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Driftwood Outdoors: To land monster catfish, try big rivers during fall

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Catfish are common across the country. Farm ponds are usually full of them, and just about every creek you cross has a healthy population.

For monster catfish, though, and we are talking about those weighing over 20 pounds, big rivers are where to find them, and fall is the best time of year to catch a real trophy.

Captain Ryan Casey operates a guide service on the Mississippi River called Show Me Catfishing. He said, “Fall is a great time to target big blue cats on the mighty Mississippi River.

“This time of year the big fish are feeding up before they hole up for winter.”

There are dozens of large

rivers coursing through the heart of America.

The first to come to mind are the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio. Large notables in Indiana are the Wabash, East Fork of the White and West Fork of the White. These are big-river catfish waters.

Chances are there is a big river within easy driving distance of your house that produces monster cats.

The following should help you land a lunker catfish this fall.

Where to look

There are many different types of structure big catfish are drawn to in big rivers. Rocky banks, bridge pilings, snags, logjams, sandbars and break walls are prime areas. The mouths of tributaries also are key locations.

Look for seams in the current, eddies and drop-offs. Find the bait fish, and you should find big catfish. If you are in a boat, a good sonar unit will help you locate underwater flats and deep holes. If bank fishing, focus on visible structure.

Equipment you need

One great aspect of catfishing is the ability to keep your equipment fairly simple. You don’t need a whole lot of fancy gear.

You can enjoy an exceptional catfishing adventure with nothing more than a rod, reel, hook, sinker, bobber and bait. You’re targeting large fish, so you need a heavy rod with a reel that has a strong drag. You want a sensitive rod, so you can feel subtle bites. Your line needs to be stout. Use at least 25-pound test line. The weight of your sinker is determined by the current. The faster it is the heavier your sinker needs to be. In big rivers a three-ounce sinker is a common choice. Hooks need to be big and strong enough for big fish. A 3/0 hook is a good all-around catfish hook.

Bait to use

According to the Iowa DNR website, “As catfish grow to a larger size, their diet changes and a wider variety of food items are eaten. Fish, however, either alive or dead, make up the bulk of their forage after they reach 16 inches.”

There are plenty of favorite baits out there for catfishing, but for big catfish, you should plan to use either live or dead bait fish.

Flatheads prefer to eat live fish. Small bluegills are a top choice, but make sure you know the rules of your state before fishing with them.

Blue catfish, which grow the largest, are usually targeted with cut bait. Shad is the most commonly used, and the smellier it is, the better.

If you have always wanted to catch a giant catfish, then make it happen this fall. On big rivers, whether you are fishing from a boat or from shore, you have the chance of catching a monster catfish. Once you land a couple of these hard-fighting, slick-skinned, whisker fish, you’ll be hooked for years to come.

See you down the trail.

Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears Saturdays in the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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