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An underwater seminar on catfishing
Mike Norris Outdoors - June 2, 2004

"Get ready for an underwater seminar on channel catfishing," declared Tim Scott as he propelled his jet-drive boat east from the Starved Rock boat launch toward the shallow, rock-strewn waters below the Starved Rock dam.

Scott, the 35 year-old fishing wizard behind the resurgence of catfishing on Illinois waters, invited ChicagoFishingLinks.com creator Joe Danzl and me down to the Illinois River in mid-May.

This Bradford, Ill. catfish guide and educator started fishing when he was 10 years old. As an adult with schooling in applied sciences and graphic design, Scott created one of the most imaginative and entertaining web sites on fishing. Procats.com not only provides informative articles on catching catfish, but Scott and his team of writers back up their articles with superb graphics on catfish locations and techniques for lakes and rivers.

But for Scott, learning the habits and locations for channel catfish didn't come easily.

"In my teens I paid attention to and read all the written material I could get my hands on about channel catfish location but found most of it wrong," Scott said. "Little did I know I had spent years fishing close where channel cats really roam in rivers. I didn't unlock the secret to their summer location until I threw out what I had read and experimented in fishing fast-flowing deep water (15-17 feet on the Illinois River) for catfish.

Channel catfish will often hold in the center of rivers where two currents meet. The largest channel cats will dominate this area as if it were a specific piece of cover despite there being no current-breaking rock or wood."

Scott also set up a 1,000 gallon circular polyurethane water tank in his yard at home and filled it with tree limbs, rocks and both channel and flathead catfish to study how they position themselves to seek out and attack baits.

Springtime catfish

Channel catfish location is different in the spring. Channel cats in rivers are found in bunches when they seek fast running shallow waters below dams as they prepare for their early June spawn. Four of Scott's stout Shakespeare catfish rods with baitcasting reels loaded with 20 pound monofilament line sat cradled in rod holders spread equally distant along the transom of his boat. Three-ounce barrel weights hung from each rod; with 12-inch leaders of 30 pound monofilament line and 3/0 bronze bait hooks. A cooler full of freshly netted shad lay nearby.

"Location is the best bait," Scott said. "Once you find the cats you can get them to bite."

Scott anchored in strong current below the Starved Rock dam and to the east of Plum Island.

"See how the current deflects around the face of the island?" he said. "Cast right into where the current flow picks up as it deflects around the island." Before I could lay out a second baited rig the first rod was bending and bouncing wildly. I lifted the rod out of the rod holder but missed hooking the fish.

"We'll present baits to over 200 catfish today but only catch a quarter of them," Scott said as he cut shad into two-inch chunks with a heavy duty scissors.
He then suggested we switch to a 3/0 red Diacchi circle hooks on the theory the catfish might be biting light today.

"I always experiment with hook size until I find out what setup is most productive," Scott said.

Further experimentation led us to downsize to 1/0 red circle hooks and the catches improved.

Best bait

"It's the guts of the shad that really draws out catfish," Scott explained as he demonstrated its effectiveness by rigging up one hook with nothing more than the innards of a shad.

The bait fooled a channel cat into biting before I could place the rod back in the holder.

We changed location throughout the morning in hopes of finding the largest channel cats available. We searched for eddies and anchored in front of current breaks formed from fallen trees which provide ambush points for channel catfish.

Scott said when a series of fallen trees exist along a river bank a hierarchy takes place. The first tree upstream will produce the largest channel cats and the size of the catfish will regress on the secondary fallen trees.

We caught and released over 50 channel cats from three to 15 pounds over the next six hours, fishing several spots where in previous Illinois River outings I had vertical jigged for white bass, walleyes and sauger. I had never caught nor did I realize so many channel catfish utilized the same areas. It became obvious channel cats preferred large chunks of cut shad and shad innards to a tiny jig and minnow used in sauger fishing.

Sizing up the trip

On the way home that afternoon I stopped in Utica to see Buster and Carol Culjan from Culjan's Bait and Tackle. Buster said life was returning to normal in this town devastated by an April tornado.

I asked Buster if catfish tournaments where held on the Illinois River and he handed me a flyer for a catfish tournament scheduled for mid-June of this year.
"It takes about 30-35 pounds for a limit of six channel catfish to win the tournament," Buster said.

A sense of satisfaction overcame me. The largest six channel cats we caught this day ranged from 11 to 15 pounds, a weight that would have exceeded 70 pounds and far above a tournament winning weight.

It was enough to convince me that Tim Scott was right. Joe Danzl and I were witnesses to an underwater seminar on catfishing.

For readers interested in setting up a guiding trip with Tim Scott, he can be reached at (309) 897-8186.
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