Cattin’ by Moonlight Beats the Heat and Everything Else

Izaak Walton, whom most consider to be the father of modern sport fishing, was a purist. Rare drawings from that period show him with a live worm at the end of his long bamboo rod. I’d be willing to bet that old Izaak also fished on a calm, cool moonlit night whilst fishing for catfish.

Catfishing at night not only beats the heat—it beats everything. The daily grind and the troubles of life lose all their steam in the soft beam of a big moon. Of course, it’s a great time to put a bunch of summertime catfish on the stringer, and you might even work up an excited sweat now and then battling a real brute, but the best thing about catfishing at night is just being there.

Midnight through early-morning light is the best time for catfish. Photo: Ron Kruger

Purist fly fishermen and macho bass masters ought to give it a try now and then just to experience the magical mood, especially if you go alone. More may be merrier if a party is your passion, but other people can be a distraction. If you do go alone, you settle in with the stars and feel closer to creation, making it a spiritual experience that puts your priorities in perspective—both humbling and uplifting at the same time.

If you are bringing the kids along, each one may ask many questions during their nighttime catfish caper. But all their queries can take on a more profound, thoughtful tone. The quiet waters and the twinkling heavens can have a way of calming any adolescent confusion—mine too. It can make a great time to talk about God and goodness, and not about ghosts, gobblins and video games. Now, when my grown-up son does manage to make it down my way, the thing he wants to do most is nightfishing for catfish. He’s a good fly fisherman and handles baitcasting equipment well, so I surmise that during those ebony catfishing trips we bonded the most.

Cattin’ at night can involve a secluded shoreline, a forked stick, a comfortable chair and maybe a cold drink or two. A lantern is good, but a small campfire when onshore is better. You can think about a lot of things while waiting for a bite, but the longer you’re there the more everything seems to make sense.

Over the years I’ve experimented with various catfish baits and had come to the conclusion that nothing caught catfish better than fresh chicken livers. But that was before I went out one day with Malcolm Lane.

Lane has been specializing in guiding cat fishermen on Kentucky and Barkley lakes for more than 40 years, and has created a concoction that I call a “catfish cocktail.” Day or night, it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. This “cocktail” includes live leeches and frozen shrimp that he picks up at a small bait shop each morning. He peels the shrimp and threads them onto a single hook. Then, he threads the hook through the head of the leech for about 1/4 of an inch, bringing it back out so that most of the leech is left to wiggle freely and vigorously below the shrimp.

“The shrimp provides the smell, and the leech provides the action,” Lane says. “Catfish can’t resist the combination.”

He made a believer out of me.

Catfish, especially channel catfish, can’t resist this catfish cocktail. Lane also cautioned that not just any shrimp would do.

“The ones you buy in the store don’t work very well because they usually have some type of spices added.” What he buys is shrimp sold specifically for fishing, mostly to coastal bait shops. The leeches are a bit of trouble too, and must be kept in cold water in a cooler. They’re also as slick as eels, so it’s a good idea to keep a rag handy to wipe them down before you try to hold them to insert the hook.

This catfish cocktail is a little more expensive and a little more trouble than other options, but it is well worth it. Besides, when you’re cattin’ in the moonlight, taking the extra time to put together a special cocktail for catfish doesn’t seem like much trouble at all.

The nightlife is the good life, especially when catfish are the quarry.

Ron Kruger has been communicating the outdoor experience for over four decades. He has worked as a full-time guide for trout on the North Fork, for crappies and bass on Kentucky Lake and for smallmouths on the Current River. He has served as editor of three outdoor magazines, and owns a patent on a fly/lure called the Desperate Diver.