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Catfishing America

Updated on March 6, 2018

History of the Catfish

Catfish. There are nearly 3,000 known species of catfish in the world but it is thought that the actual number of catfish species could be as high as 4,500 as many species of catfish are found in areas where there is little or no human contact. Although catfish can generally be found in faster-flowing rivers and streams, some catfish species have adapted to living in shallow salt-water environments while other catfish species live their lives in caves underground. Catfish are a group of bottom-feeding fish that are found in freshwater habitats and coastal regions on and around every continent in the world with the exception of Antarctica. Catfish are most easily identified by their flattened broad heads and the long whisker-like barbs that protrude from the mouth of the catfish. The long barbs of the catfish contain the taste buds of the catfish and so are often most commonly used for smelling and therefore sensing what is about to eat (and to hide from) in the surrounding waters. Despite the name however, not all catfish species have prominent whisker-like barbs.

Top Spots in North America


#1. The Red River, Channel Catfish

One of the greatest Catfish rivers in North America, The Red River (French: Rivière rouge or Rivière Rouge du Nord, American English: Red River of the North) is a North American river. Originating at the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail rivers between the U.S. states of Minnesota and North Dakota, it flows northward through the Red River Valley, forming the border of Minnesota and North Dakota and continuing into Manitoba, Canada. It empties into Lake Winnipeg, whose waters join the Nelson River and ultimately flow into the Hudson Bay. The Red River flows through several urban areas along its path, including those of Fargo-Moorhead and Grand Forks in the United States and Winnipeg in Canada. The Red is about 885 kilometers (550 mi) long,[2] of which about 635 kilometers (395 mi) are in the United States and about 255 kilometers (158 mi) are in Canada.[3] The river falls 70 meters (230 ft) on its trip to Lake Winnipeg where it spreads into the vast deltaic wetland known as Netley Marsh. In the United States, the Red River is sometimes called the Red River of the North, to distinguish it from the Red River that is a tributary of the Atchafalaya River, and that forms part of the border between Texas and Oklahoma. Long a highway for trade, the Red has been designated as a Canadian Heritage River. The average channel catfish here would qualify as a trophy fish in most other waters, especially those from the 25-mile stretch below Lockport Dam in Selkirk, Manitoba. Studies have shown the average catfish caught here weighs more than 18 pounds, and 93 percent of the cats are more than 30 inches long. Hookups with 16- to 26-pounders are common; fish under 10 pounds are rare. Catfish feed nonstop when the water temps rise above 50 degrees in spring and before it dips below that level in autumn. June and early July are prime times for numbers of fish at Selkirk or the dams near Drayton and Grand Forks, N.D., but the best fishing for the river's 30-pound-plus giants is in September. All three species of catfish are highly skilled predators that will feed on a variety of foods. Channel catfish (and even Blue Catfish… at times) love good old stinky bait but it’s certainly not required. If you’re fishing for blues or flatheads or even larger channel cats, the stinky baits might even work against you! Cut bait is used most of the time. Early in the season it is sucker, later in the year Goldeye becomes widely used. Try using Leopard frogs if it has been a relatively wet season.

#2. Santee Cooper Lakes, Blue Catfish, Channel Catfish and Flathead Catfish

When talking about catfishing, these lunker filled lakes could be considered the best waters for Catfish in the world! The Santee Cooper Power and Navigation Project, constructed in 1939, improved navigation on and provided hydroelectric power from the Santee and Cooper rivers in South Carolina. With the creation of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, the project was intended to improve the health, recreation, and economy of the area. At the time, the Santee Cooper Project was the largest land-clearing project in U.S. history, with over 12,500 workers clearing over 177,000 acres (720 km2) of swamp and forestland. 42 miles (68 km) of dams and dikes were constructed, including a 26-mile (42 km), 78-foot (24 m) tall earthen dike. The Pinopolis Dam included the hydroelectric station and navigation lock, the highest single-lift lock in the world. A 3,400-foot (1,000 m) spillway was built to control floodwaters, with 62 gates allowing overflow of excess water. In completing the largest earth-moving project in the nation's history, 42,000,000 cubic yards (32,000,000 m3) of earth were moved and 3.1 million cubic yards of concrete were poured. The $48.2 million project (55 percent federal loan, 45 percent federal grant) first generated electricity on February 17, 1942. As transmission lines were built, power flowed to customers in Berkeley, Georgetown and Horry counties, and ultimately to electric cooperatives serving customers in 46 counties. produces not only big cats, but plenty of them. And with the high numbers of savvy catfishing fanatics fishing here year-round, one has to rate these waters high on the list of places likely to produce new world-record benchmarks. This lake system produces not only big catfish, but plenty of them. And with the high numbers of catfishing fanatics fishing here year-round, one has to rate these waters high on the list of places likely to produce new world-record benchmarks! The Santee Rig or Santee Cooper Rig is one of many popular catfish rigs for fishing for all species of catfish. It’s commonly referred to as the “Santee Rig” for short by many anglers. This rigging gained the name “Santee Rig” due to it’s popularity with catfish anglers on the famous Santee Cooper catfish lakes in the Carolina’s. This Santee Cooper Rig is one of the catfish rigs that’s a favorite among anglers who target blue and channel catfish but can also be used to target flathead catfish as well. It can be used for any of the three primary species of catfish that anglers target. It’s popular for drift fishing and anchored fishing as well and can be used when fishing from a boat or from the shore and using a variety of different catfishing techniques. Part of the popularity of this type of rigging comes from it being very effective for both anchored fishing and drift fishing and a known way of producing both numbers and size when fishing for catfish by lifting baits off the bottom of the lake or river. The Santee Rig is a slight variation of one of the most basic and well known catfish rigs, the slip sinker rig and that slight variation can often make a big difference when it comes to putting fish in the boat. Part of the effectiveness of the Santee rig comes from the simplicity of it. The rig is easy to tie and easy to cast but the secret to success is in the peg float or cigar float added to the leader. By adding the peg float you lift the bait up off the bottom of the lake or river.

