Lots of floatation fishermen develop a real passion for pursuing kitties from tubes or toons. There is a kind of primeval excitement in the hand to fin combat that follows when you hang a big ol’ nasty catfish while you are right there in the water with them. It doesn’t take a very large cat to tow you around and the real hefty ones may take a while to subdue. They are not flashy fighters but they have a lot of brute power. There are several species of catfish and bullheads. All of them are worthy adversaries for tubers and tooners. No matter where you live (and fish) there is likely to be at least one or two species of kitties willing and waiting within a short drive. They are all fun to catch and they are mighty fine table fare too.
Catfish are residents of many farm ponds and small lakes ideal for floatation fishing. You can also catch them in the oxbows and backwaters of large rivers. In these still water nooks and crannies you can go acattin’ in your tube or toon without having to venture into the main current. Some of the biggest cats, of several species, are likely to live in deep holes on larger flowing waters. There is a lot of good floatation fishing for big cats around the shorelines of many large lakes and reservoirs too. I generally do not recommend tubing on flowing waters. However, there are more than a few slow flowing streams in cat country that are both deep enough and safe enough for tubing or tooning. Floatation craft can allow you to quietly approach the holes and brush piles where stream dwelling cats like to hang out…the epitome of stealth fishing. Once you get in position you can drop a bait right on their noggins. As advised in other areas of this book, be sure you thoroughly check out any stream you will be floating before you launch, to avoid hazards that could put you or your craft at risk.
One of the best approaches when fishing for cats from a tube or toon is drifting or dragging a chunk of bait on an unweighted line. This is known as “fly-lining”. Tie a suitable hook directly to your line and bait up with worms, minnows, cut bait or your choice of “prepared” baits. Lob out a short cast and allow the bait to settle slowly to the bottom. It should be noted that this technique works best in waters shallower than 15 to 20 feet. Otherwise you may need to add a bit of weight. Once the bait stops sinking, either let your craft drift naturally or give a little kick with your fins periodically to drag your bait slowly over the bottom. This not only presents it to more fish but
leaves a scent trail that cruising cats can follow up to the source…your bait.
If fishing with an open-faced spinning reel leave the bail open and keep the line over your forefinger. If using a revolving spool reel leave it in free spool, adjusted so that it will pay out line freely but with enough tension to prevent getting a backlash. When a fish picks up the bait release the line and allow it to run a ways. It will usually stop to mouth and swallow the bait and then move off again. When the fish stops engage the bail or spool. As it moves off again wait for the line to tighten and then set the hook. Of course if you are using circle hooks you just hang on when the line comes tight. No need for the hook set. Catfish have spines. The smaller and younger ones have sharper spines than larger and older fish. The bigger and older cats wear the points off their spines during courtship and nesting, especially when they thrash around inside a hole in the rocks where they often make their nests. Sharp spines are not compatible with inflated air chambers and they are also painful when they stick your tender flesh. If you catch a catfish from your tube or toon, you should be prepared to control and handle it without risk to you or your craft. Use a big long-handled net that will allow you to scoop a cat before it can ram your craft. Make sure the net is big enough to control a large fish. Wimpy nets will not contain a big thrashing kitty.
It is also a good idea to carry “lip grippers” to hold the fish securely while you remove the hook or take pictures. Large cats are difficult to hold around the middle, even with the standard “catfish safety hold”…with fingers and thumbs strategically placed around the pectoral and dorsal spines. Cats are incredibly strong and are tough to hold when they do their “death roll”. If you plan to keep a cat it is wise to either break or clip off the hard bony part of those spines. Always carry a stout pair of side cutters or something similar. The blunted spines on larger cats are not sharp but they can destroy a wire-mesh fishing basket. And, if left intact, the rigid spines on the pectoral fins make it more difficult to hold the fish flat for filleting. Neutralizing catfish spines is especially recommended if you keep fish beside your craft on either a stringer or in a basket. It can save both you and your ride from unpleasant perforation. Night fishing for cats from a tube or toon is the ultimate in “out there” angling. If you try it, be sure to know the waters you fish, stay out of boat traffic lanes, have lights on your craft and do not take unnecessary chances. Oh yeah, be sure to take bug repellant too. Otherwise, have fun.
Catfish fishing now days are really becoming a popular sport for pro and amateur anglers. There are a few things that you need to know before planning on catching catfish. Observation is one of the keys
in winning this game. Knowing when to catch catfish in a certain season can really be tricky even if you are familiar with the lake or pond you wish to fish. You’ll learn how to catch catfish better than 99% of the other fisherman. If you’re ready to spend more time catching catfish than you spend looking for them, you’ve come to the right place.
- Chlorophyll and phytoplankton go hand and hand. Typically, where there is an abundance of chlorophyll, you’ll find an abundance of phytoplankton. Keep an eye open for dark green or even black “stains” on the water. When you find one, rest assured, you have found a fishing hotspot.
- One way to locate these fishing hot spots is to keep your eyes open for floating masses of water moss. Resembling snowflakes, these masses can be very difficult to see. Many anglers use underwater cameras to locate them, but, if the lighting is right, they can be seen with the naked eye. So, keep your eyes open. When you locate one of these floating masses of zooplankton, you will be in catfish fishing heaven.
- In the fishing world, nature’s food chain consists of 5 things: Phytoplankton, zooplankton, bait and sporting fish (like Catfish). The important key to locating fishing hot spots knowing and asking experience anglers.
One of the best ways to start a heated argument among catfish fans is to get a discussion
going on the best hooks to use for them. Everybody seems to have a strong personal opinion about
what styles are best…and what sizes. The truth is that there is probably no single BEST hook for
all Utah Lake catfish…for all baits and all conditions.
There are many factors to consider in your choice of catfish hooks:
1. What kind of bait will you be using? Different kinds and sizes of baits, require different
sizes and styles of hooks to both present the bait properly and then to hook the fish.
2. What size fish will you be catching (hopefully)? This actually ties in with the size of the
bait you will be using. As a general rule you CAN hook some pretty large cats on some
relatively small hooks, but you will not hook many small fish on big hooks and big bait.
3. How will you be fishing? If you are hanging bait below a bobber you will want a larger
and sharper hook to give you a better chance of hooking the fish on the strike. If you are
dragging bait around over the bottom you want the smallest hook you can get by with, to
reduce the number of snags. On the other hand, if you are using a set line or other “chuck
and chance it” method, circle hooks will help because the fish hook themselves and stay
hooked until you show up to drag them in.
4. What kind of tackle will you be using? If you use light spinning gear, with relatively light
line, you can get by with smaller thin wire hooks. These should be sharp, to get good
penetration from a hook set on a light rod. And the flex of the rod and the drag of the reel
should be light enough to keep from bending or breaking the lighter hook. On the other
hand, if you are using heavy rod, reel and line, you want a strong forged hook that can
withstand a heavy hookset, fighting a large fish and powering fish out of structure. Use a
light hook on heavy tackle and you will have hook failure. Use a heavy hook on light
tackle and you will miss a lot of hook sets…or lose more fish during the battle.
There are several types of hooks marketed as being designed for catfish. They all work, with
the baits they are designed to work with, and under the conditions for which they were created.
These hooks also come in various finishes although the choice of finish is a matter of personal
preference and seldom affects cat catchin’.
