Using Chum while Fishing for Catfish in a River via Kayak
By: Peter Egan
If you’ve been keeping up with the How to Chum for Catfish series here at PeterEgan.net and on YouTube, you’re already read that the third flood in just over a month between Hurricanes Matthew, Nate and a flood that was entirely due to strong southeast winds, brought with it alligators, which in turn resulted in a downturn in the fishing. The catfish school that seemingly lived in the bayou behind my house disappeared. The only fish were small bream. There appeared to be more gators than fish.
Thankfully, the waters have receded enough that the gators appear to have moved along and the catfish are starting to return.
I decided on Friday afternoon once I was finished with work to take my fishing kayak out and drop some noodles up and down the entire bayou, all the while dragging the chum bucket behind me as a paddled my way to the main river, all the way back down to the end of the bayou, then back to my house. As I paddled up and down the bayou after bringing the scent to the main river and leaving a scent trail behind me throughout the journey.
If you’re wondering what a noodle is, they’re essentially pool toys (those big, long noodle looking foam things often seen in swimming pools where children swim), cut into 4-8 pieces per noodle, with about 3-4 feet of line attached to it, and a hook at the end of the line not tied to the noodle. See the below photos for a visual of what a “catfish noodle” looks like.
The tactic worked, as I caught a mixture of channel catfish and blue catfish, the largest topping out at around 3 pounds. I used a combination of Canadian nightcrawlers and cut shad (caught in a cast net) for bait on the noodles.
I talked with several of my neighbors as I paddled around chasing noodles with fish on them.
I also caught a fish I wasn’t intending to catch, and did so in a most unusual way. As I was paddling through lily pads to retrieve a noodle with a fish on, the paddle must have struck a largemouth bass, which then became entangled in the lily pad stems. It was so stuck, I was able to grab it with my bare hands, landing the 1 pound fish without so much as dropping a line. See the video below for more on the this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
In all, the hybrid fishing trip was a success. I caught so many fish I decided to fillet them and am planning a fish fry for after the Saints game (New Orleans Saints NFL franchise) on Sunday, October 22. I rarely keep fish, so the catch had to be larger than is usual in order for me to go through the trouble of cleaning the fish.
Above is a photograph of the kayak I used to catch the fish. Below is another photo of me holding a catfish.
Back in early May I wrote an in-depth article and filmed four videos explaining how to most effectively chum the water so as to catch as many catfish as possible while fishing. This article is the sequel to those chumming efforts wherein we review the results.
Between the How to Chum for Catfish article and videos and a more recent guide on fishing for catfish in general, it is the opinion of this author that anyone who has read the two articles and watched the videos will have adequate knowledge after doing so to not just catch catfish, but totally slay them (slay is slang for ‘catch a lot more’ when used in this context).
To recap, the articles and videos previously referenced are linked to (and in the case of the videos embedded) below.
Videos (If video 2 doesn’t start immediately after video 1 finishes, just manually click it. Same goes for videos 3 and 4):
The following are a series of photographs of me (Peter) holding fish he caught right there at my chumming spot (the water behind my house) in the time since the original article. These are to establish credibility that the system works. One thing to keep in mind is that I failed to land the four largest fish he got on the line for various reasons ranging from damaged fishing line to a poorly tied knot to trying to reel a 10+ pound fish up to the top of a balcony some 12-14 feet above the water using medium-light action fishing gear.
In all, I have caught about 150-200 catfish since the debut of the original article. Obviously, I haven’t photographed every catch, but the photos taken should be sufficient to establish that my (Peter Egan’s) chumming methods work.
For a while I was relocating them from the bayou/river to a drainage pond across the street from his house, but multiple floods have rendered those efforts moot.
Without further ado, here are the photos:
The Good Times – Catfish Everywhere!
First, all of the fish seen in the above photos were relatively unharmed and were released successfully. None had debilitating injuries at the time they were released.
Moreover, as you can tell from the multitude of shirts I’m wearing, these photos came from a number of fishing outings, all of which combined netted over 150 fish, perhaps closing in on 200. While I didn’t catch any massive fish during this time period, I did set the hook into more than one, but was unable to land any of them. The fact that I use pliers to flatten the barbs on my hooks (unless I intend to keep the fish I catch, which is rare) doesn’t help. I release 95%-98% of what I catch, so it’s a rare occurrence when I fish with a hook that actually has a barb to prevent the fish from spitting out the hook.
The two largest fish seen didn’t even take the bait. They were an approximately 4-foot catfish in the 25-30 pound range and another one closer to 5 feet in total length with an estimated weight of over 50 pounds.
The bottom line though is that all of these fish were seen or caught right off of my back porch, and the reason I’m able to catch fish sitting on a chair on my own balcony outside the room overhanging the boat slip, is because my chumming methods are effective. Without chum, on average I might get 0.5-to-1 fish per outing. I can catch as many as I want, literally (well, almost literally).
Trouble on the Horizon
An astute reader might have discerned that I am a fan of all things LSU, including but not limited to the school’s football program. After an agonizing week following their loss to Troy, I found my chum attracting a new species altogether.
