Most anglers only chase catfish in the lazy, hazy days of summer. But, true men know that there are great opportunities for catfishing all year, with the possible exception being the late spring/early summer spawn.
However, peak seasons for all three major channels (blues, flatheads) can still be identified.
Keep reading to find out the best time to catch catfish.
Season-by-Season Breakdown: Best Times to Catch Catfish
In the south, catfishing is considered a way of life and a way to pass time. “Winter” is often used in a relative sense. While ponds can freeze and the water can get extremely cold, you won’t need an ice auger to make holes in the water.
Winter is a great time to focus on cats.
However, these cool temperatures can cause catfish to become lethargic and slow down their feeding habits. It takes a drop into the 50s to bring down the water temperature. This is almost a guarantee that cats will be found in January.
They are still looking for food.
You can make the catfish slow, sluggish, and stationary, but you can still use it to your advantage.
Catfish will be found wherever baitfish are located. They will often hide up on the break side structure where they can be found by slow-moving currents.
You’ll be amazed at winter’s bounty if you use the right bait or live minnow.
Guides target blue catfish below the Mason-Dixon in winter as flatheads and channels are more likely to be found in colder waters. However, big blues will still feed in warmer temperatures, but not as much as they do in warmer.
This can be a great way to capture a trophy blue when the pressure is low.
The catfish begin to wake up from winter sleep, and flatheads, as well as channel cats, start to eat again after a long, cold fast. They’ll want to gain weight before spawn so it’s a good time to give them fat minnows or reeking punch bait.
Don’t underestimate spring catfishing.
They will usually be engaged in seasonal migrations. They will move from their overwintering areas to possible spawning holes. Our article, When Do Catfish Sprow? covers this topic in detail.
Each of the three major species will start spawning as soon as the water reaches 70 degrees in the spring sun. Males will start nesting in stumps and roots, as well as holes, crevices, crevices, or root tangles. They will wait to attract a female and remain in the nest until the fry leave.
They won’t even feed themselves.
This can make it difficult to fish for cats in the spring or early summer, and I don’t know anyone who believes spring is prime.
After the spawn, the catfish will return to their natural habitat and eat with a vengeance.
However, the heat can be too much for some anglers and cause them to leave the water.
These are all reasons why night fishing is so popular with anglers.
Even though nighttime is not the best time of the day, it can still be a great time to spend the summer.
When temperatures drop after sunset, hungry cats will move to the shallows to search for food. You must remember that flatheads and blues are predators. They hunt the bottom for their prey using their incredible sense of smell and legendary long lateral lines.
On lakes, rivers, or ponds with too much depth to stratify, cats will find that heat stress is lessened after dark, which makes nighttime a more enjoyable time. This is doubly true for large flatheads.
Jared Meighen explains flatheads for Game & Fish Magazine. “Flatheads live in shallow feeding flats at night and eat at their own discretion, moving around constantly.” They behave like a vampire when daylight arrives, fleeing to a den or lair (typically a large blowdown or snag) where they are inactive until the morning.
Big cats love thick covers, just as bass. You should be open to trying different things with your hook and some chicken liver.
Slip floats and big hooks are my top recommendations. Drop shot rigs with live bait also work well. A big jig head and a 3 to 4-inch shad are great for covering large amounts of water quickly.
These possibilities may seem appealing, but we have covered all aspects of catfish rigs before. Take a look at our article The Best Catfish Rigs: Flathead and Blue Essentials.
Keep in mind, warm water is best for punch baits because the smell travels faster and farther as the mercury rises.
The catfish begin to feel the approaching winter as summer ends. Fall can be the best time of year for catfish fishing by actively feeding them until the water drops below 50 degrees.
As winter draws near, big cats gain weight.
As the water cools, oxygen levels increase. Without the heat of the sun to make them inactive during daylight hours, you will find flatheads and blues hunting all day.
Channel cats will not skip a meal. However, stink baits that are diluted with cool water can be less effective.
Slip floats are a great technique for rivers with fall cats. I attach the terminal tackle to the bottom and add a large shad before casting upstream. I let the current take my float as far and as I can, repeating as needed.
This natural presentation is a way to play into the hunting behavior blues and flatheads. I find it more effective than stationary presentations.
It is also important to find the first-year fish cover. These are cats that want to gain weight. If you can locate them, you will find the flatheads, hungry channels, and blues who feed on them.
These locations are often where big cats hunt, especially if there is a dropoff. A slip float with cut bait, 3-to 4-inch bluegill, shad, or sucker, will be worth its weight.
Take a look at our top picks for catfish tackle
- Catfish rods
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- Combo of Catfish Rod and Reel
- Fishing line for Catfish
- Best Catfish Bait
- Hooks for Catfish
Each season has its own pros and cons. But if I had the choice, late summer/early autumn would be my favorite time to fish for catfish.
As the heat gets worse and the days get shorter, big cats will start to hunt. With plenty of oxygen in their water, they are looking for food without interruption from the spawn.
Everything, from stinky baits and soured livers to live or cut bait, will work until the water drops below 70 degrees.
You’ll also find that the 90 minutes between dawn and dusk are prime time, but late summer night fishing can still be very productive.