One morning last November I awakened to snow flurries and a cool forecast. I poured a cup of coffee and quietly left the house. My family was asleep, but I was wide awake, anticipating another day outdoors.
While many of my fellow outdoorsmen were en route to their duck blinds and deer stands, I was headed to the river. But not for ducks or bucks. I was planning to tangle with Ohio River blue cats.
Ohio River guide Dale Broughton and I had fished together before, but never during the winter. He had been after me for years to try my hand at cold-water blues, and our schedules finally allowed for it. The fish were stacked up, as they frequently are in winter, making them easy to find and to catch.
Formula for Success
Finding blue cats during cold-water periods comes down to three factors. The first is depth. Cats will search out the deepest holes along the stretch of river they inhabit.
Broughton looks for 40- to 50-foot holes on the Ohio River near Cincinnati. Upriver a deep hole might go down only 20 feet. It’s all relative. Get a map of the river you plan to fish and identify relatively deep holes.
A good place to start your search on any river is the outside bends. These areas often include the second ingredient for success-current.
Current delivers food, but beware of high current. Too much current will make it hard to keep positioned.
The last ingredient for success is cover. It attracts bait and provides the cats with plenty of crevices in which to hide.
Rig It Right
There are three bait options for cold-water fishing:
1. Cut Bait: This is perhaps your best bet, as long as it’s kept fresh. Also be sure to remove the tail so the bait doesn’t spin in the current.
2. Fillets: Another good option; they’re especially easy for sluggish cats to chomp on. Like cut bait, fillets need to be kept fresh.
3. Live Shad: Some days catfish just prefer live bait. Hook the bait just under the dorsal fin.
How to Fish: The most efficient method for fishing these holes is to set several rods off the back of the boat using no-roll sinker rigs. Fish these rigs along the bottom around the edges of the trash or cover. Whichever rig you use, don’t strike at bounces. Give the fish more time to take the bait. Wait for a steady bend in the rod. A steady 3-inch bend in the tip is all it takes.