#3. Lake Texoma, Blue Catfish

LARGE Catfish is what this spot is all about! Lake Texoma is one of the largest reservoirs in the United States, the 12th largest US Army Corps of Engineers' (USACE) lake, and the largest in USACE Tulsa District. Lake Texoma is formed by Denison Dam on the Red River in Bryan County, Oklahoma, and Grayson County, Texas, about 726 miles (1,168 km) upstream from the mouth of the river. It is located at the confluence of the Red River and Washita Rivers. The dam site is approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) northwest of Denison, Texas, and 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Durant, Oklahoma. Lake Texoma is the most developed and most popular lake within the USACE Tulsa District, attracting approximately 6 million visitors a year. Blue catfish can be caught year-round in Lake Texoma, but the month of February and the first few weeks of March can be one of the best times to target large blue ctafish. During this time of year, when the water temperatures are cooler, blue catfish are often found congregating in deep holes. Lake Teaxoma has a high population of threadfin or gizzard shad and these baitfish are popular prey for blue catfish. Find a spot where there is some type of structure that is adjacent to a channel of deep water. Blue catfish are often found in holes or transition zones between shallow and deeper water. Look for schools of shad. When blue catfish are actively feeding, they will position themselves underneath schools of baitfish during the cooler months. Natural bait is the number one type of bait used when targeting blue catfish in Lake Texoma. Use a heavy 7 to 8-foot fishing rod and a conventional reel that has plenty of line capacity. Blue catfish are known to be fighters and can take out plenty of line. Monofilament line will work best -- you may want to go up to 30 lb. test so that you are prepared for that monster blue. Check to make sure that your hooks are sharp. Since the mouth of a catfish is made of thick cartilage, it's important that your hooks are sharp enough in order to get a good hook set. Be careful when handling sharpened hooks! Before you load up your tackle and gear, don't forget to check the local fishing regulations and ensure that you have a valid license for fishing in Texas.

#4. Osage and Missouri Rivers: Blue Catfish

When talking extraordinary catfishing the Osage and Missouri Rivers come immediately to mind. The Osage is formed in southwestern Missouri, approximately 14 miles (23 km) northeast of Nevada on the Bates-Vernon county line, by the confluence of the Marais des Cygnes and Little Osage rivers. (The Marais des Cygnes is sometimes counted as part of the river, placing its headwaters in eastern Kansas and bringing its total length to over 500 miles (800 km)). The combined stream flows east past the Schell-Osage Wildlife Area into St. Clair County, widening into a long meandering arm of the Harry S. Truman Reservoir, approximately 40 miles (64 km) long. The lake receives the South Grand River as a second arm of the reservoir from the northwest, as well as the Pomme de Terre River from the south. The two arms of the reservoir join near the Harry S. Truman Dam in central Benton County.

