Find Your Hoosier Catfish Hotspot This Summer

The fishing season has started for many in the Hoosier state. Warm weather, summer vacations and weekends away from home mean one thing to them—fishing.

And what is their favorite fish? Catfish.

For the casual angler, summertime fishing for catfish might mean heading for rivers in search of channel catfish. For others, it could entail camping near one of Indiana’s large reservoirs and fishing for channel cats or flatheads. Die-hard catfish chasers might be more interested in heading for big water like the Ohio River and trying their luck for the giant blue catfish.

Regardless of preference, there are plenty of places where these whiskered fish will be biting this summer, including small lakes, large reservoirs, deep rivers and meandering streams. To help narrow your search, here are two outstanding waters to try this summer, each offering excellent catfish with a real shot at a trophy.

The Ohio River

The mighty Ohio River is legendary for catfish, producing huge numbers of channels every year along with impressive numbers of blue and flathead catfish as well. Since it flows along the southern border of Indiana from the Ohio state line to Illinois, it is accessible to thousands.

Indiana’s portion of the Ohio River is made up of five separate pools formed by man-made dams on the river. These pools feature deep water and an abundance of habitat where the catfish live and feed. Blues, flatheads and channels are all common, and some of them grow to enormous sizes.

IDNR Big Rivers Fisheries Biologist Craig Jansen says the Ohio River is a great location for pursuing catfish.

“Each of the pools will produce all three species of catfish,” Jansen said. “It’s all about finding that spot where the catfish want to hang out.”

Deep channels with steep ledges can be hot spots, especially in front of or behind sharp bends in the river. Catfish, especially groups of big blue cats, often suspend in the current.

The last several years, Indiana’s biologists have been working with the biologists from Kentucky to help monitor the Ohio River’s catfish populations.

“Kentucky’s data indicates the catfish upstream of the Cannelton Dam are on average smaller and less numerous than those below Cannelton,” Jansen said. “However, the 2015 Ohio River catfish data showed a better size distribution of blue and flathead catfish than 2014, meaning some larger fish were caught. The biggest blue catfish we caught (and released) in 2015 weighed 66 pounds.”

Catfish anglers on the river use a wide variety of baits, but one of the most popular is fresh skipjack herring, or “blue cat candy” by serious catfish junkies. Skipjacks can be caught from the river with ultralight rods and small jigs. They are also cut into chunks or steaks and are dynamite baits for both blue and channel cats.

Hovey Lake

Hovey Lake in southwestern Indiana’s Posey County is a relatively shallow oxbow lake, which was attached to the Ohio River years ago. Hovey Lake still gets inundated by the Ohio River during flooding and high water, and as a result, every species in the river is also swimming in Hovey, including many catfish.

At 1,400 acres, Hovey Lake is not tremendously large, but it is home to a burgeoning catfish population. Large numbers of channels, flatheads and blues live here. The flooded areas with cypress trees provide good habitat, and the areas of open water are ideal for big catfish to hunt. Gizzard shad, threadfin shad and white crappies all become prey for the hungry cats.

Jansen also monitors the fish at this lake, and reports the catfish are doing well.

“We routinely catch large flathead and blue catfish at Hovey Lake while sampling for paddlefish,” he reported. “In 2013, we targeted catfish with trotlines there and found that catch rates were much higher than trotlines set on the Ohio River—more than three times higher for blue catfish and more than twice as high for channel cats.”

Hovey Lake also produces good-sized catfish perfect for the table.

“The blue catfish we caught here averaged 6.23 pounds, compared to 5.85 pounds on the Ohio River,” Jansen continued. “Channel catfish at Hovey averaged 3.89 pounds compared with 3.11 pounds on the Ohio.”

Large catfish are being reported, with big blue cats and flatheads dominating the fishery.

“We have caught flathead catfish up to 44 pounds at Hovey Lake and blue catfish up to 42 1/2 pounds over the past couple of years,” Jansen added. “Fish in the 20-pound range of both species are sampled fairly regularly too.”

New Indiana catfish regulations

There are some new catfish regulations that became effective in Indiana for 2016. Anglers, especially catfish anglers, should be aware of the new rules before they head out for their favorite fishing hole.

The minimum length limit for catfish has increased from 10 to 13 inches on all whiskerfish caught in streams and rivers. There is still no minimum size for catfish caught in lakes and ponds. Also new this year, anglers may keep only one large catfish of each species per day, statewide. One blue catfish over 35 inches, one flathead over 35 inches and one channel over 28 inches may be taken by each individual angler. Other bag limits remain the same.

These changes reflect an effort to increase catfish recruitment and protect trophy-sized fish from being overharvested. There is an ever-increasing demand for large catfish, especially on Indiana’s big rivers and reservoirs. The new regulations should ensure quality fishing opportunities for everyone for years to come.  MWO