Channel catfish are a popular sport fishing species because they are readily available. They also have a variety of different uses such as for bait, food and caviar. There is a lot of misinformation out there about channel catfish, so I figured it would be useful to write down some tips for catching them.
Watch your bait!
While it's tempting to leave the rod in one spot and wait for fish to take your bait, channel catfish are notoriously picky about what they will eat. They often take a nibble on the baits you don't want them to take (i.e. artificial lures) but have no interest in the bait you want them to take (i.e. natural baits such as worms, crickets or cutbait).
So if your bait isn't being eaten, move it around! Channel catfish are often more attracted to the movement of a bait than they are to its scent. Also keep in mind that channel catfish like the smell of their own poop. The catfish will often follow a bait and take it only when they get close enough to 'mark' it with their scent (i.e. poop on the hook).
You can avoid this by keeping them off your line long enough for them to lose interest in the bait or using scented baits that mimic the smell of your bait.
Hook size matters!
Channel catfish have very sharp teeth and are known to frequently devour lures made for largemouth bass or other species of fish that live in the same areas as channel catfish.
If you're planning to use artificial lures, I'd recommend using a small hook (e.g. size 8 or 10). If you're using natural baits, it's still a good idea to use a small hook (e.g. size 6) so that the catfish doesn't swallow the bait whole and avoid getting hooked. You'll also notice that I mentioned 'small' hooks and not just short hooks... That's because channel catfish are also notorious for swallowing their food whole.
And since they have no stomach, they will continue digesting the bait until it breaks off. Short wide hooks should help prevent this (i.e. "wide gap" or "stiff shank/short bend" hooks).
Fishing in the heat
Channel catfish can often be found in large numbers when the water is warm (i.e. above 75 degrees). This means that fishing will be most productive after sunset and especially before sunrise, when it's cooler outside.
If you are planning on fishing at night, I would recommend using a flashlight with blue LEDs instead of a regular flashlight. Blue LEDs seem to attract more catfish.
The channel catfish fishing community is not always full of people with good intentions.
Because channel catfish are abundant, there is a lot of competition amongst anglers for the best fishing spots. This means that you'll find many secrets being shared online (in forums or on websites such as youtube.com) that will allow someone to have an advantage over you.
However if you fish in a competitive environment, I'd recommend choosing not to share any secrets that you learn about. Channel catfish can often be caught with the right bait and a little bit of luck, so don't feel like you need to share every trick in your arsenal just because someone asks nicely!
Fishing when it rains
Channel catfish are known for being opportunistic feeders. This means that they typically exhibit a stronger feeding response than other catfish species when food is available, regardless of whether or not the water temperature is optimal for their growth.
This also means it's easier to catch them when there has been a lot of rain and the water temperature is cooler (i.e springtime or after periods of heavy rainfall).
This is also the same advice I'd give if you were fishing during a heatwave. Channel catfish are known to feed more aggressively in cooler water.
Fishing when it's cloudy or foggy.
The same thing goes for cloudy days. The lower water temperatures will often make channel catfish more aggressive, especially if it has recently rained (i.e. the morning after a rainstorm). Similarly, you'll observe that channel catfish are less active when the sky is completely overcast as opposed to partially cloudy or foggy skies
Channel catfish can often be found feeding on top of the water even when there is no baitfish activity below. If you see a 'soup bowl' (a large circular area of the water that is clear) on top of the water, look for channel catfish to be feeding in it.
Channel catfish have an acute sense of sight but they are unable to detect movement from below; this is why they tend to feed on top of the water.
This means that if you are using a boat, it's best to target channel catfish in areas with shallow (1-2ft) clear water on top of deep (5+ ft) dark water. This way there will be no waves from your boat disturbing the fish as you try to cast your line.
Fishing from a high vantage point
Channel catfish prefer a good vantage point to spot prey, so if you can find a tree stump or dock to stand on when fishing for channel catfish... do it! If possible look for areas with deep water (5+ ft) that have some shallow water over top.
This usually indicates deeper structure where the fish are actively feeding (i.e sunken trees or large rocks).
Fishing the bank
Channel catfish usually use current to their advantage. They will often position themselves in areas where they can intercept baitfish that are being flushed downstream and cannot stop (i.e inside of a bend). This means that if you are fishing from the bank, channel catfish will often be found on the inside of any bends or deep inside of eddies.
This is why I'd recommend fishing the bank for channel catfish, rather than directly in the current (i.e you should avoid fishing directly under a bridge).
Wear waders when possible
If you are planning to fish an area that has thick vegetation or lots of log jams (i.e a river with many "snags"), then you should consider wearing waders. This will allow you to cast closer to any hiding channel catfish and help protect your legs from sharp objects (that is, if you are worried about getting cut up).
Fishing during a full moon
This advice is primarily for catfish fishermen that are casting crankbaits at night, but it applies to all types of fishing. Crankbait fishermen know that certain species of fish like to feed more aggressively at night than others. For example bluegill and crappie tend to be nocturnal predators, whereas walleye and channel catfish are known to feed more aggressively during the day.
If you drop your line in the water and it does not get bit within a couple of minutes then try to 'dead stick' by holding onto the line (i.e don't reel or move). This will allow any channel catfish that are nearby to swim up and inspect your bait.
Fishing at dusk
If you are fishing during the day, consider giving channel catfish a try at night. This will be the hottest time of the day for channel catfish as they can feed aggressively and avoid detection from birds.
Fishing right before a storm comes in
Another thing to consider is that fish often become more active right before a storm comes in. If you have to leave early before a storm, then consider fishing your favorite spots one last time before the rain starts storming down!
Channel catfish are an abundant species, which makes them one of the most popular fish to catch in North America. They are great fighters with sharp teeth and pink lips (which is just another way of saying "kiss me I'm delicious"!) that bleed heavily when hooked.
Most importantly they are considered a garbage fish where ever they roam! If you want to target channel catfish then you should use a variety of baits and fishing techniques! This is one reason why channel catfish are such a great species to fish for.
If you have any questions or comments about my channel catfish fishing tips please leave them below in the comment section! Perhaps I can make this article better over time!