BAITHOLDER: Several hook manufacturers sell “down eye” bronze finish hooks with little bait
holder barbs on the back. These were originally designed for fishing plain old worms but they
work for just about all baits. These hooks are economical (cheap) but serviceable. They are the
hooks most commonly used on pre-tied snelled leaders…for those who like leaders but cannot tie
them themselves…or prefer not to.
If you don’t have ready made leaders just tie the hooks directly to your line. The down eye
can be attached to the hook with your favorite connection knot. A snell type knot works best with a
down eye hook, but if that knot does not have enough wraps, if it is tied incorrectly…or if there is a
defect in the hook eye…the knot can fail or get cut on the sharp edges of a bad hook eye.
STRAIGHT SHANK RING EYE: The Eagle Claw #84 is a good catfish hook. It is strong, with a
good point and a ring eye for easy knotting to lines and leaders. This hook is available in bronze or
red finish. There is also a salt water version in nickel. These are my favorite hooks for fishing
minnows behind a float tube.
OCTOPUS: These are strong hooks with a beak point and an up-eye. They are usually stainless or
nickel plated and are used a lot for salmon, steelhead and big saltwater species like sturgeon and
deep water rockfish. In larger sizes they are good for big baits and big catfish.
WIDE GAP AND KAHLE: Some popular cat hooks are strange looking designs, with unusual
bends. These are especially designed for fishing certain baits and for hooking fish near the outside
of their mouths for easier hook removal…similar to the circle hooks.
CIRCLE HOOKS: Originally designed for use by commercial long-line fishermen. These hooks
work to insure that fish hook themselves and then stay hooked once impaled. They work so well
that they have found favor with many fresh water anglers too. They are really good for larger
catfish since they lodge in the corner of the mouth when the fish surges away. And they are strong
enough to hold a big fish without bending or breaking. The key to using them effectively is to let
the fish hook themselves rather than setting the hook as with other styles of hooks. Most hook
manufacturers now produce circle hooks in several styles and many sizes.
HOOK FINISHES: Since many catfish feed more by olfactory senses than by sight, the color and
finish on the hook would not seem to be too important. This is true in most cases. However, it is
common for catfish to become sight feeders in clearer waters. Under those conditions the size,
shape and color of the hook can act to either attract or alarm wary sight-oriented cats.
Plain cheap bronze finish hooks work just fine for most cat fishing applications. If they are
well made, sharp and strong, you need not spend the money for anything else. However, even with
cat fishing, there is always a place for quality…and quality usually means higher prices. For
example, catfish have tough mouths and sharp hooks will catch more fish. You can sharpen your
cheaper hooks to improve your chances or you can buy hooks that are chemically or laser
sharpened and are plenty sharp “right out of the box”.
Many of the hooks favored for catfish were designed for salt water and may be nickel or
black nickel finished. A little extra sparkle won’t hurt the appeal of the hook but is not necessary.
There is also the concern for nickel taking longer to dissolve out of a fish…when left behind in
deeply hooked released fish or ones that break off.
Hooks with an anodized red finish have become more popular for many species, but school is
still out on using red hooks for bait presentations to catfish. I use red hooks a lot, but when the fish
are active and biting well the color of the hook does not seem to make much difference.
HOOK EYES: There are three basic types of eyes on catfish hooks…ringed, down-eye and up-eye.
Many cat chasers like the ring eye hooks since they are easy to tie onto lines and leaders without
having to use any fancy knots. Of course you can use the same simple knots to attach up eye or
down eye hooks. But, to get a good straight pull it is better to use a snell knot.
There is varying opinion as to whether one type or another is more effective in setting the
hook and/or keeping the fish on the hook afterwards. It usually boils down to what someone has
had the most success with on any given day. We tend to become creatures of habit and preferences
can be influenced by personal experiences and observations…relevant or not.
HOOK POINTS: The one thing that holds true of all types of hook points for catfish is that they
should be sharp. Catfish have tough skin and tough mouths. It can be difficult to get a good hook
set on big old cats when you are using dull hooks. If the hooks you buy are not chemically or laser
sharpened by the manufacturer be sure you touch them up with a small file or stone before using
them…and again after you fish them awhile or each time you free them from a snag.
Some cat men like straight pointed hooks. Others like “beak style”, with offset bend, to aid
in reaching out and grabbing some fish flesh on the hook set. Still others like the unusual shapes
and bends of the wide gap, Kahle, circle hooks, etc. They all have their places and all have their
followers. The shapes are often suggested by what size and type bait you are using. When it comes
to circle hooks the inwardly curved point is designed to avoid hooking fish deeply…by sliding
across soft tissue until they reach the corner of the mouth, and then digging in and holding on.
HOOK SIZES: There is an old saying “Big bait, big fish”. That has some bearing on fishing for
catfish and the choices of hooks and hook sizes. For example, when fishing smaller baits like
crawlers or small minnows…for cats that seldom exceed two or three pounds…you can keep your
hook sizes around size 4 to 2. The smaller hooks will hook even a large catfish but you might need
to use more finesse to land it without tearing out the hook.
On the other hand, if you fish in waters where there are large fish and you want to target the
bigguns…and keep the little guys from pestering you…then use bigger baits and bigger hooks.
Small cats will sometimes peck and chew on large baits but if they cannot get the whole bait (and
larger hooks) into their mouths you will spend less time unhooking them…even though you go
through more bait.
What is a “larger” hook for catfish? For fishing smaller strips and chunks of fish flesh a
hook on the order of size 2 through 1/0 will usually suffice. However, fishing that same bait on a
circle hook will work better if you go up to a size 2/0 to 4/0…in order to have enough of the point of
the circle hook exposed to perform the hooking task it is expected to accomplish.
If you are a big cat specialist and routinely fish whole small fish or large slabs of cut bait you
need to think of hooks in the range of 6/0 to 9/0. Big octopus hooks in those sizes are made for fish
like halibut and sturgeon but work fine for large cats. You can fish a big piece of bait on them. As
long as you have a rod and reel big enough make the casts and handle big cats, you are good to go.
One consideration in choosing a hook size is how you will be presenting your bait. If you are
hanging the bait below a bobber you want the biggest hook you can use without spooking the fish.
Since the bobber keeps the bait out of “harm’s way” you don’t need to worry about snags as much.
But, you do want to be able to haul back and set the hook effectively when the bobber goes down.
Large hooks with an exposed point give better hook setting potential in those cases.
On the other hand, if you are dragging around a strip of carp meat from a boat, tube or
‘toon, you will need to balance your hook with the size of the bait you are using. If the hook is too
large it will protrude too far outside the hooked bait and will snag easily on rocks and vegetation,
rather than slipping through the obstructions as you move along. On smooth mud or gravel bottom
that is less of a problem.
To most folks catfish are bottom-dwelling, scum-sucking scavengers that only feed at night
and have foul-tasting flesh that is virtually unpalatable and full of pollution. In some waters…like
the lower Mississippi…at the end of a thousand miles of pollution dumping…that may be true. But,
in Utah Lake the channel cats are mostly clean, pollution free and great eating. They feed actively
during the daytime and they eat most of the same live foods as bass, walleyes and other predators.
Catfish are equipped with sensory organs to enable them to forage effectively even in total
darkness. They have sensitive lateral lines for detecting the vibrations from potential prey and they
have superb olfactory senses. In fact, catfish have smell receptors over much of their skin surface
as well as in their nostrils. They can detect and follow up a faint scent trail for long distances. Once
near the potential meal their sensitive whiskers probe the source of the smell for final assurances
that it is edible. And not much fails to pass the edibility test.
