Catching Spawning Catfish

Ah, the dreaded catfish spawn. Many anglers simply hang the rods up and quit until they hear other anglers tell them it is over and the fish are feeding again. This is the wrong way to look at the spawn. There are always fish to catch, you just have to know where to look and what the signs are.

Catfish spawn between 70 and 74 degrees water temperature. If the water temperature and weather remain stable once the spawn starts, it can be as short as a couple weeks and you are back in business. Should there be cold fronts and storms that cause swings in water temperature—especially dropping it—the spawn can be a long, drawn-out process.

Poorly coordinated cats

The good news to all of this is that not all catfish spawn at the same time. While the spawn is in full swing, there are some late fish that are still in pre-spawn. As everything progresses, there will be some fish coming out of spawn as the last ones go in. When this happens, just fish as if you are in a pre-spawn pattern and don’t look back.

The best way to target these fish is working the faster current seams, outside bends where the current swings into holes or outside edge of snags that have good current on them. The pre-spawn fish that have not yet set the nest will be actively feeding. Normally you can catch them without messing with any spawning fish.

Unfortunately, there are those times when most of the fish are on the nest and sitting tight. This is what most anglers think about when the spawn is on. There are ways to catch these catfish and get them back on the nest with no harm, no foul.

Once a female drops her eggs, she moves off to recover and often does not eat for a week or two. It is the males and small fish that are not spawning yet that will be willing participants in this bite.

Fish the flats

The first place to look for spawning catfish is shallow, out-of-the-current flats with snags on them. These spots tend to be tight to the bank and near back eddies where the current is least. They are the easiest spots to find and fish. Keep a keen eye on your lines. In these areas of little current, the fish sometimes pick the bait up and carry it around rather than take it like we are used to. You must be able to see the slightest pickup and be ready to reel down on the fish.

The second place to look is holes along the cut banks of rivers. The fish will back themselves into these holes, so you need to be right on the bank. These are by far the most fun areas to fish but are sometimes difficult to find under the water. Using your side imaging, you can see the dips, holes or even snags stuck to the bank that may hold fish. Throw the bait right up to the bank and keep an eye on the lines. If you get too close to a nest, sometimes the male will pick the bait up and move it out to the current seam. You will see the line moving side to side, but the rod will not bend. When this happens, you must reel down or set the hook on the fish to catch it.

The last spot is rocks. Most anglers hate fishing near rocks. Catfish love to spawn near rocks. While it can be a nightmare to fish, it does hold active fish a lot of the time during the spawn. If you can’t seem to catch anything without snagging, you can float your baits along the rock ledges with a bobber. The next key is keeping the bait moving slowly enough for a spawning catfish to grab it.

A couple things you must consider when fishing during the spawn is sit time and spot rotation. Spawning fish are not all that interested in eating so you have to consider sitting longer on spots to allow the fish to find the bait and decide to eat the bait. Sometimes an hour sit on a spot can be the answer to catching nicer fish.

Because there is less active feeding and very little migration during the spawn, it is advisable to rotate spots with many days between fishing them. I have found, over the years, that giving spots a four or even five-day rest between fishing is best. If you catch fish one day, there is no guarantee that there will be fish there for a few days until more filter in.

Conservation

Many frown upon catching catfish during the spawn. Most of the time you are fishing for fish that have not yet spawned or fish that have come off the spawn. Given the time of year, it is imperative that all big fish be immediately released back. Once a male protecting the nest is taken home, the nest will be lost. If that same male is put back right away, he will go back to the nest. We have documented this many times here on the Red River as we have caught the same male protecting the same nest three times. Another time we caught the same tagged male on the same nest twice.

Spawn can be a rough time. You probably will not have the best day of catfishing you have ever had. With some patience and knowing where to go, however, you don’t have to stay home.