Though the air temperature has cooled, it’ll take awhile for the water temperature to lower very much following the late-September string of sunny, 90-degree days.
Therefore, many anglers still are pursuing catfish and not even thinking about trying for cooler-weather quarry such as crappie and sauger. (That doesn’t mean there’s absolutely no point in trying, however).
Spring Valley Walleye Club director Bill Guerrini told me recently this is a good time to put new line on, sort and organize lures and get ready to go as the cooler weather triggers hotter fall fishing action.
“Flic” Sobkowiak of a Spring Valley shop said river anglers are mainly targeting catfish, and he figures it’ll take more than just a few cool nights to lower the river temp enough to turn on the white bass and sauger. Sobkowiak, however, hasn’t been focused on fishing lately, as the shop where he works enlarged its indoor archery range to 45 feet; he and the staff have been busy with that.
As for catfish, Illinois Valley Catfish Trail’s Mike Crickman said the Rice River Boys were planning to have a catfish tourney Sept. 14, so they figure the channel catfish still are feeding. (Earlier this year, he said the largest channel cat caught in a tournament this year was 14.6 pounds. They don’t count flathead catfish for the tournaments; a team could bring in two huge flatheads and blow away the competition.)
Earlier this summer, Crickman shared a valuable tip about hooks for catfish.
“Most people who fish the tournaments’ hook of choice are 6/0 Octopus circle hooks,” said Mike Crickman, an organizer for the Illinois Catfish Trail.
There are several schools of thought on how to hook a catfish. If you’re fishing for panfish or “whatever comes along,” you’re not going to know for sure if what’s biting is a catfish, so you’re likely to set the hook quickly. You might hook a cat and might miss altogether. Often they grab the bait and run rapidly, not necessarily having the hook in the right position.
Circle hooks are just a bit more circular than your everyday Eagle Claw and have a barb that bends back toward the shank. They’re a preferred hook of anglers who use bait (says Octopus hook publicity online) and many sources say the fish often run with the bait and wind up hooking themselves in the corners of their mouths.
Not everybody uses the circle hooks.
Before they came into vogue, I had an uncle who required us to keep the bail of the reel open and let the fish take out a lot of line, with absolutely no resistance. He wanted catfish to swallow the hook, and he didn’t appreciate it if we lost one. They needed the fish for dinner at the time (or to feed dozens of people at trail rides).
A Princeton duo once took me catfishing at a drainage canal near the Green River western Bureau County and had a similar theory. They used closed-face baitcast reels and set them for two-way reeling so the fish could easily take out line as the reel handle spun freely. They used dead suckers and chubs as bait at night and always let the catfish take out several yards of line before they set the hook.
Myself, I’d rather not have fish swallow the hook because I’d rather not have to snip the line and re-tie. But that’s just me. In fact, that might mean I’m lazy.
WHERE TO GO or WHAT TO DO THIS WEEKEND?
1. Follow Bill Guerrini’s advice and prepare gear for fishing later.
2. Illinois DNR’s reports almost invariably labeled fishing “slow” for catfish and crappie, and “fair to slow” for bluegill on Illinois’ public lakes. The DNR report from Lake Clinton noted even catfish angling at that hot spot “slow” with angling possibly worthwhile early and late.
3. Farm ponds, club ponds and public lakes still could be good bets this weekend — early or late? Largemouth bass fishing still could be worthwhile. … Fly anglers such as Tony Torres and, I recently learned, Bob Huber, might be fly fishing the Vermilion for smallmouth this time of year, or when the water cools a bit.
OLD-SCHOOL LARGEMOUTH TIP
If your usual lures aren’t working, near dusk try flipping a plastic worm hooked in the head with no weight. Bass feeding on top will pause to watch it sink slowly. If it reaches bottom, bring it back up and let it sink again; or fish it as you usually would a Texas rig, only slower.
I’ve had friends who always fish for largemouth using whole live nightcrawlers this same way. You need a reel that can cast with hardly any weight though.