Milk Run Catfish

By Ted Peck - May 1, 2009
Not long ago a young man asked me which stretch of Rock River offered the best catfishing. The honest answer is 'that run of river you happen to be fishing at any given time'.

The first couple miles above Lake Koshkonong is a great place to get your string stretched. So is that mile or so of the Rock from the Jefferson dam to the school. Fishing around Fort Atkinson is pretty good as well. On a busy weekend you can hide from speeding boats and catch channel cats below the Indianford dam or from the county park up to Afton…if you aren't afraid of a little prop damage.

Between now and Memorial Day when pleasure boats crowd the river the generally quiet run of Rock River between Portland Ave. bridge in downtown Beloit and Townline Road bridge upstream may offer the very best opportunity to wail on whiskerfish.

Over the years I've won a couple of wagers over the ability to harvest a 10-cat limit in one hour. A couple of wagers have been lost here, too. Losses can be blamed on boat position-not the cats. If you put Sonny's super sticky channel cat bait in front of a Rock River channel cat, a bite will almost certainly be forthcoming within 15 minutes. Watching the clock seems counter to the primary reason many folks fish for cats. It's easy to idle away an hour or more just watching the panorama of life pass by on the river. But if your fishin' mission is a catfish dinner, the 15 minute rule is a major key to success. You need to move if there is no serious action in 15 minutes. The move may be just a few yards. It may be a quarter mile. Boat position is the most critical factor in hooking up. Time continues to play a role even after you get everything just right. There may only be a couple of actively feeding fish in your particular location. If an aggressive bite isn't forthcoming within five minutes after the last cat was lead to the landing net, move again.

This strategy for success hasn't changed since angling legend Babe Winkelman and I filmed a segment for his Good Fishing TV show on Rock River 20 years ago. To quote the Babe " You need to make a milk run on these puppies!"

A good place to start is directly across the river from the Star Zenith boat club. The channel runs close to the west shore here and cats are waiting within a few feet of the bank near an old blue dock.

The next hotspot is a little tougher to find because it's near the middle of the river. A depth finder is essential to find the breakline between a mud flat and the clean bottom just to the west of the flat where channel cats cruise all summer long.

Finding this mud flat is easy. It is located due west of the boat ramp at Jerry's Sports Service and clearly marked with a buoy. You'll probably have to reposition the boat a time or two to find the 'sweet spot' of this unexploited honey hole. There isn't much structure on the bottom here. Fish are relating to nuances of current with location changing on a daily-or even hourly-basis. About a half-mile above Jerry's is a sandbar which is the epicenter of summer social activity on this stretch of Rock River. The shallow side-channel which lies just west of this sandbar has several fallen trees which are catfish magnets.

This spot is a great illustration of the importance of boat position. A few years ago Stephanie Klett, the late Dick Rose and I were shooting a TV segment here for Discover Wisconsin. We had the boat anchored up crosswise in the current to better spread the presentation of a half-dozen lines in the water. The exact position of the boat was by design. Ms. Klett's lines were directly up-current from Catfish Central. The three lines which veteran angler and guide Rose were watching were just slightly out of the ball park. Rose knew it. I knew it. The beautiful Ms. Klett did not. She proceeded to give Dick a fishing lesson, hooking cat after cat…while telling Mr. Rose what he was doing wrong. Every man appreciates this kind of instruction from a woman…especially from the perspective of a novice preaching to an expert.

We finished the TV segment just a couple hundred yards further upstream in the east channel above the railroad bridge. There is a hole here which is one of the deepest spots in this run of river. Catfish are always nearby…probably the best spot to win a one hour wager or make a one stop channel cat "milk run".

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.