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HOW TO FIND AND CATCH MORE CHANNEL CATS BY TED PECK
 

Dip baits are short plastic worms that are anointed with a cheese-based, catfish-attracting mixture.

   Some folks still think finding consistent success on catching channel catfish calls for having more bait entrees available than the grand buffet at the Holiday Inn. Although every bait, from chicken liver to Ivory soap has its days, there is one concoction which the finicky fiddler finds irresistible every time-- dip baits.
Dip baits (short plastic worms with ridges that are anointed with a catfish attracting mixture) have been catfish killers in some parts of the country for years. Docís Catfish Bait, a product of Iowa, has been around since the 1920ís. Other dip baits with local favor like Sonnyís, G&S, Olí Whiskers and Dunkers of a more modern genre work magic on catfish, too. These baits will produce catfish far from the areas where they have popularity. But the regional bait preferences of local fishermen tend to be deeply set in tradition. It seems that catfishermen are hesitant to try a new twist. Even a twist which will lead them to a gunny bag full of tasty catfish just about every time out.

   The Ď90ís may be a time of change when those who enjoy the piscatory pursuit of this "whiskered walleye" opt for action over tradition. And the action comes fast with dip baits. If a channel isnít working on your bait within 10 minutes after it hits the water, either there are no fish present, or youíre doing something wrong. Stream parameters influence catfish location year-round. But they are especially important to key on during the warmer months when most anglers pursue this species.

Catfish fall hard for dip baits, often bowing the rod deeply on the strike.

   Channel catfish prefer a moderate current and clean bottom, preferably with sand or rock-rubble substrata. They spend a great deal of time relating to deeper areas in a stretch of river called "holes." Frequently these holes are created by an obstruction like a deadfall or the current itself, like an outside bend of the river. The deadfall or snag meets all of the channel catís habitat requirements, including service as a catch-all for various foodstuffs which come floating down-current. But at certain times, particularly early and late in the day, catfish will leave the shelter of deadfalls and move upstream to riffles and the head of a pool to actively forage. At these times of low light you might be money ahead to anchor cross-current above the riffles, rather than trying to position a boat directly up current from a snag. By taking your offering to Mr. Whiskerís front door, the connection between fisherman and fish can be made at the anglerís convenience rather than having to face the handicaps of darkness and insects. (Although a night on a living river is one of the most fulfilling experiences which nature provides.) Catfish movements along the snag are easy to predict according to river level and time of day. If no runoff has entered the river for several days, river level will probably be stable or dropping. Under these conditions youíll generally find fish lying within five feet of shore when direct sunlight is not a factor; Donít worry about depth near shore. A foot of water is plenty, especially in smaller rivers. Fish will move toward progressively deeper or more sheltered water as the sunís presence becomes more evident. By noon youíll likely find them near the midstream end of the snag.

   In a rising river, fish movement is generally not as pronounced. The influx of muddied water into the stream will help block the penetrating power of the sun, while offering the added enticement of foodstuffs tumbling into the water from the bank. Although fishing is almost always good with dip baits, it is superlative on a rapidly rising river or under muggy, unstable weather conditions which precede a summer thunderstorm. Catfish are active just about any time the air temperature is warmer than the water temperature. But youíll find fish at least willing after passage of a typical cold front, too, as cold fronts donít affect river fish as much as lake fish. And cold fronts affect river catfish less than other species because they are profound opportunists. They have no pride. Put food in front of a channel cat and he will eat...or at least chew on the food out of spite...just about every time. Provided you are tempting him with an opiate which is irresistible like a high-butterfat, cheese-based dip bait. High butterfat cheese is invariably the base product in dip baits. But this ingredient is all any serious bait maker will concede. Other ingredients in a spectrum ranging from anise to turtle livers may be in there, too.

   The olfactory orientation of catfish is certainly different than that of humans. What smells like roses to fish smells more like a fermented road kill to us. At least until youíve been fishing with the stuff for a few minutes. Dip bait is messy. No getting around it. When mixed to proper consistency dip bait has the aroma and appearance of diaper contents. But, hey, does it catch fish!