All of this contributes to the catfish’s reputation of being a night feeder. Lots of cats are
taken from Utah Lake after dark…throughout the year. But, because channel cats are active
predators they also hunt during the daytime…especially during periods of cleaner water when they
can employ their surprisingly good vision. There are probably more cats taken from Utah Lake
during the daytime than after dark. That may be because more people fish for them then…not
enjoying the idea of feeding Utah Lake’s mosquitoes after the sun goes down. However, nighttime
may be the best time to catch the truly big cats in Utah Lake during the warmest days of summer.
As with most other species the three major motivators in the life of a channel cat are food,
comfort and spawning. They move around during the year in response to one or more of these
stimulators. They are always on the prowl for an easy meal…or an area with lots of food
resources…and will remain in one area as long as the groceries are available.
Since cats prefer warmer water than many other species they are also prone to seek out
warm spots during cold water periods. They sometimes school up around warm water inflows or
underwater springs at a few select places around Utah Lake. When fishing for cats during late fall
and early spring you should use your temperature gauge to find areas with warmer water.
Catfish spawn when water temps reach the mid 60s. That usually happens sometime in May
and the spawn may extend well into early summer. Not all cats spawn at the same time. And, not
all cats spawn all in one place. The large male cats seek out holes in the rocks or back in protective
vegetation and stake their claim on good nesting sites. Then they coax a procession of females to
come in and deposit a a portion of their eggs in the “group nursery”. The male fertilizes each new
contribution and the female swims off to find other nests until she has dumped all her eggs. Good
insurance against spawn failure if not all the eggs are in one “basket”.
The males guard the eggs while they incubate and then watch over the tiny black fry for a
while after they hatch…protecting them from nest raiders and ravenous predators. Once the
spawn is over both males and females go “on the chew” and the fishing is some of the fastest and
easiest of the year. There are seemingly catfish everywhere and they all seem to be suicidal in their
willingness to eat baits and hit lures…all day and all night.
During the hottest days of summer the daytime fishing remains good for small to medium
sized cats…especially in and around the thick reed beds that ring many parts of the lake. However
the largest kitties sometimes bite better after dark during periods of warm water and greater
boating activity on the lake.
Once the water temps start dropping in the fall catfish again get very active for a while.
They really chow down before the onset of winter. It is during this period that some of the biggest
and fattest cats of the year are taken.
Many anglers are surprised to find that channel cats keep swimming and feeding all
winter…unlike flathead cats that go dormant in cold water. Flatheads just settle to the bottom until
warmer water in spring wakes them up. Channels can be caught through the ice or in open
water…even in the coldest part of winter. True, they may be slower but they will bite and put up at
least a semi-spirited battle.
Ice out finds catfish eager to start a new season. They actively cruise around the lake and
sometimes wander into fairly shallow water…especially if it is a protected cove where the water is
warmed by the sun or from warm springs. The warmer they get the more active they become.
Channel cats are not too territorial except during the spawn. That’s when the males claim a
good nesting spot and set up housekeeping. They coax the females into dumping their eggs and
then they guard first the eggs and then the young until they are able to move off on their own.
After spawning, both males and females follow their food supply…going where the groceries
are. That usually means they will stay near the shallows right after spawning. Catfish typically
spawn later than walleye, carp, crappies and white bass. Just about the time the cats finish
spawning…and get hungry…the young of the other species begin forming schools around the
shallow weedy parts of the lake. Catfish are not the only predators that zero in on the baby fish
buffet. The plethora of fry also attracts predatory white bass, bluegills, crappies and perch…also
on the catfish menu in larger sizes. There is a whole food chain within yards of the shoreline.
In low water years there is not nearly as much cover for the small fry and they have to stay
very shallow or try to hide out in what sparse cover there is. Large cats and other predators can
sometimes be taken in very skinny water at this time…especially at night…when the big hungries
are braver and forage even shallower. The best way to fish shallow-feeding cats is with a jig or bait
suspended only a foot or two below a bobber.
To fish shallow cats you can wade out and cast back into shore…or move toward shore with
a boat, tube or ’toon…casting as close as you can without snagging. There are some surprisingly
huge cats that feed in very thin water. And it can be scary when they “blow up” after being hooked
in the shallows. If you are fishing from shore you should walk lightly and avoid noise or bright
lights at night. Make short casts parallel with the shoreline…trying both shallower and deeper
until you find where the fish are cruising.
Shallow water cat fishing opportunities exist virtually around the whole lake. Some spots
like Lincoln Beach and the Knolls are traditionally popular
. However, there are some fantastic catches made by adventurous anglers…all around the
lake…when they drive down dirt roads to get to the lake and/or fight their way out through the
reeds and vegetation that sometimes ring the lake in higher water years. There are more than a few
knowledgeable “cat chasers” who come into their own every year, by fishing the shallow waters
along the west side of Utah lake, either by wading or by backing a pickup out a ways into the lake
and fishing from the bed of their truck.
Lincoln Beach is at the southern end of Utah Lake, at the point of the ridge of hills directly
west of Spanish Fork. It is one of the few areas around the lake that has a lot of rocky structure. It
also has several natural springs that bubble up either in the lake or right on the edge of the lake
(depending on water levels). Sadly, they are neither as full-flowing nor as warm as in times past.
These are not hot volcanic springs; however they are slightly warmer than the lake water in
the winter and attract fish that are looking for a couple more degrees of comfort. White bass,
walleye, largemouth, bluegill, crappie, carp and of course catfish all find these springs a nice place
to hang out when the lake gets cold in the fall and winter months.
The seams, channels, holes, cracks and crevices in the rock around Lincoln Beach also make
it a gathering spot for channel cats during May and June each year when the water warms above 65
degrees and the kitties do their spawning thing.
Male channel cats turn dark gray or even black at this time and they search out protected
depressions or holes in the rocks to establish nests. They then coax in the females and persuade
them to lay at least part of their eggs. Some nests may contain eggs from several females. The male
remains with the eggs until they hatch and then guards the tiny brood until they are large enough
and brave enough to scatter into the open lake on their own.
Unlike some species, catfish continue to feed during their spawning period. Some of the
largest fish of the year are taken during this period when the big old males are close to shore,
protecting nests and accessible to more anglers.
During years of higher water…when there are large stands of reeds growing well out into
the lake…catfish will also spawn in the cover of the submerged lower parts of the vegetation.
Soaking bait back in pockets or along the edges of those reeds can be quite effective for some time
after the main spawn is over. There are a lot of reeds and tamarisk plants all along the shoreline
both east and west of the launch area of Lincoln Beach. The shallow bay just south of the harbor
dikes can be very good fishing…either from the rock dikes or from boat, tube or ‘toon.
In low water years the springs are exposed and the rocky areas around them become
accessible to vehicle parking or walk-in shore anglers. Casting out only a short distance from the
spring outlets can be a good way to harvest some kitties. Sometimes you can do well fishing right
inside the springs. Typically, the fishing is best out on the mud flats away from the rocky edges of
the springs. Unfortunately, public access is more restricted during high water times.
