Spring time can be the right time to catch catfish. Catfish are warm water fish and in the northern states they spend the majority of their winter at the bottom of a hole. As the water begins to warm and the bait begins to move around their metabolisms increase at a rapid rate and it is time to eat in preparation for the upcoming spawn.
Everything a catfish does is dependent on water temperature. Catfish can be caught in cold water but 50 degrees is the benchmark for the big spring bite. From there the bite gets better and better right up until the spawn temperature of around 70 degrees. A catfish’s metabolism increases about 400% during this window meaning they must eat more just to survive and even more to bulk up.
In a perfect world the water temperature will hit 50 and continue on a slow but steady rise over a few weeks to keep them feeding steadily. With some stable weather involved this is go time and the catfish are on a tear of feeding and hitting any fresh meat they can find. Watching conditions and being ready for this bite when it happens can produce some of the best catfishing of the year.
How to Catch Spring Catfish
In a river that is at a normal flow the catfish are on an upstream migration and feeding on everything they can find.
The best locations to catch these fish are in the first few miles below dams if you have them in your area. The fish will be migrating up the current tunnels where the main drop off meets the bottom at the main channel. These dams can bottle up the migrating fish as they try to pass.
You will want to set up a boat on the top of the drop off and cast 45 degrees to the channel allowing your bait to wash back into that break line and find that sweet spot. From shore put on a heavy enough weight to stick the bait off the drop off and not be washed back to the shore. Heave it out at 45 degrees and like from the boat let it set back into the seam.
The best places to set up on these seams is in locations where there is a structure element such as a snag, rock or hole. These spots provide a resting area for the fish and tend to bottle them up. If the fish are on a fast move you can sit on one or two of these spots for a whole day. If they are not on a heavy migration you will have to fish fast hitting as many as spots as you can catching a fish or two at each one.
Unlike with colder water spawning fish such as pike and walleyes, catfish spawn in 70-74 degree water temperature which opens a pretty big window of opportunity before the spawn sets in. During this time it is important to release as many fish over 24” inches as we can to allow for good spawning and maintenance of the fishery for the future.
Fresh bait is a huge key during this time. These fish are actively hunting and are looking for something fresh or fresh dead. Suckers are a great bait this time of year as they are on their spawning migration as well and are plentiful this time of year.
This is the old “match the hatch theory” can pay big dividends for big catfish.
Spring catfishing can be the best time of year in many respects. With normal water levels and weather it provides a long window of opportunity. Some years there is low water which does not make for perfect migrating conditions or high water which makes access difficult but with a little adjustment to tactics based on the methods we already discussed you can fish right through this time of year no matter what. IT’S GO TIME!
Captain Brad Durick is a nationally recognized catfish guide on the Red River of the North, seminar speaker, and author of the books Cracking the Channel Catfish Code and Advanced Catfishing Made Easy. He also guides for northern pike through the ice at Devils Lake, ND For more information go to www.redrivercatfish.com