The plastic worm is pushed into the dip bait and worked around with a stick. The right consistency of bait means there should be a little remaining on the worm grooves after 10 minutes of fishing.

   In cold water (less than 60 degrees) an inch-square piece of sponge which hides a #8 treble hook is a good way to present your bait. However, the sponge is even messier than using one of the various treble hook-tailed plastic worms which are specifically designed for dip bait fishing. There are two basic worm designs. Both have a 20-lb.-test mono leader with is 6 to 8 inches long. My favorite cold-water worm is about three inches long with the diameter of a pencil. Grooves on this worm are relatively small and the treble hooks sticks out far enough from the worm body to enable a good hook-set without any modification. A more popular worm design is about two inches long and a half-inch in diameter. The wormís diameter is almost as wide as the gap between hook point and shank. Experienced dip bait fishermen bend these hooks out as much as 45 degrees in an attempt to increase hooking potential. Typically the short, fat worms have deeper concentric grooves to hold more bait. When bait is mixed to the right consistency there should be just a little remaining in the wormís grooves after 10 minutes of fishing. At this consistency the bait drips off the hook leaving a scent trail which hits olíwhiskers right in the face, resulting in an offer which he rarely refuses.

   Sometimes you have to doctor the bait to reach this consistency, as most baits are mixed to be ideal at water temperatures of about 80 degrees. In cold water try mixing the bait with mineral or cooking oil to get the desired consistency. In warmer water the bait may become too runny and not adhere to the hook. If this is the case, setting the bait in the shade or in an ice-filled cooler next to your lunch will remedy the problem. Mixing in a little corn meal also works. If the bait is of ideal consistency but still wonít stick to the worm, try blotting the worm dry with a paper towel before applying the bait. After bait is in place lower the worm gently into the water for 30 seconds to permit the bait to congeal before making your cast.

In cold water (60 degrees or less) white, chartreuse and yellow worms seem to work best. As waters warm (60-73) orange and brown will usually outfish other colors. In warm water (74-85) black and purple are deadly.

   Bait should be applied to the bottom two-thirds of the worm only, permitting the underlying worm color to show. Although catfish will hit a good dip bait on any color worm at any water temperature, these fish do tend to exhibit certain color preferences which seem to be based on water temperature and season. In cold water (less than 60 degrees) white, chartreuse and yellow worms work best. As waters warm (60-73 degrees) orange and brown will out fish other colors. In warm water (74-85 degrees) black and purple are deadly. Red colored worms are a real ringer. When fish are tenuous and coming in lip-hooked, switching to a red worm may result in rod-bending strikes. Herein lies another beauty of using dip baits. Channel catfish donít pussy-foot around when they hit. A wise old fish or little fiddler might suck the nightcrawler or liver right off the hook without ever feeling steel. Set the hook too soon or too late and youíll miss the fish. When using dip baits, fish will frequently chomp on the worm trying to remove the last vestige of bait from its grooves. In the process, your rod will bow deeply and may try to leave the boat. The cats practically set the hook for you. This tendency makes dip baits an ideal candidate for teaching hook-set fundamentals and playing large fish to neophyte anglers.

   My youngest daughter, Emily, got her eyes opened by a six-pounder at a river out my back door at the ripe old age of seven. She had done a fair amount of perch jerkiní before this encounter. Simple stuff--the rod bends and you crank in the fish. When she tried this maneuver with her first catfish, it tried to take the rod away from her. She squealed with a voice full of both terror and joy. The basic spincast tackle she used that day is the same gear I use. You donít need anything fancy for catfish. But the gear had better have guts. A Zebco 404 mounted on a six-foot Berkley Power Pole is ideal. Twelve pound test mono will get the job done. If a worm gets hung up, a steady pull will usually retrieve it without spooking the fish. Terminal tackle is just as simple. An assortment of egg-shaped slip-sinkers from 1/16 to 3/8 ounce, some Cross-Lok snap swivels and a roll of paper towels is all you need, other than a good assortment of treble-tailed worms in different colors. An eighth ounce sinker is usually the most effective weight to use when fishing from a boat. This sinker is heavy enough to maintain contact with the bottom, but will still roll with the current if you cast cross-current.

