If you’re looking for catfish’s biggest fan, meet Captain Chris Jones. Captain Jones has an extreme passion for catfishing that began over 25 years ago. He has dedicated his life and work to fishing, catching and protecting catfish for future generations to enjoy.
Captain Jones is the only legal, licensed and insured United States Coast Guard Licensed Captain guiding for catfish and spoonbill on the upper Lake of the Ozarks region. He’s caught blue catfish as large as 93 pounds and flathead catfish as big as 68 pounds.
He owns and operates his own professional year-round catfish guide service hoping to show others how fun catfishing can be.
We sat down with Captain Jones and picked his brain for the best tips when fishing for catfish. Here’s what Chris Jones has to say about the sport:
For a beginner catfish angler, I would first research the body of water you're wanting to fish to see if it has a good population of blue, channel or flathead catfish. Once that is determined, I would recommend using a topographical map of the lake to help locate old river channels and ledges that are accessible from the bank or boat if you're boat fishing. Catfish are very structure oriented. It might also be an investment to hire a guide on the lake that you want to fish in who will show you in-depth what the best approach for success is. I have done this with several first-timers and they are now successful anglers on their own.
There are several different techniques for catching catfish of all species. My preferred method for catching blue catfish in lakes is called, "Santee Drifting" which is basically using the wind to push the boat at a controlled speed over flooded creek and river channels where blue catfish lay and ambush baitfish. This is my favorite method to fish on lakes. I set my lines about 100 feet behind the boat and use a 2-ounce sinker to allow the bait to glide smoothly across the bottom. Boat speed is critical and I use a drift sock to keep my boat speed at .3mph, so the fish have more time to ambush the bait. In rivers with heavy current, it's best to locate fish in holes and along flooded wood cover and anchor above them, so the current carries the scent of the bait to them.
I have only fished for saltwater catfish a few times and from my experience they were willing to take any cut bait or shrimp we fished with. Blue catfish are predators and prefer live or fresh cut bait such as shad, bluegill, or skipjack. On the Missouri River, the current state record of 130 pounds was caught on cut bait from an invasive Asian carp. Flathead catfish are the top predator in the catfish world and have been known to eat a variety of live fish, preferred baits are live bluegill, small carp, bullhead catfish, crawfish, live gizzard shad, and goldfish. Channel catfish are more of a scavenger and will eat commercially prepared baits but baits like worms, minnows, bluegill, fresh live and cut shad will also work.
I fillet a catfish just like any other fish, cut flat along the spine down to the tail through the ribs, then gently fillet off the skin making sure not to push too hard to come through the skin. On a blue catfish, all red meat needs to be trimmed off. It seems a little intimidating but with some practice it is easy.
Catfish rods need a really fast tip for use with circle hooks, which are what most anglers are using, to allow the rod to "load up" and self-hook the fish when the rod locks up with a solid backbone. Also, you want a rod with plenty of action so that catching a 3-pound fish is as fun as catching a 20-pound fish. For boats, I prefer 7-foot medium action Ugly Stik Tiger rods, they are the best rod I have found so far and are pretty much indestructible as well as affordable. Another nice rod is the Big Cat Fever medium heavy rod which I have used as well.
I exclusively use Ugly Stik Tiger rods in medium action, they work great and have never failed me. I'm a full-time catfish guide and my equipment gets a lot of abuse, plus they are very affordable and available at any Bass Pro Shops retail store. I've caught blue catfish up to 93.2 pounds on them so they are definitely up to the task.
I always use bait that is native to the water I'm fishing. Locally, I use fresh shad that I catch in a cast net, which can be a challenge sometimes, but it's critical to success. When I fish in other states, I use skipjack because it’s a natural bait to the lakes there.
Blue cats are not as particular about time of day and feed all day long. Flatheads and channels tend to be more nocturnal and move up to the banks looking for prey like bluegill and other fish that roam the banks, especially in rocky or wood cover. They can be caught in the daytime but it's typically the exception of the rule.
For blue catfish, I look for old flooded creek and river channels with sharp ledges and drop-offs. These are ambush points and blues love ledges. Channel cats also like wood cover and shallow flats in the backs of coves. Flatheads like to stay in channels close to rock or wood cover where then can stalk their prey at night. They can be frustrating to catch, but the wait is always worth it based on how hard they fight.
I have always had a passion for catching big catfish, blues provide consistent fast action and you never know when a fish bites it could be the next world record. Also, they are excellent to eat, I release all fish less than 6 pounds to help preserve our trophy fishery.
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