I had been seeing Alligator Gar and Spotted Gar fairly regularly, however it wasn’t until the LSU Tigers were en route to the Swamp to take on the Florida Gators that I saw an actual alligator in the water behind my house.
Tropical Storm Nate must have relocated it, but it was about 9-10 feet in length, and decided to hang out where I chum, presumably in hopes of getting itself one of those catfish that used to practically reside there.
I went fishing anyway, and the gator took my bait. I wrestled with it for about 20 minutes before I realized that I was alone and would need someone to film me landing the gator if indeed I was able to do so. I had to tighten the drag to get the camera ready so I could film myself reeling in an alligator large enough to eat me just in case this was a battle in which I would emerge victorious.
When I went to grab the camera to record the landing, I had to temporarily tighten my drag to look for the camera and get it set up, and it was at that point that the gator made its strongest charge of the fight, breaking my 20-pound test Power Pro line.
The fact that the line didn’t break and wasn’t cut by the animal’s teeth is a testament to the quality of the product. While it can be hard to achieve a knot that holds, once you get one the chances are not much below the surface of the water is going to break your line, especially if you are astute at working the drag (the tension on the reel and line that determines how much pull force must be applied for the fishing line to come off the reel so as to prevent the line breaking).
The next day, a smaller gator showed up and has yet to leave. This one is 5-6 feet in length. I have yet to see any sign of a catfish since the gators showed up. I may have to stop chumming for a while and hope they leave, only to resume once they do in order to get the catfish back. One thing’s for sure, if there are gators in the near vicinity, the catfish will find someplace else to feed.
The remaining photos are of this smaller alligator that as of an hour ago was still hanging out behind my house.
The purpose of these photos and this segment is to disclaim that when you use chum, you may be inviting creatures aside from those you’re hoping to see.
The same principle applies to saltwater chum, for whatever it’s worth. Typically, sharks are the first or among the first species to respond to saltwater chum, regardless of whether you’re fishing for sharks or not. In the same vein, don’t swim in water you’re chumming, regardless of salinity.
As for this gator that just won’t leave, if it doesn’t leave on his own I may try to catch it this weekend and then relocate it a few miles down the river. The other option is to just take the boat out and find somewhere else to fish. The latter option removes the comforts of home from the fishing equation.
Look for another YouTube video soon, and as always, if you find any of this useful, please like, share and subscribe to these posts and especially the videos.
The Tchefuncte River is located in Washington and St. Tammany Parishes in southeastern Louisiana. It and the bayous along its edges are the primary body of water in which I do most of my fishing. However, the same principles that apply to this body of water apply elsewhere as well. The wildcard would be small, man-made lakes and ponds, which don’t have much if any natural water movement. I’ve found these the most challenging bodies of water for fishing for catfish (provided the pond or lake hasn’t been artificially stocked with fish, fish are fed, etc.).
The Tchefuncte River (on which I reside and in which I often fish) has suffered from over-fishing since Hurricane Katrina tripled the population of Saint Tammany Parish. Bass and alligator gar have been decimated. The bass by wanna-be Bassmasters tournament fishermen who hold tournaments in which the largest fish caught (out of 30-50 teams) often fails to reach 2 pounds.
The gar (both alligator and spotted gar) have been nearly eradicated entirely from the river due to a “Gar Rodeo” held every year in which the team landing the biggest gar earns a large cash prize. There are secondary categories and it used to be a great event. Unfortunately, the gar population simply hasn’t been able to withstand the fishing pressure this event produces.
Catfish on the other hand – while they’ve certainly sustained some measure of population decrease – seem to be doing well enough to still be worth investing anywhere from a few hours to an entire day fishing for them. My perception of catfish population may be skewed however, due to my proclivity toward and prowess for chumming for catfish.
I use a variety of chumming methods depending on my goals for the day, if I’m fishing from a boat or from my back porch, and the extent to which I am willing to deal with turtles on any given day.
The Tchefuncte holds all three of the major southeastern United States catfish species: channel catfish, blue catfish and flathead catfish. I’ve caught plenty of each of the three, although I’ve caught more channel cats than blue cats and more blue cats than flathead catfish.
Of all the catfish species, I’ve noticed the steepest decline in the Flathead population relative to the other two. I have no explanation for why this could be or if my anecdotal observations are even representative of the river as a whole.
Anyway, there are a few different ways to fish for catfish. I always use chum. If the water is moving, fish downstream from the chum, near it but not too close. Read below for more on each individual method.
Catfish Fishing Methods
Weighted bottom fishing.
Bottom fishing – no weight.
Just below the surface using a bobber to keep the bait at the desired depth.
Fishing near the bottom using a bobber or sliding cork to help identify when a strike occurs.
1. Weighted bottom fishing
This would typically involve a leader with a half-ounce weight about 12-14 inches above the hook (you tie the line to the leader), or with leaders which feature a clamp at the bottom for the weight with a separate line/wire part of the leader coming out of the side, this is where the bait would go. The objective of this latter leader style is to ensure the bait is near the bottom but at least 4″-6″ off the bottom.
