Western Pennsylvania Catfish Feeding Aggressively Now

By: James Swearingen

Now that our Ohio River basin catfish have spawned they are aggressively feeding to prepare for winter. These fish are naturally hungry in late summer and fall and tend to feed for the next few months before their metabolism slows down as the water cools. Now and during the spring is my favorite time to target these fish.

This time of year our three largest rivers (Alleghany, Ohio and Monongahela) fish well. We catch flatheads and channel cats, but few blues here. Fishing for flatheads isn’t high action. We are fishing for a few good fish each trip. You are sitting around waiting most of the time until a few seconds of chaos happens when they peel drag off the line. What species you catch depends on what area you are in. Some areas of these rivers have mostly channel cats and others are mostly flatheads. Sometimes you’ll find them together, but normally you’ll catch one or the other.

Channel catfish tend to remain in open water. During the day they’ll hold to the bottom. During the day flatheads lay tight to cover to avoid sunlight, but once it gets close to evening they’ll start cruising drop-offs and shallow mudflats looking to feed. I like to concentrate on eddies or any type current break. We are targeting big fish and they tend to be lazy. They prefer slower moving water to conserve energy. The key is to avoid fishing the fast water. For catfish you want to fish slack water.

Scent is a big deal when chasing catfish. Ideally, you want to catch (or purchase) suckers for bait the day before. You can buy them in bait shops or catch them yourself. I cut pieces of sucker meat into steaks. You want more meat on the bait than skin. For flatheads I soak the suckers in Catfish Nectar for 12 hours so it soaks into the meat. The meat absorbs the Catfish Nectar. Flatheads are only going to eat fish. For channels I’ll soak hot dogs and chicken liver in the same Nectar. If you remember, last month I blogged about tying chicken liver in sacks. For a refresher on how to do this click the following link: https://www.pautzke.com/try-this-bait-catch-more-catfish.

For flathead I’ll use up to a 9/0 hook whereas for channels I’ll use up to a 1/0 hook because of their smaller mouths. I like to use an octopus hook. Catfish aren’t line shy. I use 30-pound Trilene Big Cat line and run that to a large swivel. Then I tie a two-foot leader of 50-pound monofilament line to that swivel and use a one-ounce weight when flows aren’t high. If flows are high you might be required to employ up to a six-ounce sinker. I use a sinker slide on my mainline before my swivel. Doing so allows you to use heavy weight, but when the fish take the bait they wont feel it because the line is able to slide freely through the slinker slide.

*Catfish Nectar is available at most Walmart locations and online at FishUSA & Bass Pro Shops.

Editor’s Note: James Swearingen is the founder of Steel City Anglers. To follow his adventures please visit https://www.facebook.com/SteelCityAngler412.