I often field the question, “How do I locate trophy catfish using my electronics?”
In today’s post, I will answer this using screenshots from my Lowrance Gen-2 HDS010 Unit.
Contrary to popular belief, catfish aren't bottom feeders that eat the most rotten, stinky decomposed meal they can find. This is only true when they are just starting out in life eating anything and everything they can in an attempt to bulk up so they don’t get eaten themselves. After they mature into adulthood (over 5 pounds), they are predatory feeders. While still opportunistic where they will eat a chicken liver, etc., if it presents itself, they prefer to feed on natural forage fish like shad, sunfish, crappie and bass.
Current is the key to locating trophy-sized cats. I like to refer to large catfish as the “SUVs” of the underwater world. Their wide heads and bulky bodies like heavy current about as much as Bill Dance likes a UGA ball cap.
During low-current situations, catfish are very nomadic and can be found all over the water column chasing bait amongst the stripes hybrids and largemouth. Usually what I see are the other fish really working a bait ball and the cats are what I like to call "efficiently lazy.” They will hang out just below the action and feed on the baitfish that stray away from the group or the ones that are injured in the frenzy. However, with the introduction of current, the catfish stage behind large structure like large rock piles, old sunken bridges, heavy timber or, in the case of our example below, a ledge with a sharp drop off that they are using as a current break. These current breaks allow the catfish to hold position without expending any unneeded excess energy to stay in one place.
Due to the shape and length of a catfish, he gives off a different return or arch than other fish. Also due to the width and density of his skull, it will show me a multicolored return as well. Using the color 13 palette on my HDS-10, I can really see them stand out from the other species in the lake. In the screenshot, inside the red circle, you see a typical catfish return showing you a high arch that is slightly thicker at the apex and is showing a green + dark green return in the head. In the blue circle, you see the same thing but with more dark green in the return, and they are facing right into the ledge staying out of the current. These would be larger catfish that are doing just what they should in this scenario. In the orange circle, you see some smaller pan fish in the mix trying to get into the current break area and realize that they are on the wrong side of town! If you notice, the catfish in the green circle are not facing into the current but looking to the left at these pan fish, and appear to be feeding pretty good.
In the another screenshot with the same settings and heavy current moving from right to left, you see longer, thinner returns that have a slight bit of green in them. A striper or hybrid have a dense, dark main blood vessel that gives me a touch of green in their return also. However, the fact that the returns are facing the wrong way and are way too thin for a catfish would tell me that these are stripers or hybrids just getting their grub on.
Now that we are able to identify catfish using our 2-D sonar, I would like to share a tip that will keep you from sitting on an unproductive hole full of fish for what can seem like hours without so much as a nibble. In order to do this, you must learn to speak shad. The structure scan portion of my HDS-10 unit is one of my deadliest weapons that I have when looking for feeding catfish. Using the down scan and side scan features, I let the bait tell me what the fish are doing in that area.
If I see bait pods that are perfectly round or even cylindrical in shape in the same area as a group of trophy-sized catfish I know that those fish aren’t actively feeding as in the first screenshot. However, if that bait is spread out all across the screen then I know that there is a feeding frenzy going on and that I need to get a few baits in there quick as seen in the other screenshots.
Remember that 90 percent of the fish are found in 10 percent of the water, and by knowing where to look, you are halfway there!
Written by Jonathon Herndon, Sr