The Hole Strategy and Fresh Chicken Livers for Catching Catfish and video “Catching Catfish on Hook and Line with Gary Harlan”
Editor’s Note: Every catfisherman has his own strategy for finding and catching numbers of big catfish. We talked with five catfishermen to learn catfishing tactics that consistently will produce large cats on major river systems.
Some years ago, I fished with Joe Burton of Tennessee, an avid catfisherman his entire life. Although he’d tried fishing for bass and crappie, nothing seemed to satisfy his fishing desire like the big cats did that he caught in the middle of the Tennessee River.
“When you’ve got a 20-pound-plus catfish on your line that’s squealing your drag and putting your boat downstream, then fishing for crappie and bass doesn’t compare to that challenge,” Burton says. “I learned at an early age that if you’re fishing for really-big catfish or large numbers of cats, you have to fish the big, deep holes in the main river channel. I look for deep underwater river ledges that drop-off from 40 to 60 feet where the catfish will be. I’ve caught cats before in holes only 20-feet deep and also in holes 80 feet or deeper. But in the Tennessee River, where I primarily fish, fishing in holes that are 40- to 60-feet deep in the river’s bottom seems to produce the most cats.”
To get his bait down quickly in the deep water, Burton uses 50-pound-test Spiderwire, a strong, no-stretch, small-diameter line. According to Burton, “Not only do I get faster and better hook sets with Spiderwire, but I usually can land any fish that takes my bait. If I get hung-up, I may have to wrap the line around a boat cleat to break the hook free. However, I generally can pull free from the bottom with this strong line. I’ve learned from experience that if you want to catch really-big catfish, you have to use a line that can hook the catfish, hold it and allow you to pull it to the surface where you can net that catfish. If you’re not using strong line, you can forget about catching big cats.”
Burton fishes for catfish that will weigh from 10- to 40-plus-pounds each. Besides heavy line, he uses an Eagle Claw 4/0 Kahle hook (a large circle hook). Since Burton has started using this hook, he’s caught 98 percent of the cats that have hit his baits. To rig for cats, Burton ties his main line to a three-way swivel. On the second eye of the swivel, he attaches a 2-foot-long piece of Trilene 40-pound-test Big Game line that has a second, three-way swivel tied to it. On the third eye of the swivel, he ties 18 inches of 40-pound-test Big Game line and a hook to the end of that leader line. On one of the eyes, he attaches a second 18-inch leader line with a 4/0 kahle hook on it. To the remaining eye, he ties about 1 foot of 40-pound-test leader with a lead sinker on the bottom of that line. With this rig, he can bump the bottom and have two drop lines to catch cats. Although many catfishermen will argue about what’s the best bait, Burton chooses fresh chicken livers for catching catfish. “I think the best ones are the freshest – the ones that have the most color. I’ve discovered that the Wal-Mart in my area has the toughest and the reddest chicken livers around.” Burton has tested other baits against his chicken livers. He’s tried cut shad or shad gut and a wide variety of other baits on one hook and a chicken liver on the other hook. He consistently takes more catfish on the hook baited with a chicken liver.
“One of my other secrets to catching big-river cats is to never anchor my boat,” Burton explains. “I only fish when the current’s running. I use my trolling motor to keep my boat headed upriver and into the current and control the speed at which I slowly move down the river. I bump the bottom above the hole I want to fish. Then, when my lead drops over the lip of the hole, I free-spool line to let the lead fall vertically to the bottom. I continue to bump the bottom through the hole and take up line as I come out of the hole and back up to the main river bottom.” Burton also fishes eddy holes created by underwater points jutting out in the river. “When you see a large underwater point on your depth finder that breaks the current, you’ll usually find an eddy hole behind that point where catfish concentrate. I fish these eddy holes just like I do a bottom break out in the river. I’ll drag my bait across the top of the point, let it drop into the eddy and then hang-on, because that’s where the cats generally will be.” Burton says the faster the current moves down the river, the larger the eddy hole that will form behind the point. He may fish aneddy that runs 300-yards downstream behind a point because of a strong current. The day before I arrived at Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River, Burton had caught 10 cats that weighed more than 100-pounds total.
“Some days you’ll locate the catfish ganged-up in one hole on the river, but you may go back to that hole the next day and not catch a single cat,” Burton reports. “If you can pinpoint eight or 10 holes and fish each one several times during a day of catfishing, then you’ll find and take a couple of big cats.” On an average day of catfishing the river, Burton may put 200 pounds of cats in his boat. Burton also attributes his catfishing success to his watching his Humminbird depth finder, “like it’s a TV set reporting the news. I look for the holes in the river and the catfish that are in them. In deep water, I may spot catfish holding on one side of my boat. So, when I drift back down through the hole again, I’ll line my boat up to drift right on top of the cats instead of off to the side. Often, by watching the depth finder, I can see when I’m about to get a strike.” Burton names the best days to catch catfish, especially big cats, as two days after a weather front has moved through the area he plans to fish.
Today's Video Clip - Catching Catfish on a Hook and Line with Gary Harlan
Tomorrow: Catching Suspended Catfish with Rods and Reels and Jugs with Rick Matlock and Gary Harlan’s Video “Fishing Noodles for Catfish”
Check back each day this week for more "Secrets of the World’s Best Catfishermen"