Few fish species in the United States grow to the size that catfish can attain. In fact, some species of catfish can become truly immense. Substantial, top-quality gear, the proper rig and bait, the right location and an understanding of catfish behavior will go a long way to helping you land a truly huge catfish.
While most catfish species in the United States can reach well over 10 lbs., only a couple will become true monsters. Flathead catfish frequently grow up to 50 lbs. and can exceed 100 lbs. Blue catfish are comparable, reaching top weights of nearly 120 lbs., with fish growing 25 to 50 lbs. being relatively common.
Bodies of Water
Huge catfish live predominantly in large bodies of water, including reservoirs, large lakes and rivers. These environments are the most capable of providing proper cover, temperature, and above all food sources for catfish to grow to immense sizes.
When looking for likely places for huge catfish to be holding, try to locate deep holes. Above the surface, look for rocks and high bluffs that may indicate a hole is present. Also look for narrow spots and sharp bends in rivers. Large catfish also congregate around structure, such as submerged logs, bridge piers and even barges.
If you are going after truly large catfish, say, something over 30 lbs., it is important to have equipment strong enough to deal with a fish of that size. A 7- to 8-foot long medium or heavy action baitcasting rod rated for up to 30 lb. test line is a good start. A good quality, heavy-duty baitcasting reel with a spool capacity of at least 200 yards of 20 lb. monofilament line will work well with this rod. It's a good idea to purchase a reel with a clicker that keeps steady tension on the spool preventing a catfish from causing a reel backlash when it takes off with your bait.
The best rig for catching huge catfish is a slip sinker rig. This consists of a 2 to 4 oz. egg sinker that is slipped onto a main fishing line of 15 to 30 lb. test line. A swivel is then tied to the end of the main line. A 12- to 24-inch leader is then added to the swivel and a No. 1 heavy wire treble or circle hook is tied to the end of the leader. When targeting catfish at the top end of the weight spectrum, a main line of up to 80 lbs. and heavier terminal tackle can be used.
While smaller catfish can be caught on scavenger baits such as chicken livers, dough baits and cheese baits, large catfish are predominantly predators and often want something live. Gizzard shad, large minnows, herring and even small sunfish make excellent bait for large catfish and can be presented both live and as cut bait. The more substantial the bait, the bigger the catfish will be that will take it.
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