BY BOB WATTENDORF: Marketing and Special Projects Coordinator and Webmaster for Freshwater Fisheries Management in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The living is easy in Florida this summer, and the catfish are abundant in the state’s fresh waters.
Anglers from throughout the United States and countries around the world flock to Florida for the many freshwater species that are available.
Top largemouth bass and bream destinations remain plenty hot, but the heat changes the fishing patterns. So, fish for bass early or late in the day, look for structures in deep water and check out areas that have shading such as around piers or under overhanging trees. Topwater lures on a moonlit night, especially with a little noise or scent thrown in, create some alternative action to attract the bucketmouths.
But most of all this summer, consider the variety of catfish species and the best places to catch this often misjudged fish in Florida to increase your chances for coming home with a stringer full of fish.
Channel cats (Florida’s record 44.5 pounds) with their deeply forked tails, whiskered faces and spotted sides are the most common of our catfish and found everywhere except the Keys, in rivers, ponds or lakes that are often stocked by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Channel catfish typically school where the bottom drops off sharply to deeper water. They usually do not hide within vegetation but can be found outside on the deepwater side of weed beds. Stink baits fished on the bottom are popular for channels.
White catfish (Florida’s record 18.9 pounds) share some similarities. However, the tail isn’t as deeply forked and the lobes of the tail fin are more rounded. White catfish prefer live bait, such as a minnow or worm.
Blue catfish (Florida’s record 61.5 pounds) are bigger than either channels or whites. Not only does their coloring distinguish them, but also the long flat anal fin on their belly and hump in front of the back fin give them a distinct look. Blues are river fish found in Northwest Florida and among the strongest of our freshwater fishes. Typically, they are taken with cut or live fish baits by using heavy sinkers and bottom rigs.
Flathead catfish (Florida’s record 49.4 pounds), like blues, are not native to Florida. As a result, intense harvest of them is encouraged. It is important that they not be moved and live released into other waters. They are solitary fish that are more difficult to catch than the others but are taken with similar equipment to blues.
Bullheads are the smallest of the targeted catfish and have more squared-off tails that are not as deeply forked, and with a heavier skull than other catfish, which is the source of their common name. The yellow bullhead’s barbels (whiskers) are pale; on brown bullhead, the barbels are dark. Bullheads aren’t the toughest fish to catch and are caught generally at night on doughballs, or on worms or crickets during daylight hours. They are very frequently taken for food, and there is no bag limit on them.
Catfish angling shines during the warmer months, but these fish can be caught year-round. While fishing can be good throughout the day, catfish are usually most active in the morning and evening. Fishing at night can reward anglers with outstanding fishing. Fish on the bottom using a wide variety of baits, from chicken livers to commercial stink baits, to catch most catfish. Catfish can also be caught on live baits such as small shiners and minnows fished near the bottom. Catfish in lakes and ponds that have been enhanced with automatic fish feeders concentrate near these feeders and can be caught on small pieces of dog food, bread and hot dogs.