Fishing Channel Catfish from Shore

Small waters often contain overlooked opportunities for quality catfish. (Photo courtesy of Jim Gronaw)
Small waters often contain overlooked opportunities for quality catfish. (Photo courtesy of Jim Gronaw)

Shore-bound anglers have plenty great opportunities fishing for channel catfish in small lakes and reservoirs

Maybe they were stocked years ago for a kids fishing derby or perhaps just a sidelight of the local DNR management plan. Whether by design or accident, terrific opportunities for channel cats exist for shore-bound anglers in countless small lakes and reservoirs across the land, both for numbers and sizes that impress. Yesteryear’s Huck Finns are now banking pot-bellied kitties like never before.

Small Waters

Throughout many regions of the country, small public lakes dominate the fishing landscape as developers and private landowners have created waters from 2 to 20 acres in urban and rural park settings as well as small community lakes. Many are managed by state fishery agencies and the channel catfish stocking programs have often paid off with quality and sometimes untapped fishing.

In early spring, usually March but sometimes into late February, lethargic cats stir on the first warm days where springtime highs hold in the 50s and 60s for a 3- to 5-day period. Sun-warmed shallows attract the first cats and they may cruise just off the bottom or suspend above remaining vegetation, feeding on small sunfish or crayfish. Mid-day efforts tend to be more productive, and we often divide tactics between slipsinker rigs on the bottom and float-fishing, allowing baits to drift with the wind to cover more territory.

Small, home-spun baits like hotdog pieces, chicken livers, or fresh cut oily baitfish from local markets produce more and bigger fish at this time due to the sluggish nature of cold cats. Actively feeding but not aggressively striking, they can be tentative biters and sometimes mouth a bait for several minutes before committing. For that reason, we use European style bite alarms designed for carp angling.

Alarms can be a huge asset for shore-fishing. They’re sensitive and inexpensive and can indicate the activity level of biting cats. They particularly shine later in summer, when night-fishing becomes a prime tactic. We use alarms made by Delkiem and Flazar, both of which operate on a single 9V battery. Coupled with a dual-clutch baitrunner spinning reel like the Okuma Avenger or the Shimano Aero, alarms make a joyful noise when cats take off with baits. Most alarms have adjustable audio pitches and volume levels that can help you locate a bite among a spread of rigs along a shoreline.


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