As water temperatures begin to rise in the spring, catfish become more active, especially before spawning season. Large amounts of dead bait fish left from winter, as well as other prey that emerge in the spring, trigger more aggressive feeding behavior. This, in turn, makes for ideal conditions for anglers to target catfish during the spring season.
The gear used for fishing for catfish the rest of the year will also work well for spring catfish. A long, medium weight fishing rod around 7 feet to 7.5 feet long will help with longer casts, setting hooks and playing larger fish. Spinning or bait casting reels work well for springtime catfishing. Match your gear and tackle to the size of catfish you want to catch. Lighter lines and tackle work well for channel and bullhead cats, which average 5 lbs to 7 lbs. and can grow up to 10 lbs. Heavier tackle and line is better for flathead and blue catfish, which can easily exceed 50 lbs.
In the spring, anglers can take advantage of the increased activity of catfish preparing to spawn. As temperatures begin to rise, catfish move from deeper waters to shallows prior to spawning. During this period, they aggressively feed to build the necessary fat reserves that provide the energy required during the spawning process. This activity greatly improves the likelihood of an angler catching catfish during this time.
When fishing for springtime catfish, choose warmer, windy days after temperatures begin to rise and any ice has melted. Usually, an increase of just a few degrees can make catfish move to more shallow waters and begin to feed. Also, catfish will often feed more actively after a warm spring rain that heats the shallows quickly.
Fish the downwind side of lakes, reservoirs and rivers. These areas will more frequently hold catfish feeding on dead bait fish blown by wind currents. Larger shallow areas of water that warm up more quickly will yield the best results. Work shallows that are between 1 foot and 4 feet deep. Also try areas around feeder creeks, rivers and dams where warmer water washes nutrients and pray into reservoirs, lakes and rivers. In spring, try fishing in shallow flats where catfish will spawn.
During winter months, temperatures within the water may drop to the point where large die-offs of bait fish occur. As temperatures begin to rise in early spring and catfish become more active, they will begin to feed on these dead bait fish. Early spring fishing should, therefore, focus on using slightly decomposed and smelly cut bait. Shad, sardines, herring and other bait fish work well at this time of year. As spring advances and water temperatures continue to increase, try earthworms, crayfish, insect larvae, live bait fish and prepared or stink baits.