Catfishing can be fun, the smellier the better

Posted Saturday, Jun. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Seconds after Mike Milam of Fort Worth tossed a cupful of soured maize into the water on a small West Texas lake recently, Gary Coker grabbed his rod and set the hook on a 3-pound channel catfish that had taken a just-as-smelly piece of fish bait resting on the bottom of the lake a few feet away.

That, in a nutshell, is what catfishing is all about for this pair of Fort Worth anglers and many others who have learned how to take advantage of the feeding habits of channel and blue catfish, especially at this time of the year, when the fish are shallow and preparing to spawn or already are spawning.

“It’s all about the smell,” veteran catfisherman Ed Vetter of Pottsboro said. “The most awful smell the bait or chum you are using has the more catfish you will catch. Catfish are like chickens and hogs; they will eat just about anything. They are scavengers, and catfish are attracted first to the smell of what’s around them and then to whether they want to eat it, which they usually do.”

Indeed, increasing the numbers of catfish an angler can catch in a few hours’ time often depends upon two things — whether he has chummed an area ahead of time with something that would challenge the “perfume” of a skunk, and if the bait being offered to the fish could do the same.

There are many things that make catching catfish an enjoyable and exciting adventure for anglers. Because chum can attract up to a hundred or more catfish into a small area, anglers in several boats can concentrate on one area by tying up to stumps or bushes or anchor within a few yards of one another and enjoy the fellowship.

Also, because of changing wind velocities and water currents, the chum used by anglers in one boat often sinks to the bottom within short flipping or casting distance of the other anglers in the group.

That was the case on this small West Texas lake recently. Tom Coker of Fort Worth and I tied our boat to a bush where we had been catching catfish for the past several weeks. With Milam and Gary Coker in one boat and Jerry Moore and Mike Huffman of Fort Worth in another, we had the small area surrounded by three boats within just a few feet of each other.

To jump-start the action, each boat carried a 5-gallon bucket of soured maize for chum. The souring process had begun in each bucket about two weeks earlier by filling the bucket two-thirds full of maize and then covering it with water — lid on, of course.

Under late-spring and summer weather conditions, the maize will soak up the water and begin a souring process under its natural heat-producing environment.

Anglers in each of the three boats chummed the area around them by scooping up the soured maize with plastic measuring cups and broadcasting about four scoopfuls around their boats. The action began around 7:45 a.m. and we called it quits at 2 p.m. with more than 72 channel catfish averaging between 2 and 5 pounds.

Choosing the best bait for catfish is an individual angler’s choice, ranging from live bait, including shad and earthworms, to frozen baits, such as shrimp, chicken liver, salted beef blood and commercially prepared foods mixed with various ingredients.

The No. 1 choice for anglers such as Tom Coker, however, is called “punch bait.” Available in most sporting goods and tackle stores, punch bait is a grounded combination of such things as fish parts, beef and chicken blood, cheese, cattails and just about anything else that you can imagine that produces a pungent order once the lid of its container is lifted.

Although the main ingredients for producing a smelly bait is important, the addition of fiber such as ground cattails is essential, Coker said.

“You want a bait that will stay on the hook a longer period of time than other baits, and that’s what the cattail fibers in a punch bait help accomplish,” Coker said.

Catfish bait and lure manufacturers continue to strive to bring new catfish attractants before anglers.

One of the most recent is the Scent Trail Attractant produced by Rippin Lips. It is a spray-on liquid attractant that emits a “blood trail” from a bait or lure in the water, encouraging catfish to follow their normal instincts of following a potential food source to its location.

The same philosophy has been implemented for years by anglers using pure chicken or beef blood, punch bait and other baits with no “additives.”

Catfish are abundant in many Texas lakes, ranging from privately owned ponds and lakes to large reservoirs. The key gear to have on hand to catching them is a good hook setup, a pair of needle-nose pliers for safely removing the hooks, a towel for keeping your hands clean and a tolerating sense of smell.

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