While wading or fishing from shore can be very productive all around the lake, and
especially at Lincoln Beach, the greatest opportunities for both quantity and quality of catfish go to
those afloat. By knowing the bottom contours and using sonar you can find many more good
fishing spots. Much of the bottom around Lincoln Point is very uneven…with lots of humps,
cracks, rock piles and channels. Being able to locate a “honey hole” can often be the difference
between wide open mayhem and a poor day of fishing.
Fishing inside the harbor and along the boat channel can be surprisingly good. It is usually
better at night, or during midweek, when there are not as many boats going in and out. Channel
cats can get fussy. Some pretty big cats have been taken all along the inside of the channel when
there is enough water in the lake to allow them to feel comfortable.
If you go wading out on the rock shelve off Lincoln Point be careful with your foot
placements. There are lots of fast drop-offs and cracks in the rocks that can create problems if you
are not attentive and/or move too quickly. It is a good idea to wear a belt around your waders
and/or a PFD, just in case you take an unscheduled swim while in your waders.
This small shallow stream is also known as Beer Creek. It winds through the valley farm
lands before sneaking out into Utah Lake a few hundred yards to the southeast of Lincoln Beach.
There are some catfish that go upstream to spawn in the spring but the main attraction to catfish is
the gathering of white bass and other species that also use the stream for spawning. That flow also
delivers tidbits from upstream farms that catfish might find edible…such as worms, dead chickens,
This spot is not accessible to bank tanglers. You are pretty much limited to getting there
from the open lake…by boat, tube or toon. A lot of cat fans launch at Lincoln Beach and head
directly to the mouth of the slough as their first stop…and may remain there all day when the
fishing is good. If the fish are not in close to the mouth there are usually some out deeper.
SPANISH FORK RIVER:
A couple of miles east of Lincoln Beach, along the southern shoreline, the Spanish Fork
River enters Utah Lake. It has a greater flow than Benjamin Slough but less than the Provo River.
It is a major spawning stream for most species. The flowing water and the congregation of smaller
prey species attract channel cats for much of the year. It is an especially good spot to fish when the
cats seek out cool flowing water in the hottest part of summer. That is also when a lot of carp and
white bass fry swarm in the shallows and around the reeds near the mouth of the inflow.
MUD LAKE (PROVO BAY):
This large shallow bay is high and dry in low water years but is a great fishery when the
water raises enough to flood the brush and reeds that grow in during the dry years. It is a snaggy
son of a gun in many places but the kitties love it for spawning and feeding.
Hobble Creek and a couple of canals empty into this part of the lake and of course that
attracts lots of fish of all species. Catfish follow the other fish since they are all on the menu. There
is shoreline access for bank tangling and wading at a couple of places, but a lot of the best fishing is
from boats, tubes or toons that can launch and fish productive areas well away from the reed
choked shorelines. It is not a long run south from Provo Boat Harbor.
AIRPORT DIKE ROAD:
If you turn south on the road just east of the Center Street Bridge, on the lower Provo
River…just before it enters the State Park…it will take you around the edge of Utah Lake and out
onto the dike between the lake and the Provo Airport. There are thick growths of phragmites and
other vegetation along most of the road, preventing easy access to the lake, but there are a couple of
turnouts with gaps in the greenery down to the lake…at least during high water.
The whole shoreline here is prime catfish habitat during the warmer months. They use the
thick reed growth both for spawning and feeding. So, wading, tubing, tooning or boating can get
you outside the edges of the vegetation and allow you to fish a bobber and bait setup along the
edges. There are some nice kitties there…if you can get through the whities and mudders.
PROVO HARBOR AREA:
This area includes the mouth of the Provo River…the largest inflow of fresh water on Utah
Lake. As such it is a major spawning stream for all species that like to spawn in running water. Of
course that includes channel cats.
When there is a fair amount of spring runoff in the lower Provo River some channel cats will
travel upstream in May to search out rock piles and undercut banks for spawning. Some of the
deeper holes will be full of cats that will accept a crawler, minnow or cut bait on a sliding sinker rig.
You will not find them upstream every year but they are always worth looking for after the walleye
spawning closures are lifted the first of May.
Try fishing straight out from the mouth of the Provo River if you have a boat, tube or ‘toon .
Work different depths until you find the catfish “zone”. This is a great area to anchor up for night
fishing after the boat traffic from the harbor subsides. It is also a great place to just fish bait on an
unweighted line and drift…on those nights when there is little or no breeze. Just kick back, enjoy
the stars and swat skeeters until a catfish tries to run away with all your line.
There are plenty of channel cats inside the harbor but fishing is restricted inside much of the
marina to avoid conflict with boaters during the busy season. However there is plenty of good
fishing all along the dikes…inside and outside…where it IS legal to fish any time. Catfish use the
rocks for spawning and later as a place to hunt for food. That means that when water levels are
high enough there can be good kitty action close to shore. Try using a worm, minnow or cut bait
below a bobber, next to the rocks. It is also effective to cast out into the lake with a Corky float to
keep your bait up off the bottom.
The north dike of the Provo Boat Harbor is perennially popular as a shore fishing site. Lots
of nice channel cats, bullheads, walleyes and white bass are taken from along the north side of that
dike. The lower the water drops each year, the further out toward the end you should be fishing,
and the less productive it becomes in shallower waters closer to shore.
Just south of the Lindon Boat Harbor is the “Bubbleup”. This is the old pipeline extending
out from shore that was formerly the outflow for the warm wastewater produced during the milling
process of the Geneva Steel Plant. Today there is only a small outflow, from springs that still empty
into the settling ponds. But, that is often enough to attract fish. There are lots of cats, white bass
and walleyes taken around the bubbleup, especially during the spring months.
During high water years the lake raises enough to flood the tall stands of reeds between
Lindon and the bubbleup. Again, these become spawning and feeding areas for cats and fishing
around the edges of the reeds can be very good.
The shoreline between the Bubbleup and Lindon Harbor has recently been cleared of most
of the phragmites and brush that made fishing from shore difficult. Much easier bank access.
LINDON BOAT HARBOR:
This is a private harbor…not a part of the state park system. It is a great place to fish for
catfish just about all year. When lake levels are high enough there are lots of channels and
bullheads taken inside the harbor…from outside the dikes that ring the harbor…and from boats,
tubes and ‘toons. Fishing inside is often best at night after boat traffic dies down. But, there are
some good fish taken even during the middle of the day while lots of boats are going in and out.
Fishing in the open lake is generally the most productive…from either the west dike or the
north dike. You may have to experiment with the distance you cast from the dike…anywhere from
right at the edge of the rocks to a long cast away. You can do well when the kitties are close and
biting. If not, you usually have plenty of company with whom to trade excuses.
A hundred yards north of Lindon Harbor there is a small creek channel coming into the lake
around some “reed islands”. At times this inlet (Battle Creek) can hold channel cats but it is
usually better fishing for white bass and walleyes…at least in the spring months. But, as with most
fresh water inflows around Utah Lake the catfish are attracted not only by the flow but by the food
resources of other species and their fry.
From Lindon to the wastewater inflow…and from there to American Fork Boat Harbor…
there is not much besides shallow flats and shoreline reeds (during high water). However, it is a
prime holding area for cats and can produce some great fishing…both along the edges of the
vegetation and out into deeper water. The key is to find the area and the depth where cats are
concentrating…or to drift until you pick up the occasional straggler. This is a good area to fish
with either unweighted bait or with a bobber above the bait. Both work well.