Downstream from the Truman Dam, the river becomes the serpentine Lake of the Ozarks, stretching eastward for nearly 92 miles (148 km) to Bagnell Dam in Camden County and southwestern Miller County. Constructed in 1931, it collects the Niangua River. Downstream from the dam, the Osage flows freely to the northeast in broad oxbow meanders through forested bluffs, joining the Missouri approximately 15 miles (24 km) east and downstream of Jefferson City.
The Missouri River is the longest river in North America.[13] Rising in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana, the Missouri flows east and south for 2,341 miles (3,767 km)[9] before entering the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, Missouri. The river takes drainage from a sparsely populated, semi-arid watershed of more than half a million square miles (1,300,000 km2), which includes parts of ten U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. When combined with the lower Mississippi River, it forms the world's fourth longest river system.[13]
The Missouri was long believed to be part of the Northwest Passage – a water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific – but when Lewis and Clark became the first to travel the river's entire length; they confirmed the mythical pathway to be no more than a legend.
The Osage River from Bagnell Dam to the Missouri River near Jefferson City, Mo., gives up some wonderful blue cat fishing. Researchers from the Missouri Department of Conservation indicated a high-density blue cat fishery that includes enormous 50- to 75-pound fish. Local Fisherman are certain there are blues here pushing the 150-pound mark. Several fishermen have released blue cats back into the river that weighed anywhere from 100 and 120 pounds, and there have been claims that others have hooked some even bigger. The Missouri River, which crosses the state from Kansas City to St. Louis, also produces giant blues. A former world-record 130-pounde blue catfish was boated near the river's confluence with the Mississippi in July 2010, and a previous state-record blue catfish, a 103-pounder, was caught on rod and reel near Kansas City in 1991. In 1999, a 102-pound blue was taken on a trotline near Glasgow. 110 lb. plus fish could turn up here almost anywhere, any time.

#5. Lower Mississippi River: Blue, Channel and Flathead Catfish

The loads of giant Catfish in the Lower Mississippi are equal to any spot on this continent! The Lower Mississippi River is the portion of the Mississippi River downstream of Cairo, Illinois. From the confluence of the Ohio River and Upper Mississippi River at Cairo, the Lower flows just under 1600 kilometers (1000 mi) to the Gulf of Mexico. It is the most heavily travelled component of the Mississippi River System. Unlike on the upper rivers, there are no locks or dams on the Lower Mississippi. The river is, however, constrained by levees and dikes to control flooding and secure a navigation channel for barges The Old River Control Structure, the Bonnet Carré Spillway, the Mississippi River – Gulf Outlet Canal and other man-made structures on the lower reaches of the river seek to manipulate the flow of water in the vicinity of New Orleans. If fishing with kids, remember to use a variety of bait sizes. While you may be hoping for a large fish, it's a good idea to rig some small baits on a lighter rod to encourage consistent action. More action, even from smaller fish, will help keep the kids entertained. If you are targeting blue catfish for the first time, your best bet is to try bottom fishing. Research suggests that bottom fishing is one of the top fishing methods for blue catfish. Although, you might be surprised to learn that blue catfish can even be caught on a fly rod, so don't be afraid to try new techniques. You can fish for blue catfish from the shore or from a boat and have plenty of success in either situation. The Mississippi is a magnet for giant flatheads, too. The biggest caught recently was a 77.7-pounder landed downstream from Memphis in April 2012, a new Mississippi state record. 15 to 30-pounders are as common as nickels and dimes. 40 to 60-pounders are caught somewhere along the river's length every day during the summer. Channel catfish are extraordinarily abundant and catching 60 or more during a night fishing trip is simple for most experienced anglers. Most range from 1 to 5 pounds, but Channel Catfish exceeding 10 pounds usually fill the stringers of serious fishermen. Generally speaking, catfish will eat just about anything. However, each species has its own preferences. Being an omnivore, Channel Catfish will consume both plant and animal matter. Therefore, baits from any of the store-bought, live and cut categories will be effective. Blue and Flathead Catfish are predators and therefore have a different food preference. Try baits from the live category for Blues and Flatheads. And a good rule of thumb for Flathead Catfish is the bigger the live bait, the better!
Catfish bait is typically divided into three basic categories:
Bait cut from any live fish works well, but Skipjack Herring and shad are highly preferred because of their oil content.
Live baits such as crayfish, Skipjack Herring, shad, sunfish, night crawlers (large earthworms), large minnows, small suckers and carp are popular where permissible.
Store-bought baits such as shrimp and chicken livers, various stink baits, and even artificial bass lures can be used.

