— by Albert McBee
Giant Blue Catfish are alive and well in Oklahoma. The only things that keep a fisherman from catching one are: (1) tackle; (2) technique; (3) bait; and (4) knowledge.
Let's start with tackle...
Giant Blue Catfish were not born large. They started out as 1/4" long fry and slowly developed into trophy sized fish over a period of years some may approach 50 years of age. Over those years, these fish learned how to survive, and how to keep eating without finding a sharp hook in the food.
For the smaller, better-eating specimens, a simple, inexpensive spincast reel on a medium-light action rod are sufficient for landing a mess of fish. But we're talking about TROPHY sized Blue Catfish. These are fish that are 20# and larger sometimes much larger. The ones that I target approach the weights of adolescent children!
If you fish from a boat in relatively open water, a good 7 foot medium action casting rod works well with a good quality levelwind reel filled with a minimum of 20# test high quality line. My preference is to a 7 foot medium action fast tip graphite rod for sensitivity, an Abu Garcia 6500C or Quantum Iron reel loaded with 20# or 25# Trilene Big Game. I like the pink line for visibility, but the green works just as well.
For those of us who fish from the banks, a different stance must be attained. The bank means rocks on the bottom and snags in the water. You must be able to put enough pressure on the fish to keep him clear of those line-cutting obstacles. I use a 10 to 14 foot medium action surf rod like a Zebco SWSport with an Okuma CN45L loaded with 350 yards of 40# Trilene Big Game. This reel will handle heavier line, but it's a trade-off with casting distance. The 40# will not break easily and is very forgiving with abrasions. I have had fish break off on this line, but generally it was because I had the drag set too tight to allow the fish to run.
I don't use expensive rods or reels because my kids may borrow one from time-to-time, and I don't have to get a loan at the bank to replace one if a big Blue Catfish wins the tug-of-war and drags the rod in over the side of the boat.
In general, if you decide to target these big creatures, you gotta gear up for them or you'll lose the battle.
Ok. You've searched the pawn shops, scoured the Wally World, and looked at all the fishing tackle catalogs you can get your hands on. You've got your rod, your reel, your line and terminal tackle. You're ready to go fishing. You drive to your favorite lake and look at it from the road. Where do you go? Where do you start?
Whoa. Back up a little. You're in too big a hurry. You didn't do your homework.
Purchase a lake fishing map from your local dealer or bait shop. That's a good starting point. Study that map thoroughly and try to memorize the general layout of the creek channels, and the location of the underwater humps in relation to the points and creeks of the lake. Those are key areas to find Blue Catfish.
If you have a boat, turn on the depthfinder and locate those underwater humps. Cruise around them to find the perimiter, and look for clouds of baitfish. When you find them, throw out a marker buoy. Come about and anchor 20 yards or so upwind of the marker using a slip-float and fish your bait of choice around the marker or drift your baits back over the area. Don't worry about looking for echos designating large fish. In specific, look for tight balls of baitfish as opposed to scattered baitfish. Baitfish in tight balls are under attack from larger fish. Note the depth of the ball, and drop your bait offering just under the level of the baitfish.
The same technique works for the creek channels. Slowly cruise in the channel looking for stressed baitfish. When you find them, throw out a marker buoy. Come about and anchor 20 yards or so upwind of the marker using a slip-float and fish your bait of choice around the marker or drift your baits back over the area.
Unfortunately, even the best depthfinders on the market will not identify the specie on the echo, so be prepared to boat a mixed bag possibly containing trophy Flathead Catfish, big striper or striper hybrids, drum, and a host of other fishes. Have a net ready a BIG net.
Undeniably, in waters west of the Mississippi, shad and other forage fish are the basis of the Blue Catfish's diet. In waters east of the Mississippi, the blueback herring and other members of the herring family make up a large portion of the diet.
Whatever is the prevalent species of baitfish in the waters you are fishing, it is the bait of choice. Some western lakes have an abundance of redear or bluegill and no shad. Most have a huge forage base of shad. Since I am familiar with the western lakes (West of the Mississippi), I will use the word "shad" for the prevalent species or the bait of choice. Feel free to translate that species with whatever the prevalent species is on your preferred water venue.
Live shad or sunfish is always the freshest. Flathead Catfish prefer live bait almost to the exclusion of all others.
My favorite target, Blue catfish, are not so picky. They cruise along under the baitfish waiting for an individual shad to drift away from the group. Usually, that shad is exhausted, injured from attacking predatory fish, or chill-shocked. It's an easy meal for Mr. Blue.
Try to emulate that dying shad on your terminal tackle. Use a light weight (one oz or less) on 10# test leader below a 3-way swivel. Use a 4/0 to 6/0 circle hook on a 2 foot leader of the same test as your main line tied to the center swivel, and the main line tied to the top swivel. Cast the rig out and allow it to drift slowly down in an arc to a level below the shad ball. Hold it there for a maximum of 5 minutes, then slowly raise it in one foot increments until it is higher than the ball of baitfish. Repeat as long as the baitfish is balled up under you.
Change your bait often use a head alone, or a fillet, or the gizzard. Keep changing up until you find the combination for that day.
Don't forget to try other baits as well. Punch Bait often outfishes natural baits.
Knowledge begins with reading and studying your target species. Experience is the teacher. Get out there and use the knowledge you have gained and get some experience.
Also, hire a guide who specializes in the species you want to catch, such as OK Charter Service out of Bethany, Oklahoma, and you'll learn much more.
Tight lines and good fishing.