WASTEWATER TREATMENT INFLOW:
This area is off limits to shore access. And, it is a fairly long haul by fins or electric trolling
motor to get there in a float tube or pontoon. But, if you have a boat you can reach it easily from
Lindon Harbor and enjoy some great fishing. The outflow from the treatment facility is clean
treated water so you need have no fear of eating fish from this area. But, if the wind direction is
from the north you may not be able to stay long in the “perfumed” air.
There are almost always a lot of white bass crowding up into the little stream. They fight
over jigs tossed near them and are easy to catch…either for your own dining or to be cut up for
bait. The catfish in the area are especially responsive to a strip or chunk of white bass flesh. Just
let it soak near the reeds or float it under a bobber. If there are cats around they will usually
respond. Sometimes you may have to look out in deeper water but they are generally nearby.
AMERICAN FORK BOAT HARBOR:
Like Lindon, this is a private harbor and not a Utah State Park. It does require a fee to
launch or fish but it can be well worth the investment…for catfish as well as white bass and
walleyes. There are also some nice largemouth bass, crappies and bluegills taken here.
The American Fork River empties into Utah Lake immediately west of the harbor. That
draws a lot of white bass and walleyes in season. Channel cats tend to hang around wherever edible
size fish of other species congregate. There are some big kitties caught both inside and outside this
Sometime the cats bite well right next to the steeper banks inside even when there is a fair
amount of boat traffic. Fishing close to the bank can be more productive than casting out into the
main part of the marina. However, when night fishing inside…after the boat traffic is done…big
cats are caught all over the harbor.
The shallow and reedy flats extending east and west of the American Fork Harbor…all
along the north shore of Utah Lake…can be very good for cats…whenever you can find where they
are actively feeding. As mentioned elsewhere they favor the reeds both for spawning and feeding
during the warmer months of the year.
JORDAN RIVER OUTLET/PUMPHOUSE:
Channel cats like moving water. They often gather near the mouth of the Jordan River
outflow and wait for food items to be swept to them on the current. They also gather both in the
slack water behind the gates and in the flowing water below the pumps. There are also a lot of nice
cats taken in the Jordan River around the bridge and for a good ways below. Look for the deeper
holes for best results. When you find the fish you can often experience decent fishing.
In addition to the historic mouth of the Jordan River there is an outlet channel between the
pumphouse and Saratoga Springs Harbor. It is a short narrow channel that is controlled by a set of
three metal gates and a spillway. When water is flowing through one or more of the gates there is a
flow in the channel that attracts kitties. They can also be taken below the gates…especially in a
couple of the deeper spots. If all three gates are open it becomes difficult to fish there.
There is a nice park on the west side of the inflow channel, complete with restrooms and
several spots to set up for bank tanglin’. There are some surprisingly good catches of kitties from
this shallow slow-water side channel…as well as numbers of white bass and mudders.
Although formerly open to public fishing this harbor is now private and fishing access is
limited to residents of the community or to those boating in from the outside and who do not dock
or step onto private property.
There are warm springs flowing into this harbor and surrounding area. During times of
higher water this northwest corner of the lake can be good fishing for cats as well as the other
species in the lake. It is a popular spot in the winter when some areas remain open even when the
rest of the lake is under several inches of ice. It is probably one of the best spots to fish for channel
cats early in the year because there is warmer water here than almost anywhere else.
SARATOGA SPRINGS MARINA:
This is the only developed boat launch facility available to the public on the west side of Utah
Lake. It is the newest marina on the lake but gets a lot of boat traffic…not only from Saratoga
Springs residents but the general public as well. There is a fee for boaters (with trailers) but not for
bank tanglers, tubers or tooners. While the fishing for cats inside the harbor is spotty there is
generally some good action in the outside lake and fishing from the rock dikes.
You can sometimes find kitties fairly close to the harbor entrance…both north and south.
The water gets deeper more quickly in this area than places around the lake that have a shallower
gradient in the lake bottom. If you work south of the harbor…toward Pelican Point…there are
more rocks along the shoreline than most other areas around the lake. To the north you will find
some productive reed beds.
This prominent protrusion out into the western part of Utah Lake has long been a favorite of
knowledgeable catfish fans. It has a lot of rocky structure. That means it is a traditional catfish
spawning area during years when the water is high enough to cover the rocks and provide
protection for the courtin’ cats. The structure attracts smaller forage species like white bass.
As with most rocky areas around Utah Lake you will catch more fish and lose less tackle if
you soak bait below a bobber to keep it out of the rocks. There are times when the fish can be taken
from surprisingly shallow water.
The downside to Pelican Point is that the only roads down from the highway are private and
usually closed by a locked gate. No public access by land. Most catters come in by boat, after
launching at the Saratoga Springs Marina or one of the harbors across the lake.
NOTE: This area is temporarily closed to public access due to littering and vandalism. Hopefully
it will be reopened before the end of 2013.
Once you pass Pelican Point on Highway 68 (Redwood Rd.) you will head west around the
north side of the lake across from Lincoln Beach. The shoreline is initially a shallow slope with
visible beds of reeds. As you go further west, toward the turnoff at mile marker 19, there are some
steeper sloping banks and more rocks and rubble along the shoreline. And much of the shoreline is
ringed with reeds and brush.
In years of higher water, shore anglers must contend with shoreline brush to get out far
enough to fish. Many creative anglers like to back a pickup or other high clearance vehicle out into
the lake, where the bottom is firm and rocky, and then fish from their vehicles.
That brings up another point. There are a lot of loose rocks along the west side, both in and
out of the water. It can be difficult to drag bait across the bottom without getting snagged. That’s
why a lot of “west siders” prefer to fish with bobbers.
Much of this area is prime for wading and casting. The fish are often shallow and are may
be right up in the reeds and shoreline brush. Even when the water is low enough to leave the
greenery high and dry you can still find a few cats in shallower water there. When the water is
really low, as it gets during drought periods, you have to wade a long distance from shore to even
find water deeper than 2 feet.
One of the downsides of the Knolls area is that it is popular with shooters and trashers.
There may be bullets whizzing over your head while you fish and there are shell casings
everywhere. And the piles of trash left by irresponsible campers can be atrocious.
You can launch tubes, toons or even small boats at the Knolls if the water is up. Once afloat
you can get away from the crowds that sometimes develop along the shoreline. You will find spots
where the bottom drops off more quickly and there is some deeper water out off the steep rocky
hills to the west. That area is sometimes great for catfish when they are not available elsewhere.
This area makes up the whole southwest corner of Utah Lake. During low water years it is little
more than a mud flat. However, when the water rises many spots in and around the bay can be
great for catfish. The kitties spawn in the rocks and reeds around the shoreline and then stay
around for feeding later. It is a nursery area for many of the other species in the lake so there can
be lots of food in the kitchen for hungry whiskerfish.
There are few road access points along the west side of Goshen Bay, except for around the
Wildlife Management Area…which can be great fishing in the early part of the year. There are
numerous turnoffs along Lincoln Beach Road…from Lincoln Point southward toward Genola.
However, you need to pay attention to the areas with NO TRESPASSING signs.
Many of these access spots offer good fishing from the bank or wade fishing. You can
launch a small boat, tube or ‘toon in some places. Fishing is best when the water is high enough to
flood the shoreline reeds and rocks. However, even when the water levels are down the big cats
often cruise into shallow water to feed…especially after dark.