By casting at a 45 degree crosscurrent angle, the light egg sinker will roll downcurrent while the dip bait spills its deadly catfish drawing scent. The bait will come to rest just upcurrent from the snag.

 

             SUBTLE HOLDING AREAS
Visible Twig or Stick Indicates Presence of a Deadfall.

 

Catfish Structure

   The current and individual snags are major factors to consider with bait presentation. If itís high noon and youíre anchored directly upcurrent from a natural funnel under the drift pile, toss the bait directly downstream just up from possible snags. If catfish might be holding at one of several points along the deadfall, cast at an angle and let the current scatter your bait across the face of the snag like hand swoon seeds. Donít worry. Fish will zero in on the source of your bait within minutes after it comes to rest down stream from the boat. Keep in mind that current seldom runs directly up and downstream in a hole with a deadfall. The snag will cause the current to change course. Anticipate this change and put the bait where it will end up with a minimum of line drag. Finding just the right touch is a matter of being able to read the river; an ability which only comes with time on the water. Obvious snags and deadfalls are frequently not the best place to find fish. Subtle little boils in the current or little branches sticking out of the water will give you a clue of what lies beneath the riverís surface. Something is disturbing. Ahead of this disturbance is where youíll find the fish. The subtle spots seldom get approached by other anglers.

   Choosing quality snap swivels is a point which canít be over emphasized. Those little gold-plated made in Taiwan jobs simply donít hold up to the tank commander pull of the catfish headed downstream. Use a quality Cross-Lok snap swivel and the chance of sliding the landing net under dinner is greatly enhanced. Some successful dip bait fisherman let the egg sinker slide down the line until it hits the eye of the snap swivel. You can never go wrong with the basic set-up. But there are times when the river is stable or dropping that using a split shot will mean more fish. This technique allows the worm to float several inches off the bottom rather than hugging it. Something which can trigger strikes when the fish would rather chew than eat. Channel catfish will take dip bait worms belly-deep if youíll let them. A device such as a hook remover will permit removal of the worm with little or no damage to even deeply hooked fish. I just usually unhook the wormís leader from the snap swivel and place the fish in the livewell, retrieving the worm later. Even in extreme hot weather leaving the worm in the fish causes little apparent trauma, enabling you to bring the fish home alive to be prepared for the pan. Although fishing from a boat is probably the ideal way to fish dip bait, there are a number of rivers and fishing situations where the bank or wading angler can do quite well. Line drag is the biggest obstacle a bank angler has to overcome in chasing catfish in their lair. Line drag can be lessened by decreasing the angle between the rod tip and final point of bait presentation. This may mean a longer cast from a little further upstream than the angler would like to set up. You will need a heavier sinker for casting a distance. A longer rod also provides advantages, both for castability and hook-set. Because this bait tends to fling off in all directions when mixed to proper consistency, even with a gentle cast, you may want to mix the bait a little thicker when shore fishing. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to place the bait where you want it when fishing from shore. Part of this is due to the egg sinkerís tendency of rolling in the current. This problem can be minimized by placing a nail through the hole in the sinker, then hammering the sinker flat. When the nail is removed the hole remains. You can place the bait with reasonable accuracy and use a lighter weight by using this flattened sinker.

Dip worms strike again. The author has used them time and time again to outfish other popular catfish baits

   My first catfish outings of each year are invariably from shore, as boat launches are still choked with ice. There are two catfishing rivers fairly close to home, in which fish can be reached in their holding spots at channel edges, which run fairly close to shore. Catfish action starts to pick up in these locations with the advent of a little snow melt, which adds forage to the river.

For years, waxworms and redworms were my favorite offerings for cold water catfish in this pattern. I had always considered dip bait to be a warm water weapon--until this past February. My first catfish outing of 1990 was a fairly warm winter day. Air temperatures were in the mid-30ís, with water temps just a little cooler. Not exactly prime catfish conditions. But a fat four-pounder which fanned idly in the current a long cast from shore didnít seem to notice. Catfish in February? On dip bait? You bet!

 

 

 


 


 


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319-346-2184
Email: docscatfish@qwestoffice.net
 

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