#6. Wheeler Lake: Channel, Blue and Flathead Catfish

Recently this lake has been the country’s hottest catfish producing lake. Wheeler Lake is located in the northern part of the United States state of Alabama, between Rogersville and Huntsville. Created by Wheeler Dam along the Tennessee River, it stretches 60 miles (96.5 km) from Wheeler Dam to Guntersville Dam. It is Alabama's second largest lake at 67,100 acres (272 km²). Decatur operates the busiest port along the Tennessee River on this lake, Port of Decatur. Wheeler Lake is a major recreation and tourist center, attracting about four million visits a year. Along with camping, boating, and fishing, visitors enjoy the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge several miles upstream from the dam. The lake and dam are named for General Joseph "Joe" Wheeler. Giant blue Catfish may be Wheeler's top draw, but Channel Cats are a huge catch. The lake is boiling over with 10- to 20-pound beauties. Flathead Catfish are fairly common and often exceed 50 pounds, but few fishermen target them specifically. The lake recently gave up a 70-pounder in March 2012, a fish just 10 pounds shy of the state record. Fishing is good year-round, but winter fishing is where it’s at! (Note) Each state has rules and regulations concerning methods of fishing. The following suggestions may not be permissible in all states. Fishing with rods and reel from the bank, dike or boat: If you are targeting Blue Catfish, consider using at least a medium- to heavy-action rod or rods specifically designed for catfish. Rig with line weights of 30 pounds or heavier, a sliding sinker matched to the current velocity and depth, an 8-to 12-inch tippet of 20 pounds or heavier line tied to a barrel swivel, and a 2/0 or 3/0 hook for small catfish or 4/0 to 9/0 hook for larger catfish. Place the barrel swivel at the junction of the line and tippet. This will keep the weight from sliding down the tippet to the hook. The reel should have a line capacity of at least 125 yards and a working drag system. Position yourself upriver of a plunge pool or along the edge of the main river channel so that the bait will be on the river bottom at the upriver edge of the drop-off. If there are no bites within 20 to 30 minutes, let out more line (cast farther out) or move to another hole. Any bass fishing rod and reel will work for Channel Catfish when fishing from the bank. A line from 10- to 20-pound test should be strong enough. Hooks from 1/0 to 3/0 are big enough. A sinker heavy enough to keep the bait on the bottom should be placed 18 to 20 inches above the hook. A swivel or a line stop tied in the line will keep the sinker from sliding to the hook. A forked stick stuck firmly into the sand within a yard or so from the water’s edge makes a good rod holder. Commercial rod holders are available that have bells that sound off when a catfish strikes.

#7. Lake Dominguez, Channel Cats

Although this lake is in Mexico, it is still considered to be located in North America and is one of the best lakes on this list for Channel catfish. Lake Dominguez is 20,000-acre impoundment on the Rio Fuerte in western Mexico's state of Sinaloa. It is a huge reservoir, nestled in farmland near the town of El Fuerte. Almost any area will work when fishing from the bank. Look for banks which have a fairly large embayment (indentation/pocket) with a point on the upriver end. The current frequently flows upriver along the bank inside these pockets. Cast a line from the upriver point into the area where the pocket current meets the downriver current. Or cast from the bank towards but not into the downriver current. Watch or feel for rapid taps of a Channel Catfish. Keep the line tight but don’t set the hook until he takes the bait, indicated by a solid steady pull. A large fish will usually just take it. If you are having trouble snagging and losing tackle, switch to a bobber and drift-fish the pocket. Experiment by adjusting the line for different depths. Another option might be to cast an artificial worm that has been dipped in stink bait. Experiment with the size and weight to match the current and depth. Fish the rubber worm tight lined on the river bottom. Live bait can be hooked through the eyes or mouth so it will be facing the current. But many prefer hooking the fish through the back to imitate an injured fish. A boat paddle or short dowel can be used to wrap line around when the hook is snagged or sinker is wedged between rocks. Pull on the paddle or dowel to dislodge the hook/sinker so as to not damage the rod or reel. Depth finders are useful not only to keep you in navigable water but also to locate deep holes where catfish may be found. A sharp hook catches more fish. Small catfish will often give the rod tip several light, quick twitches in succession. The larger fish will generally give a hard, solid yank followed by slack line. Fishing for catfish usually means fishing in fast current so be extra careful when dropping anchor or tying a boat to dikes or trees. Always point the bow (front) into the current and never let the bow dip into the water. Fast currents are very difficult and sometimes dangerous to fish from a boat. Watch out for cottonmouth and copperhead snakes, especially where dikes meet land. If using a rod holder, be sure the reel is on free spool or that you can grab the rod quickly or tie a safety line to it. Many rods have been dragged into the river by large fish! I thank you for joining me in the love of Catfishing. Make sure to pass this book on and share your experiences on my blog at

Thank You, Loyal Readers!!!
I hope you enjoyed these tips and tricks for catching the biggest Catfish at the top 7 Catfishing Hotspots in America!

A markerLake Dominguez -
La Angostura, Chiapas, Mexico
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    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

      Good information. I travel a lot in my work, so if I end up near any of these spots, I'll give it a try. Good article.


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