This rocky hump in Utah Lake is famous as a catfish condo. Often you can load up on
cats…and some bigguns…around this submerged rock pile even when they are being elusive in
other parts of the lake.
Like Lincoln Beach the underwater terrain around Bird Island consists of rough volcanic
rock with lots of fissures, cracks, crevices, channels and holes. That translates to prime catfish
holding structure. They mass up for spawning around Bird Island and stay because the structure
also attracts and holds a lot of groceries for them.
This very small uprising can be seen above the water a couple of miles north of Lincoln
Beach. Only in extreme high water years does the island become completely covered by water.
Then, you have to look for brush sticking above the water unless you have the GPS waypoints.
Obviously, Bird Island is best fished by boat. Only the foolhardy attempt to reach it and fish
it with anything less than a water-worthy craft. The wind can come up quickly on Utah Lake and
Bird Island is far enough away from most of the launch areas that you would not want to have to
fight your way back in a tiny tin boat.
There should also be a word of warning to even seasoned boaters who want to fish Bird
Island. It is best to go with someone who really knows the island the first time or two. There are
long shallow underwater points and shelves that cannot be seen in the murky water. These unseen
hazards take a terrible toll on boats and motors. Some of these “prop eaters” come up suddenly,
from deeper water, and by the time they show up on sonar it is too late.
This has been a general overview of the most accessible and productive areas to fish for
catfish around Utah Lake. You can spend a lifetime checking them all out and finding your own
favorite spots to fish…during the different conditions that seem to occur every year…or even
during the same year. Once you know a few areas well it is tough to decide where to go when the
cats are “in” and the conditions are right.
RIGS & RIGGING
“HOOK, LINE & SINKER”: As mentioned, catfish are generally not too finicky about the tackle
you use or the way you rig it. Almost any setup that includes a hook, sinker and bait will catch fish.
Anglers who learned how to fish for trout with a baited hook below a split shot quickly find that
this rig also works just fine for catfish. But, there are plenty of cat chasers who knot a hefty sinker
or two onto their line above a hook…sometimes with little or no leader. When a decent cat takes
the bait it is capable of dragging heavy sinkers and the bite will definitely register on the end of the
rod. Not too sophisticated and lacks finesse but it still catches kitties.
SLIDING SINKER: Using a sinker that slides freely on your line accomplishes two things. One, it
helps telegraph a bite better. Two, it allows the fish to swim off a bit without feeling the full drag of
the sinker. Sometimes they drop the bait if they feel anything unnatural…like the weight of a
sinker dragging on the bottom.
One of the most common forms of sliding sinker rigs is also called a “Carolina rig” when
used by bass chasers. It consists of an oval egg sinker behind a stop swivel. The line runs through
the hole in the center of the sinker. A leader of anywhere from 6” to 4’ long is attached to the other
end of the swivel. Many catters use a leader somewhat heavier than their main line to provide more
abrasion resistance in rocks and brush and protection against fish teeth and spines.
Another popular sliding sinker rig is to run the main line through the ring eye of a snap
swivel…so that it slides freely on the line above a barrel swivel. You then use the snap to attach a
weight of the size and style you prefer for the type of fishing you are doing. That might be a small
bell sinker for some applications…or a big flat or triangle sinker for others. It accomplishes the
same thing as the egg sinker setup. It allows the fish to pull the line easily through the eye of the
snap swivel and transmits the bite more effectively to the tip of the rod. By using a snap swivel you
can change the style and weight of the sinker to reflect changes in conditions…or presentations.
DROPPER…DROP-SHOT…HIGH-LOW RIG: There are several terms to describe a rig that
features a sinker on the bottom of your line with one or two dropper hooks tied in above it. The
general idea is to use the sinker to hold the bottom and to have the bait presented above the
bottom…at whatever distance you feel will appeal most to the fish. Same idea as fishing bait below
a bobber only accomplished by fishing it above a sinker.
When fishing with dropper rigs you can use either one or two droppers. In Utah it is now
legal to fish with up to three hooks on one line. Fishing with two droppers makes the setup a “high-
low” rig…with one dropper higher up the line than the other. This rig allows you to fish with two
different baits and/or to fish two different depths. Fishing with three hooks is unwieldy.
There are several choices when it comes to attaching a hook on a dropper rig. The first is
the “traditional” drop-shot setup…with the hook being looped directly onto the main line…at the
chosen distance above the weight. It works as well for cats as it does for bass.
Another method is to tie a dropper leader…using a blood knot or other strong connection
with a tag end for the hook. Just don’t leave too much line between the main line and the hook.
Longer leaders tangle easier.
A third method of rigging droppers is to either make a loop in the line or tie in a three way
swivel. That allows you to use a pre-tied snelled leader and hook. This can be great for quickly
replacing hooks left inside fish or to change the size or style of your hooks. When you are fishing
you don’t want to spend a lot of time tying up new rigs if you don’t have to.
WEIGHTLESS: When casting only a short distance from shore…or when anchored or slow
drifting while afloat…it is often effective to fish without any additional weight other than the
bait…and maybe a swivel. This allows a more natural presentation of the bait and permits finicky
cats to pick up the bait and test it for resistance or weight before swimming off with it or gulping it
down. There are times when they are especially sensitive to anything unnatural.
If you fish weightless you might also consider fishing with the bail open on your spinning
reel…or the spool disengaged on your baitcaster. This lets the fish move off a ways with the bait
and can give them extra time to get the bait well inside their mouths before you set the hook. It is
always exciting to try to guess how large the fish is while it is swimming off with the bait.
CORKY RIG: Corkies are small brightly colored floats that were originally used for fishing
steelhead and salmon in flowing waters. They are slipped on the line, between the hook and a
swivel or weight, to hold your bait a desired distance above the bottom. Utah Lake anglers found
they help present minnows or crawlers at just the right depth for walleyes cruising off the bottom.
But, they also found themselves attached to catfish as often as to walleye. So, now the local cat
chasers also rig with Corkies and are happy to catch whatever grabs hold.
BOBBER RIGS: Although catfish are widely considered to be bottom huggers…and are mostly
fished on or near the bottom…they will come up a surprising distance off the bottom to take lures
or baits. They even eat insects, rodents and small birds right on the surface when available. So,
fishing bait below a bobber is not usually that much less effective than soaking it on the bottom.
There are some conditions under which using a bobber makes more sense than putting your
offerings on the bottom. The most obvious situation is when there are lots of rocks or snags and
you prefer not to be fighting them instead of a fish.
A whole lot of Utah Lake cat fans have learned that kitties hang out in fairly shallow inshore
waters at times…where there might be brush, rocks and reeds. Using a bobber to float the bait
above the nasty stuff saves time and tackle. During the warmer months of summer a bobber
floated next to stands of reeds can provide fast fishing for cats of all sizes. And there is something
downright exciting about watching that bobber take a dive when a cat comes calling.
“BLING BEADS”: Walleye anglers have been adding beads to their crawler harnesses and other
bait rigs for many years. The added color and/or sparkle definitely seem to attract more hits…and
often harder hits. I have long used beads above both flies and baits…for several species. And I
discovered that catfish like them too.
