changed that much to this very day.

To this day, Sonny's greatest lament is losing the formula to a bait he called "golden glue". He sent me a big tub of this stuff to try. I believe golden glue was perhaps the greatest dipbait in the history of the universe.

Sonny has been trying to recreate this masterpiece ever since. I have too, although never privy to the secrets which remain a Hootman proprietary family secret.

Sonny's basic Super Sticky channel cat bait is the base of my concoctions. But the quest to re-create golden glue is about as likely as giving the Iranians a brick of Black Cat Firecrackers and having them create a functional nuke.

Sonny's isn't the only irresistible dipbait out there. G & S, Bowkers and a couple of others are also nearly infallible.

Time of day isn't important. Put a good dipbait in front of those whiskers and get ready to rumble.

If you're a serious cat chaser this column will be the piscatory equivalent of preaching to the choir. Those who still see catfishing as fishing instead of going catching might find some inspiration in the following diatribe.

The first consideration in a surefire forktail fandango is location. For the next six weeks or so riverine channel cats will locate in snags and deadfalls with a rocky rubble or hard bottom, a moderate current and 4-12 feet of water.

This is information is both critical and true from the shallow Sugar River to the mighty Mississippi.

When you find a spot with all of these habitat parameters exist the odds are 50/50 that you'll hook up within 15 minutes after lines are set. I have used Sonny's Super Sticky catfish bait almost exclusively for years, tweaking the product just a little bit as conditions dictate.

I have so much faith in Sonny's bait that if a bite isn't forthcoming in 15 minutes, I move. Sometimes this move is to another area with the aforementioned habitat parameters. Other times it may only be a few feet to achieve different orientation on the drift pile.

Catfish location changes to a degree throughout a 24 hour day. From dusk through the night the whiskerfish will either move to the end of the driftpile closest to shore, or slide upstream to shallows and riffles commonly known as a feeding shelf.

You'll also find them on the shore end of the snag on a rising river. But if river levels are stable or dropping, the cats tend to slide out toward the end of the snag during the heat of the day.

Often there is a current seam which produces the most action, with cats stacking up in a line like a SWAT team about to force entry in a crack house. The most efficient way to locate this seam is to anchor cross current, setting lines from one end of the boat to the other. Three lines are allowed per angler in Wisconsin.

I like fishing dipbait on plastic worms expressly designed for this kind of fishing. The worms come pre-rigged on a mono leader, with a small treble hook on one end. Slide a half-ounce egg sinker on your line, and then tie on a snap swivel. Clip the mono leader to the snap and you're ready to fish.

All dipbaits are oil based, with the oil coming from cheese-the primary ingredient in dipbait. Oil and water don't mix. Use a stick to coat the worm with bait, then hang it in the water for 20 seconds to allow the bait to adhere to the worm before casting.

Cast the line a few feet upstream from the driftpile or snag, tighten the line and set the rod down. When lines are set, check the time. If you don't have a good bite in 15 minutes, move.

Once cats start biting the action will eventually slow because you've caught all the active fish. When you haven't had a SOLID bite in five minutes, it's time to find another snag. Not talking a "fiddler" bite, rather, a serious rod-bender.

Bring a roll of paper towels with you on every trip. Use a paper towel to blot the worm dry before applying more bait, this is a reference to that oil and water thing.

Ideally, dipbait consistency should be like a very thick milkshake. If the bait sits in the summer sun it can become runny. The optimum cure for this situation is adding cattail fuzz.

In cold weather the bait can be too stiff. This can be remedied by adding vegetable oil.

Sonny's is essentially dip-and-play right out of the tub, serious river rats feel compelled to add to the ingredients. This dipbait comes in two flavors-blood and cheese.

Although the Code of the River precludes offering precise changes to the recipe, I'll tell you my catfish box contains sardines, garlic oil and turtle livers. Space prohibits information on preparing the catch for the fillet knife. The ideal scenario is allowing the captured catfish to swim for several days in fresh water to remove any "muddy" taste.

Those catfishers who have already learned the value of commandeering the family bathtub for this purpose have likely found no wisdom in the preceeding words. Beezey Guenzler used to keep his cats in a spring-fed hole next to his whiskey. I don't think his cabin had running water, let alone a shower or bathtub.

These folks have also experienced the epiphany that dipbait aroma can't be easily removed by sitting in a bathtub anyway-- adding credence to using this porcelain fixture as a cleansing pond rather than for human hygiene.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.