Either way, these techniques are used when there is fast-moving water or a strong current and you need the weight to keep your bait in one place. Remember, catfish are primary scent feeders, so if your bait isn’t sitting still in moving water they will have trouble finding it provided it’s moving.
2. Bottom fishing – no weight
This method would be used in bodies of water with no or almost no water movement or current. The purpose of this method is to avoid losing fish that strike while method #1 is deployed, but spit the bait out when they feel the tug of the weight. In bodies of water that are heavily fished, the fish will learn to immediately spit out anything that doesn’t feel right. When fishing without weight, not only is the weight not needed due to the lack of moving water, but the fisherman need not be perfect in setting the hook, as an often be the case with the first method.
3. Just below the surface using bobber to keep bait at the desired depth
This is my preferred method when it’s working. The main advantage to fishing closer to the surface than the bottom is that you’re far less likely to get your hook caught on debris on the bottom, and no possibility unless a fish gets hooked and swims into some sub-aquatic structure, making it difficult if not impossible to land the fish. Still, those instances are rare if you’re careful not to fish near known structures and know how and when to work the drag on your fishing reel.
Unfortunately, this method generally is less successful with catfish considered to be well above-average in size, but can be a great way to catch as many 1-4 pound fish as one desires (provided they’re chumming effectively).
4.Fishing at or near the bottom with a bobber or sliding cork
This method is useful when you know the approximate depth of the water being fished. It’s a combination between methods 1, 2 and 3. The purpose is to give the fisherman a slight advantage by being able to watch the cork or bobber as opposed to feeling for a strike. This is especially useful when fishing with more than one rod simultaneously.
5.Jugs and noodles
Jugs and noodles are literal empty milk, 2-liter soda and detergent bottles, or pool noodles cut up into 3-4 pieces. They are used because they float and even the largest fish can’y keep them submerged for long.
This method requires a boat, as the fisherman attaches twine or fishing line with a hook at the end and baits each jug, spreading them out across a wide amount of water, then driving the boat towards any that start moving (with a fish on) and using a net to scoop both jug and fish. Obviously, this method requires a boat.
I find jugs/noodles far more effective than trot lines, in which a line is run either across a river or across a stretch of the shoreline, with individual lines with hooks every 18″ to 24″. This method leaves too much time for the fish to remove themselves from the hook, as the line is traditionally left baited in the water overnight. Some people swear by trot lines, but I’ve had far more success with jugs and/or noodles when fishing without a rod and reel.
This is a dangerous form of fishing popular in Oklahoma involving people wading into the water, feeling around until they find an ideal habitat for a large catfish, then attempting to catch the fish with their bare hands, usually by gripping it at the jaw. Louisiana waters where freshwater catfish thrive also happen to be full of alligators, so I’ve never tried this form of catfishing. If I were ever to travel to Oklahoma or parts of north Texas, I’d certainly give it a try as long as my first trip was as the guest of someone experienced in the practice.
Which method of catfishing is best depends primarily on the water conditions in a given body of water. If the water is still, you can afford to stay off the bottom more often than not. If the water is moving rapidly or if there is a strong current, you’ll need to put enough weight on your leader to keep your bait in place, with the amount of weight necessary depending upon how much it takes to keep your bait in one spot without the water being able to move it (thus making it difficult for catfish to trace the scent of your bait). By keeping it in one place, the fish can find the bait more easily.
If you’d rather not deal with a rod and reel (and you have a boat or at least a canoe), maybe jugs/noodles or a trotline are for you.
Which bait to use depends on what the fish in your area prefer, and your willingness to get your hands dirty.
It’s hard to beat Canadian nightcrawlers, but you’ll be washing your hands every time you bait up. The same goes for pre-packaged stink-bait like Magic Bait.
Other options include shrimp, hot dogs, chicken and beef livers, artificial lures that are hollow and designed to be filled with a foul-smelling paste with one large hole to insert the paste and a few smaller holes to let the paste’s scent escape the rubber container. There are also sponges with hooks attach that are designed to be dipped into a commercial catfish bait product that smells worse than death.
I keep large Canadian nightcrawlers (usually from Wal-Mart), raw shrimp (perhaps slightly rotten), Magic Bait’s “Chicken Blood” flavor bait and Magic Bait’s Dinner Bell Catfish Chum. I typically use the commercial chum when I don’t have a natural chum that’s better. I’ll mix it with Magic Bait (the bait mixed with the chum) and will throw in whatever decaying food leftovers I have that would compliment the scent.
One example is a paste I make by catching shad in a cast net when they school in the summer, putting them into a blender mixed with water and blending until all that remains is a fine paste. I freeze the paste inside a plastic bag and add to the chum bucket as needed.
That said, conditions have not been very good for shad this summer, and when I have seen them I haven’t had my cast net on me, so I’ve had to make due with mostly commercial chum for the better part of this year.
In any case, the method of fishing should be determined by the body of water in which you’re fishing. Use the guidelines above to determine which type of fishing will yield you the most catfish.
Bait is as much a matter of preference as anything. I’d recommend keeping more than one bait on hand just in case the fish don’t like whatever bait you throw out initially.