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Scott: Reservoir catfish beckon bank anglers

July 6, 2013

Iím often asked where I get the material for these columns. Possible story lines can come from just about anywhere, but todayís was a byproduct of another good idea that didnít turn out too well. That taleís too long to tell here, but it began with a recalcitrant outboard motor, included an entire creek arm full of absurdly uncooperative crappie and ended with my partner and I making a last-ditch attempt to locate some slabs within casting distance of shore in water so shallow its bottom barely would have been damp if the lake had been at normal pool.


That was when, after two hours of what had been, for me at least, absolute nothingness, I had a bite that almost pulled the rod out of my half-asleep hands. It only took an instant to realize my opponent wasnít a crappie and, after a suitably entertaining battle, I netted a nice-sized channel cat. Over the next 45 minutes, I caught another channel cat, Joan had one break her line and both of us missed several good bites.


On the way back to the ramp ó the still unrepentant outboard having now deigned to give me a smooth fast idle at full throttle ó it dawned on me that if I were among the tens of thousands of anglers who are fortunate enough not to own boats, I could have spent the afternoon sitting in a comfortable lawn chair, catching fish.


OK, Iíll admit I have no intention of parting with my boat, but Iíll gladly concede that with only a few exceptions, fishing from the bank of one of the stateís major reservoirs is the most consistently effective way to catch channel cats. Moreover, since the majority of Missouri anglers rank channel cats somewhere among their three most sought after species, that should come as very good news to my boatless brethren.


Finding channel catfish close to shore ó and by close I mean within 30 yards ó is easy, because just about any gently sloping bank has the potential to be a catfish cafeteria. The presence of scattered trees or brush standing in less than six feet of water is an added attraction, especially during the daytime. On the Truman Lake Project ó and Iím sure on many others ó dozens of linear miles of just-right shoreline can be accessed either at the end of or within walking distance of vehicle-accessible pre-impoundment roads.


While not a prerequisite to success, chumming is a worthwhile strategy if the anglers doing it intend to stay in one place for the several hours it often takes for significant numbers of fish to find it. Sinking commercial fish food is an obvious choice, but sweet horse feed and soured grain also work well. No matter what chum you choose, donít overdo it. A pound of grain scattered no more than about 15 yards off of 50 yards of shoreline is a big plenty.


Whether or not you use chum, short casts will usually produce more channel cats than will long ones. After all, the catfish youíre hoping to catch are actively feeding, and the closer they get to the edge of the water, the more food theyíll find. This is true even in the daytime, but itís especially true after dark, when itís not unusual to find large channel, blue and flathead catfish feeding together in water barely deep enough to cover their backs.


Shrimp, chicken livers, hot dogs, soft processed cheese and other ďgrocery store baitsĒ are good choices for channel cats, and so are natural baits like worms, crayfish, minnows and grasshoppers. Itís not uncommon for blue cats and flatheads to join the shoreline feasting after the sun goes down. Using fresh cut bait or shad ups the odds youíll add some blue cats to your stringer. Itís hard to beat a lively green sunfish for flathead bait, and sunfish are also high on both the blue and the channel catís preferred food list.


Unless you intend to target big blues or flatheads by using baits large enough to draw their attention, medium weight spinning or baitcasting outfits spooled with 12- to 20-pound test line are more than adequate for shoreline catfishing. Since neither current nor the need to make long casts are a factor, a quarter-ounce sliding sinker stopped around two feet from the hook by a barrel swivel is standard fare for terminal tackle, but there are times when using a float to suspend the bait a foot or two above the bottom is the ticket.


Rod holders that will actually hold a rod when a catfish tries to make off with it are essential. Propane lanterns are a good source of ambient light, but a headlamp is worth its weight in fingers when itís time to bait a hook or to unhook an angry fish.


Then there are the creature comforts. A comfortable chair, a cooler filled with suitable refreshments and an ample supply of insect repellent will go a long way toward spending an evening fishing from shoreline the pleasant experience it was meant to be.