In murky water or low light conditions the kitties rely more on their lateral lines and superb
olfactory receptors to find food. But when Utah Lake calms down and clears up a bit the fish
respond well to visual stimulation too. If there is more than a few inches of visibility in the water
you can benefit by adding to colorful beads on your line above your bait hook. I have had some
trips on which I got several times the number of bites on baits with beads as opposed to baits
I doubt that it makes too much difference what size and color beads you use. But I have
always done well with the same beads I use for walleyes…and trout…chartreuse and orange beads
in about 5 mm to 7 mm in size. Sometimes I use two small chartreuse beads. Other times I add an
orange bead between the two chartreuse beads…for color contrast. Strangely enough, there are
days when the exact color combination seems to make a difference.
The fall fishing season usually begins in Utah toward the end of August. That is when the
hours of daylight grow noticeably shorter and the mornings become noticeably cooler. At least that
is the way it is most years. Hot raging summer may extend well into September but the first frosts
usually happen well after Labor Day.
Catfish respond to the indicators of coming winter months by feeding more often and more
actively. At this time of year they have a lot of natural food to chase…young carp, white bass and
the fry of other species as well. Using these most common menu items for bait will usually catch
more and bigger fish than nightcrawlers or the “processed” baits. And, contrary to popular
opinion, the fresher the bait the better. Utah Lake kitties seem to like clean fresh meat much better
than some that has been “well aged”.
Depending upon weather and water levels some cats will still be hanging out in and around
shoreline rocks and reeds…and respond well to bait fished under a bobber. But more of the bigger
fish will begin moving out into deeper waters…especially after a windy session or a cold spell that
radically drops water temps.
October is generally about the end of what can be called the fall fishing period for catfish. In
fact, by mid October of most years you have a tough time finding any fish close to shore. Fishing
for them around the reeds, with a bobber, is largely unproductive. But, soaking or slowly dragging
minnows or fish flesh out in deeper waters can still produce some decent action. In fact, I typically
hook some of my biggest cats in October each year.
There can be a lot of good catfish fishing along shorelines that are too shallow for bank
fishing…or which are restricted by heavy growths of brush and reeds. Wading allows you to get
out into deeper water before casting your lures or baits. It can also let you get beyond the
vegetation and then work the edges with little competition from bank tanglers.
Early and late in the year when the water temps are still chilly you will want to wear
insulated waders. Once the water warms above about 65…spawning temp for catfish…you can
simply wear jeans and tennies. It’s usually better to wear long pants rather than shorts. You never
know what lies beneath the murky surface of Utah Lake and a bit of extra protection for your
tender flesh might be appreciated if you wade into sharp sticks or old wire.
You will probably only want to carry and use one rod at a time while wading. Even if you
have a two pole permit it is difficult to manage more than one. A good medium weight stick, with
tough reel and good line will help you handle all but the very biggest fish. And, the lighter the
tackle the more fun you will have with the “average” cats.
During the summer it is usually productive to fish the bobber and bait system right along the
edges of the reed beds. Water depths are usually not more than 3 or 4 feet…with flat level
bottom… so you can fish without worry of sinking over your head.
Definitely carry a good sized net…and a stout stringer or fish basket if you plan to keep any
of your catch while wade fishing. A floating fish basket is best since it reduces the chance of fish
wrapping around your legs or anything in the water.
If you carry a few extra hooks, sinkers, etc…and bait…you will find it handy to wear a big
roomy fishing vest…and/or a chest pack, fanny pack or small back pack. You need some place to
hold your stuff without having to balance a tackle box on your head.
June is the beginning of summer…on the calendar. However, Utah Lake’s channel cats are
more responsive to water temps and food availability than what the calendar says. The beginning
of June may find them still involved in an extended spawn. When the water temps came up quickly
in May the spawn might be mostly over by June and the fish are in full blown post spawn feeding
mode. Conditions may be different from year to year depending upon water levels, water temps,
food availability, etc.
Summertime is definitely catfish time. They thrive and remain very active in the warmest
waters of summer. They are scattered throughout the lake and may be caught at just about any
regular catfish hotspot…and on some days at almost any depth.
That being said, there is one style of fishing for cats that is extremely effective throughout
the summer…at least during calm weather periods. That is fishing for them under a bobber close
to structure…reeds, rocks, brush, etc. They spawn in these areas in May but often stay close for
hunting crawdads, fish fry (their own as well as other species) and even rodents and birds. It is not
uncommon to find remnants of all kinds of critters in the innards of catfish you fillet during the
summer…or any other time for that matter.
Night time is prime time for fishing cats in the summer. During the warmest days of
summer it is common for the very largest catfish to adopt more of a nocturnal feeding mode. You
can usually catch grundles of small to medium sized kitties all day long. But to have the best shot at
a biggun you might need to wait until after the sun goes down.
When the big cats go on the prowl at night they will sometimes cruise into very shallow
water in their search for food…living or dead. On a clear, calm moonlit night you can see wakes
and swirls in the shallows…and they are not always carp. Soaking a big chunk of fish flesh…carp
meat, white bass or chub…in skinny water…may get you bendo on the biggest catfish you ever
hooked. If fishing in rocky rubble you should probably hang your bait under a bobber to reduce
the potential for snagging. A lot of nighttime bobber anglers like the glow bobbers.
TACKLE & TECHNIQUES
Channel cats are a popular quarry in Utah Lake. One of the main reasons has to be because
they can be caught on so many different baits and with so many different types of tackle and
rigging. While they can be difficult at times they are arguably one of the easiest fish to catch…once
you find them. Combine that with their large average size, their bodacious battle and their fine
table qualities and you have a lot of reasons for chasing kitties. Here are a few tips to help.
Catfish are not snobs. They are a fish for the masses. With the exceptions of the times when
they shut down in cold water or bad weather they are catchable by almost anybody…at almost any
time of day or night…using almost any tackle. But, if you want to maximize your chances of
catching them…and the enjoyment you get from the battle…there are some considerations in
choosing your gear that can help a lot.
You don’t need a fishin’ pole to catch catfish. There are folks who hook a lot of kitties on
nothing more glamorous than handlines. You can see them at various places around Utah Lake
twirling a baited hook and sinker rig overhead and then letting it fly out into the water. Many of
them use a “budget” spinning reel…a can or plastic bottle with the line wrapped around it and held
so that the line peels off when it is pointed outward. Line is retrieved by simply winding it back on
the “reel” by hand. Simple and cheap…but it works.
If you talk to a hundred anglers dedicated to chasin’ catfish on Utah Lake you will get a
hundred different opinions about what tackle is best. Some prefer heavy surf rods and big reels.
Some prefer Ultralight spinning gear to provide the maximum battle on even the smallest kitties.
Most are somewhere in between…using medium weight spinning or baitcast gear. They are all
right…to some extent. It is all good…for some cat fishing applications.
Your choice of tackle for chasing kitties should be determined by several factors. The family
budget is a big consideration for many of us. You don’t have to impoverish the family to assemble a
good arsenal of catfish gear. But, good quality tackle holds up better against big tough fish and
reduces the chance of losing them due to shattered rods, broken line or poor drag settings.
One important consideration is HOW WILL YOU BE FISHING…bank tanglin’, wading,
boat, float tube, toon…or? These methods suggest different gear for different needs. For example,
if you are fishing from shore and need to make long casts with a heavy sinker you will need a long
stout rod capable of chuckin’ out a heavy load. In that situation your selection of rod and reel is
determined more by your method of angling than by the size of the fish you expect to catch.
