June 27, 2014

Larry Case: The catfish is finally catching up

The catfish suffered from an image problem for far too long. It seemed to be the Rodney Dangerfield of the fish world — you know, it got no respect. Fortunately — or maybe unfortunately if you are a catfish — that seems to be in the past. It’s a fish whose time has come.

If you doubt this, take a quick trip into the fishing tackle, bait and equipment realm. Check out some tackle catalogs or get on the Internet and see what is available now in the catfishing world. If you have not kept up with this in the past few years you are going to be amazed.    

Every conceivable gadget, bait and other implement is out there to help you ensnare a catfish. Dozens of rods, reels, fishing line, hooks and sinkers made specifically for catfish are available.

However, it is in the realm of bait that the catfish product world has really gone crazy. Catfish aficionados have long known that catfish can be taken on a wide variety of baits. Many trend towards “the more it stinks, the better it is” mode. Chicken and beef liver, various animal parts, cut bait (usually fish) and any organic material with a lot of aroma are all good candidates for catfish bait.

Commercially-made stink baits have taken this to a new level. Just check out the fishing section at “Wally World” for an idea of all the catfish stink baits that are out there.

Do you truly need all of the specially-made catfish gear and bait to catch fish? No, but some of it may be fun to try. Your medium-action bass rods and some live bait may be all you need to have catfish fillets sizzling at your house this week.

Ichthyologists (fish scientists) tell us that there are more than 3,000 known species of catfish in the world. (By the way, how would you like to have your kid come home from school one day and say, “Hey Dad, I want to go to college and be an ichthyologist!”? You would probably tell him that you aren’t going to pay $20,000 a year for him to become something you can’t even pronounce.)

While there are 3,000 known species of catfish, those fish guys with the title we can’t pronounce tell us that there may be another 1,000 species of catfish that we don’t know about yet. Really? If we don’t know about them yet, how do they know there are 1,000? Could it be 5,000? Why not 10,000? I guess if you have a title like ichthyologist you don’t have to explain much.

OK, I know I wandered a little there, but if you are fishing in most of the good ol’ US of A, you will be concerned with mainly three species of catfish — the channel catfish, the blue catfish and the flathead catfish.

The channel is the smallest of the three but the most plentiful, which makes him the most popular target for catfishermen. The channel is known to be in swift-flowing rivers, but may also be found in lakes. Live minnows, shrimp, crayfish, night crawlers and cut bait may all produce channels. Channels have a bluish gray tinge with some dark specks and a deeply-forked tail.

The blue resembles the channel but grows much larger. Blue catfish nudging 150 pounds have been caught, and larger ones may be on the way. So let’s go back to where I told you to use your bass rods. Probably not a good idea if you are going to target large blue cats! Something in the salt water range would be more appropriate. Anything from stink bait to live bait will procure blue cats.

The flathead is the last of the species on your list. Also called a mud cat, yellow cat or shovel head catfish, this cat is usually a mottled brown with some yellowish color on the sides and a white belly.

Like the blue cat, this guy can get some size on him (or her) — the current world record is more than 123 pounds. So again, I would not be using any ultra-light gear for flatheads. Flathead catfish are known for favoring live bait, usually fish. In many areas a live bluegill or sunfish “brim” is a favorite.

Of course, the best part of catching catfish may be eating them. Catfish are fairly easy to fillet, and rolled in your favorite seasoned flour and fried to a golden brown I think that they are about the tastiest fish that swims. Don’t forget the hush puppies and cole slaw.

You don’t have to be an ichthyologist — or even be able to pronounce it — to enjoy fried catfish and hushpuppies!

“The Trail Less Traveled” is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va., has been a devoted outdoorsman all of his life and is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at larryocase3@gmail.com.

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