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Jim Porter

Depending on the part of the country, the catfish may be looked on with reverence or with disgust. There is an old tale that says catfish only eat dead things off the bottom. While they will do that, their favorite foods actually seem to be live minnows and other small fish. For example, the number one bait for big blue cats in the eastern reservoirs is big, live bluegill. I have kept some channel cats in a tank and observed their eating habits. When given a choice of live versus dead food, they always went for the live food first.

It is only my opinion, but I believe catfish have difficulty catching live prey. They just don't seem as fast as other predators, such as bass and crappie. Plus, Mother Nature did equipment with the sensory capabilities for finding things that seems to have strong smells, or secretions.

Whatever the case about their food preferences, Mother Nature also gave the catfish the ability to convert whatever they may eat into pure white, succulent fish flesh. It might be compared rather distantly to a tomato plant, which has the ability to take water, a little dirt and some cow manure fertilizer and make a delightful tomato for our salads.

At one time, cotton was the largest cash crop in Mississippi. In Louisiana, it was rice. Today, the largest single cash crop harvested is commercially grown catfish. A lot of people eat them and that is a fact.

Catching cats is easy. You can fish a preferred bait on the bottom or suspended below a bobber. If you find an area of moving water, such as a floodgate discharge, you can really cash in on old Mr. Whiskers. When I fish for cats, my intent is to catch a bunch and freeze some for later use. Accordingly, I want it to be a 'sure thing' that I get them. So, I use a trotline.

A trotline is a 100-foot length of line with about 20 short drop-lines off it. Each drop-line has a hook. When placed into the water at a proper location, catching catfish is usually assured. It is like having 20 poles in the water at the same time. Rules for trotlines vary from State to State, so check yours before you use one.

The only real issue with catching catfish is which bait to use. If you ask 50 people for their opinion as to the best catfish bait, you will get 55 answers. Some baits are made with recipes handed down from Father to Son. Most stink to high Heavens. The general consensus has always been "the more stink, the better the bait".

Well, since I like catfish pretty good, I decided to try and find out which bait was REALLY the best. Here's what happened.

As said, there are a million and one cat baits and all work at some time. Last year, August - October, we ran a pretty controlled test to see which ones worked best on Florida cats ('we' being my wife, myself and 2 other friends I fish with). We would set a 20-hook trotline, bait it and then run it (in catfishing circles, that means to check it; see how educational this is) 24 hours later.

We varied the baits. In that the location we placed the line was a deep area in a flood lake, there seemed to be no reason to vary the line's location.

Commercial fishermen in the area like 4 baits:
  1. miniature marshmallows (but only in the winter; warm water melts them off the hook)
  2. dried grass shrimp
  3. cubes of Coast bath soap
  4. any cut bait (oily mullet and sardines being preferred)
We used all of those, as well as different cheeses (straight, not concocted), shrimp, common red worms, large sardines (frozen and cut into 1 inch pieces), and chunks of apple.

When all the dust had settled, sharp cheddar cheese cubes won out as most dependable. Next was the sardines, then Coast soap and everything else was about equal. Even the chunks of apple caught catfish pretty well.

In one session, we dipped the hooks and drop lines in nothing but sardine oil and put them out bare (no bait). That day, 20 hooks had 7 cats. Later in February of this year, during what we in Florida can call our 'winter', we found the cheese lost its appeal. But, the sardines ruled. Oily mullet was not even good and the soap lost its attraction, too. Marshmallows worked, but not like the sardines (note that these are ocean sardines and run around 6-10 inches long; we buy them frozen in 5-lb boxes at bait shops).

One problem that hit us was putting a 1/2-inch cube of cheddar cheese on a hook. The cube always wanted to crack because cheddar is so hard and brittle. Heating the cubes in a microwave a few seconds helped. But, then we found the method.

We put snaps on the ends of the droplines so we could remove the hooks. We then pre-baited the hooks at home and put them on after we had set the line out (no need to remove the drop lines if you have the hooks off). To put the cheese on the hooks, simply heat 20 cubes in the microwave for 3-5 seconds to soften slightly. Then, push the EYE OF THE HOOK up thru the cheese cube. Works like a charm. No splitting or cracking. Toss the baited hooks in a ziplock bag and off you go. If you let the cheese stand a day or so, the cheese will harden slightly around the hook and the cat has a tough time getting it off. We often caught a cat and got to put the same baited hook back out.

It was fun to try and figure it all out and more fun eating the results!


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A common question that we get: "Is there somewhere close to get bait and tackle?" This is where we get our bait.

Pete and Tina Heinz / 9 South Mulberry St. / Fellsmere, FL 32948 / 772-571-9855

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