If you are wading or fishing afloat you can use much lighter gear and shorter rods. You
don’t need to make long casts with big sinkers. You can position yourself to make shorter casts and
can get by with tackle just heavy enough to handle the fish you expect to catch.
Most Utah Lake cat chasers use medium to medium heavy rods…from 6 to 7 feet in length.
These provide plenty of length and power both for casting and for battling almost any catfish you
are likely to hook. Of course the larger the fish the longer the battle might be. But if you match
your rod with the right line and a good reel with a good drag you need only time, patience and a
degree of skill to bring in even the bigguns.
You can use either spinning or baitcast gear for cats. It is a matter of personal choice.
There are probably a lot more Utah Lake cataholics that prefer spinning gear. It is simpler for
most to operate without “professional overruns”. A good medium sized spinning reel is adequate
for almost any cat in the lake…if it holds at least a hundred yards of quality line and has a good
About the only situations that would be improved with revolving spool reels would be for
fishing heavy braided lines for big cats in nasty structure. There are a few dedicated cat specialists
that fish big baits for big fish and sometimes they have to rassle those bad boys out of some
You don’t need expensive braided line for catfish. But, you should not use the cheapest
monofilament on sale at “Wally World” either. The most successful catfish anglers on Utah Lake
typically spool up with high quality mono from 10# to 15#…and then use leaders of heavier mono to
reduce the potential for abrasion on structure or getting nicked on sharp spines.
Abrasion resistance and good knot strength are important qualities for cattin’ lines. A long
battle with a big cat can put your line through some real tests. The bigguns seem to know every
rock and stickup in the lake and just how to run your line over or through them to become
“disconnected”. Forget limp, wimpy, super soft lines. Those are for “slimer” (trout) fishermen.
Winter, for catfish, is not defined strictly by snow and/or ice. In terms of their feeding and
overall activity levels it is more a matter of water temps. My experience is that I can continue to
find them receptive to the standard bait presentations in the better catfish locations until the water
temps drop below about 55 degrees. That seems to be when they slow way down and move into the
deeper zones of the lake. You can still catch them…if you can find them…but the bite is much
more tentative and they do not fight as hard when you hook them.
I will arbitrarily say that the winter period for catfish extends from about the first of
November until about the middle of March in most years. Again, conditions can vary from year to
year but that is a good overall standard for planning your catfish year.
Most anglers would not think of deliberately targeting catfish through the ice on Utah Lake.
However, some do and they DO catch catfish. The key is to know where the depressions, holes and
deeper channels are that attract the kitties in the coldest waters. It is also good to know the few
spots around the lake where there are warm water springs or inflows. A few degrees difference in
water temps can really draw in the cold-sensitive kitties. Suggestions for ice fishing will be offered
in the section on Tackle and Techniques.
YEAR ‘ROUND CATTIN’
Spring is prime time for early season catfish. They remain active and feeding all winter even
when Utah Lake freezes over. But, as soon as the water begins warming the kitties go on the prowl
and are likely to feed all day long…even the bigguns. This is the time of year that some of the
biggest cats are taken.
Almost all of the better known catfish spots (discussed later) start kickin’ out good cat
catches usually starting about late March and getting better through April. Knowing that these fish
prefer warm water should suggest you plan your fishing trips in late afternoon on warm days…and
to fish in shallower and more protected waters…where the sun adds more warmth to the water. On
many early spring days you can find active cats in water as shallow as 2 to 3 feet deep. And right
before dark…and shortly after…they may come in even shallower at some spots.
May is a magic month for cataholics. Once the water warms toward the 65 degree mark the
cats first go on a feeding binge and then start congregating around rocks and shoreline reeds and
brush. That is where they spawn and (unlike walleyes) both sexes of catfish continue to take bait
and lures before, during and after spawning. Schooled up hungry fish make for some fast action.
HANDLING AND CARE
Proper handling of catfish begins as soon as you get one anywhere close to you. If it is a
smaller fish…and you have stout tackle…you can just hoist it into the boat or up onto the bank.
Larger fish should be netted…with a net large enough to hold and control them. You don’t want to
have to grab a flopping catfish to subdue it.
Everybody knows that you will get stuck if you mishandle catfish. Right? Well, yes and no.
It is true that catfish have nasty serrated spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins. When these fish
are young the spines are very sharp and covered with a mucous membrane that contains a toxin. It
is painful when the spines penetrate human flesh. Those younger fish seem to know just when to
flare their fins, twist and flop when you are trying to safely grab them. No matter how good you
think you are in getting the right grip you are likely to get stuck a few times. Ouch…and bloody.
There are two good ways of grabbing cats by hand. One is immediately behind the head, in
front of the spiny dorsal. The other is the belly grip, with fingers going around each of the pectoral
spines. Of course, one of the best ways to handle catfish is with a pair of lip grippers. That makes it
easy to control them with less potential for suffering a stab wound.
Larger channel cats become spawners. During their annual procreation ritual they wallow
around inside rocky chambers…fighting, spawning or feeding. The tips of their sharp spines
gradually get rounded and worn down somewhat. Catfish larger than about 20” are not nearly as
hazardous as smaller ones. However, those hard pectoral spines may still be a problem. They can
tangle in a net or fish basket and cause damage if the fish rolls in them…which they do. Those
spines also make it difficult to hold the fish down flat during the filleting process.
I always carry a good stout pair of pliers when fishing for catfish. I use them to cut or break
off the spines as soon as I bring them in…if I am planning to keep the fish. On the very largest cats
you may need a pair of heavy side cutters or shears to remove those spines. Unless you do so the
bigger fish may not fit down inside your fish basket with fins flared and locked.
When fishing in my tube I use a fish basket to keep my keepers alive until I can return to
shore and put them on ice. I do not like stringers. Big fish will rip a flimsy metal stringer apart
with one of their “death rolls”. Also, if you hang a stringer from a float tube or pontoon the fish
can tangle your legs. Not good.
Once back at your vehicle…or when fishing from the bank or a boat…you should put your
catfish on ice as soon as possible. It’s also a good idea to tap them on the noggin a couple of times
first. Live and crazy catfish inside a cooler can cause a lot of noise while flipping around and can
even pop the lid open and dive out.
I fillet and skin all the catfish I bring home to dinner. A good electric fillet knife makes the
job much easier. There are not many bones to cut through but they are tough. And the rib cage is
easily removed to leave a nice skinless and boneless fillet.
The larger the fish the more likely it will have a strip of dark red sensory tissue along the
lateral line on the outside of the fillet. This usually has a less pleasant taste and it is good to slice it
out before cooking or smoking the fish.
Catfish have a dense oily flesh. They require more cooking per pound than most other
species in order to produce high quality table fare. If you are going to fry them it is a good idea to
cut the larger fillets into “finger strips” so that they will cook faster and more evenly. If you are
going to grill or sauté them it is best to use thinner fillets from smaller fish. For smoking, I like
catfish in the 4 or 5 pound size…with the fillets cut into 3” chunks for brining and smoking.
Even though they have a lot of oils in their tissues catfish can be frozen and kept for several
months. You should either vacuum seal the fillets or freeze them in water to eliminate all air
bubbles from contact with the flesh while frozen. Air will form a white spot on the fish and cause
freezer burn. That is the result of the oils turning rancid and can spoil the whole fillet.