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Published: 7/2/2004

Following the fish: Channel catfish don't take summer vacation

BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS WRITER

Channel catfish are the fish of summer because they do not go on vacation.

Cats seem unaffected by weather fronts, midsummer heat, whatever. Like Old Man River, they just keep rolling. And eating. So they are available when you go on vacation.

You can run into them just about anywhere rivers and streams, ponds, stream impoundments, upground reservoirs, and Lake Erie, too.

You can fish for them at dawn, dusk, and by night, and the larger ones are truly jawdroppers in size.

In his later years when the late Jim Fofrich Sr., the legendary

Lake Erie guide, talked about memorable firsts, he spoke of Billy Whiskers first.

It was a 35-1/2-inch, 20-pound channel catfish that Fofrich took while casting for walleye north of West Sister Island. It put up a bulldog of a battle that big cats are known for.

Indeed, many Erie walleye anglers have, sooner or later, been retrieving a weight-forward spinner, or a mayfly rig, when suddenly the lure stops and the rod bends in half.

Often it is a five, or six or eightpound channel cat. Trollers, too, not uncommonly will see their triggers tripped by a channel cat. So while they generally are bottom feeders, catfish will suspend and chase

walleye baits.

Lake Erie has a large population of channel cats, but the really big ones seem to come from inland upground reservoirs, said Fred Snyder, Ohio Sea Grant agent for western Lake Erie. Witness the state record, 41-1/2-inches long, 37.65 pounds, taken in 1992

from LaDue Reservoir in Geauga County.

Snyder once served as record fish chairman of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and during his tenure fielded many applications and queries

involving big catfish. Speaking of whiskers on catfish, Snyder notes that the soft, flexible barbels or whiskers around a cat s mouth do not sting, contrary to some folkloric wisdom.

They are a tremendous sensory organ for taste and smell. Even in the dark when they are swimming along the bottom, if one of those

whiskers just touches a piece of food they just nail it.

What will sting, however, is getting spiked by the sharp spine in the dorsal or back fin, or one of the similar spines in the pectoral fins that grace each side of the body just behind the gills.

Channel cats may not have claws, but they will defensively flick these pain-inducing spines if they are messed with. Handle with care.

Channel catfish are feature fish now, too, because reports of excellent catches are coming from across the region in all types of

water.

Brian Bury, state wildlife officer in Sandusky County, watched one angler take three cats in three casts Tuesday night below Ballville Dam on the Sandusky River at Fremont.

The man had taken 40 to 50 cats in eight hours. For cats, fishing water generally means bottom fishing eddies, bays, and other slower

backwaters. Generally, keeping the bait on the bottom is more

consistently successful, though some fishermen do well catfishing with baits under bobbers.

When it comes to food, catfish are about as finicky as turkey vultures. They will eat just about anything that won t eat them first.

Popular baits include live bluegills (under bobbers), minnows, nightcrawlers, redworms, waxworms, and even artificial spinnerbaits and plugs. Various concocted stinkbaits also are effective, as are chicken livers.

Catfish are good to eat as well, though anglers are cautioned

to pay heed to fish-consumption advisories issued by state health and environmental authorities.

In northwest Ohio, eat no fish of any species caught in the Ottawa River from the I-475 bridge north of Wildwood Preserve Metropark all the way down to the mouth at Maumee Bay. Eat no catfish taken from

the Maumee River from Waterville down to Maumee Bay.

And eat no catfish longer than 16 inches from Lake Erie.

That said, catfish are good to eat, as evidenced by the presence of farm-raised catfish as regular menu items in area restaurants. Sea Grant s Snyder says, For people who like to smoke fish, I d say channel cats are right up there with salmon.

Among favorite catfishing waters in northwest and north-central Ohio are the following: Pleasant Hill, Clear Fork, and Charles Mills reservoirs, all in Richland County, and the region s upground municipal water-supply reservoirs, especially Findlay Nos. 1 and 2,

Bresler near Lima, Veterans Memorial at Fostoria, and at Archbold, Wauseon, and Willard.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife stocks catfish in these bodies every other year. Sandusky Bay and its creeks also are worth trying.

The Maumee River also is a good channel catfish producer, and also is noted for producing monster flathead catfish, a whopping big cousin of the channel cat. A 21-pound, 3-ounce flathead has been confirmed already, and summer has just begun. But that s another story.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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