While spring weather has many anglers across the country scratching their heads about where to go and what to do as lakes and rivers are high and muddy in some regions and low and clear in others, there is one group that doesn't care about the conditions - catfish anglers.
Williams especially likes when the water is high as it is right now in and around his home state of Oklahoma, saying it makes the catfish very active. He says what he is doing now to catch channel and blue catfish on nearby Grand Lake will work almost anywhere.
Williams targets water depths of 2-5 feet, while also keying on areas that have grass or flooded brush or timber. He likes to find this combination in three different situations: 1) the very back of creeks with even the smallest inflow; 2) long and slow-tapering main lake points; and 3) islands with flooded timber or brush on top.
He also said that while most anglers curse the wind, the "wind is your friend" for exceptional catfishing success. "You want the wind blowing into the area you are fishing," he explained. "It is stirring up plankton that attracts baitfish, plus it carries the scent from your bait and that will lead fish to your hook."
The catfish expert said when fishing from a boat, always anchor the bow to the wind and hold the position by putting anchors out in front and back. Then do your fishing from the back of the boat, casting downwind.
Williams prefers to use a commercially prepared catfish "dip" bait that he helped formulate called Secret 7. He uses a Dead Red Dip Tube to hold the bait, rigged on a 2/0 Jackhammer hook. The hook is tied to about a 30-inch leader. He threads a 1- or 2-ounce Smooth Operator catfish slip sinker onto the end of his fishing line and then ties a barrel swivel below it to the end of the line. Next step is to attach the leader with the hook to the bottom end of the swivel.
Rods and Reels
When fishing in states where multiple rods are allowed per angler, such as Oklahoma, Williams and his anglers will fan out four to six rods and reels from the back of the boat. He says the new Zebco Hawg Seeker rod and reel combo is ideal for this application because a built-in "bite alert" feature responds to a bite with a sound and flashing light on the reel, making it easy to manage more than one rod at a time.
Zebco brand manager Scott Smith said the Hawg Seeker's bite-signaling feature, powered by two long-lasting Lithium batteries like used in watches, is truly innovative. "Catfishermen have been rigging bells and other devices on their rods for years to detect strikes, but BiteAlert is a much more sophisticated, more technical feature that is made right into the reel and assists anglers during day or night. When a fish tugs on the line, the beeping starts and lights begin flashing. And BiteAlert's sensitivity can be dialed up or down on the reel to compensate for wind or current."
Hawg Seeker BiteAlert combos are available in spinning or spincast versions, coming pre-loaded with 20-pound test line and on 7-foot rods in medium-heavy actions.
In support of Williams' claims that spring is a great time for catfish anglers, Smith said that Hawg Seeker sales have been "brisk" during March and April
Williams also added another tip for those looking for the whiskered species. "If you haven't had a bite in 20 minutes, change locations," he said. "You might make four or five moves before you catch a fish. Catch one and you'll typically catch several in the same area." The suggestion applies whether fishing from a boat or the bank.
Catfish are considered excellent table fare as is proven by the extensive number of menus and fresh fish counters across the nation that offer the selection, but Williams has advice for fully enjoying that part of the catfishing experience, too."Take care of your catch immediately, either putting fish on ice or keeping them alive until cleaning," he said. "Then after cleaning, either freeze fillets in a container of water or keep them in a bowl of water until time to prepare and cook."
Williams is also a proponent of releasing catfish weighing over 8 pounds. He says these adult fish are important to sustaining catfish populations, and fish under that size are the best tasting ones anyway. He concluded by saying, "you can't catch any size if you don't go, so take advantage of the spring catfish activity and get on the water today."
JEFF WILLIAMS' NOTES ON PREPARING CATFISH FOR COOKING
- BEST EATING SIZE
- If intending to fry or bake whole, with the skin on, fish in the .75 - 1.5 pound range
- If intending to fillet, and cook in a variety of ways, fish in the 2-6 pound range
- Take pictures of catfish weighing over 8 pounds, then release the fish CARING FOR CATCH
- Put fish on ice immediately after catching or keep alive until cleaning
- Freeze fillets in containers filled with water BATTER OPTIONS
- Lots of commercial batters on the market, with various seasoning choices
- For do-it-yourselfers, go with Corn Flour instead of Corn Meal. Salt and Pepper to taste BEFORE YOU BATTER FILLETS
- Pat fillets with a towel or paper towel to remove excess moisture
- Doing so allows the batter to stick to the fillet instead of the water on the fillet
- Then roll fillet in batter DEEP-FRYING
- Grease must be hot, maintaining a temperature of around 350 degrees
- Don't overload the cooker with fillets. Cooking too many at a time will cool the grease, slow the cooking process and cause the fillets to absorb more grease
- Cook hot and fast for the best results of holding batter and maximizing flavor
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