As the surface temperature on our local reservoirs touched 80 degrees for the first time this season, large schools of small blue catfish have begun to show up on deep, main basin areas on Belton Lake.
Prime areas include breaklines, humps and the deep ends of main lake points in 30 to 40 feet of water.
On Thursday morning, Mike Mansell, his son, graduating Belton High School star quarterback Peyton Mansell, and family friend Denver Holman put 94 fish in the boat including a good number of blue catfish up to two pounds that had moved into areas previously frequented by hybrid striped bass earlier in the year.
Then, on Friday, Joe Glass, of Salado, treated his granddaughters, 10-year-old Ember and 5-year-old Ever Glass, to a Belton Lake fishing trip. Ember landed a four-pound blue catfish using the tactics described below. The young ladies landed a total of 48 fish in just under four hours.
When catfish show up on sonar in large schools numbering from perhaps a dozen fish to over fifty or sixty individuals, this is the angler’s signal that productive fishing awaits.
The technique is straightforward. First, using electronic anchoring technology like Spot Lock on a modern trolling motor like the Minn Kota Ulterra or Ultrex, lock on top of the school of fish you have located on sonar. Double-anchoring is another alternative. Either way, it is imperative that you stay atop of the chum you throw out.
Once a lock is achieved, begin chumming heavily. My preference for chum is leftover shad I have kept frozen. Done correctly, the bits of chummed fish can be seen sinking uniformly on sonar. I usually start off by putting out about a pound of chum.
As the chum reaches the lower 8 feet of the water column, observe sonar closely. Active fish will begin to move from bottom, or just above bottom, up into the falling chum.
Use of a simple slip-float rig is the most effective for me and allows even children and novices to detect light bites in deep water. I prefer using 30-pound braided line as my main line on medium weight, 7-foot spinning outfits.
The slip-float rig is assembled by first attaching a bobber-stop to the braided main fishing line and sliding it about 30 feet up the line, then reeling it onto the reel’s spool. Next, a sliding slip-float made of foam or balsa wood sufficient to suspend a ¾-ounce weight is slid up the line. Next, a ¾-ounce weight is slid onto the line, followed by a swivel which is attached to the end of the braided main line with a strong knot like a Palomar knot. This swivel prevents twists and keeps the weight and slip-float from striking the fish and hook when a fish is being landed.
Once the swivel is tied on, a stiff, 18-inch long piece of 25-pound test fluorocarbon is tied on as a leader. The entire rig is terminated with a #6 treble hook with one of the points nipped off, thus making a two-pointed hook.
After making sure that the float is sufficiently buoyant to keep the ¾-ounce weight and the remainder of the rig afloat, the bobber-stop is positioned so as to suspend the bait about 3 to 4 feet off the bottom.
To accomplish this, the weight is allowed to sink to bottom while the bobber-stop is moved either up or down the line until the weight comes to rest on the bottom and the bobber-stop is seated in the top of the slip-float at the water’s surface. The bobber-stop is then slid one final time about three to four feet toward the weight.
The line should now be taut as the float rests on the water’s surface and the weight is suspended three to four feet off the bottom.
I prefer to put just a small sliver of fresh, dead shad on to each of the two hook points and then lower the bait toward the bottom. I keep 18 inches of line between my rod tip and the top of the slip-float and keep my rod tip pointed toward the float so I have the potential for a long, hard, sweeping hookset when the float is pulled under the water suddenly by an aggressive blue catfish.
Because of the population structure of blue catfish on Belton, many fish will be small, but occasional larger fish will eventually sense the chum and commotion and show up in the spread beneath your boat.