It's catfishing time in Southern Illinois

It's catfishing time in Southern Illinois
A young anglers shows off a southern Illinois Catfish. Photo courtesy Don Gasaway
Don Gasaway sent over this story to share.   We in the Chicagoland area love to go catfishing.  Southern Illinois is the place to go.

It is catfish time as other fishing begins to slow.  Following the prime spring spawning seasons and increasing summer temperatures the catfish action is prime.  It is a time when a sharp pull on a line that works away from the angler signals catfish dinner is just a short time away.
In Williamson County and elsewhere in southern Illinois, catfish are in abundance.  The variety of waters and state stocking programs result in a catfish fishery second to none.
In summer, catfish tend to hole up in areas downstream from dams and other man-made structures.  They seek out deep holes resting on the upstream side out of the current.  Absent a hole, cats lay up behind a piece of structure out of the current.  In this way they conserve energy and yet are able to move out into the current to partake of some hapless piece of forage that might float past.
Catfishing is an inexpensive sport that is also easy to learn.  To be successful does not require a large investment.  Basic spinning, spin casting, or bait casting reels on long rods are the bulwark of the sport.  Terminal tackle consists of heavy lead weights, circle hooks, and a float to suspend the bait at a desired depth.  Because of the heavy weight and fighting ability of many catfish, braided line is often used.  Otherwise, line in the heavier weight classes is best.  The choice of tackle is often the result of experience and the preference of the angler.
The choice of bait for catfishing often tends to be a matter of just how much your stomach can stand.  Catfish baits are notorious for the strong odors they emit.  Catfish seek out food sources by scent, including such things as cuts of shad, nightcrawlers and minnows.
In small ponds, the catfish will greedily devour night crawlers, red worms and cheese baits.  In medium size rivers, the preferred baits are chicken and turkey liver, dip worm coated with stinky cheese bait.  In big rivers, all of the above are applicable but so too are live fish, cut shad and crankbaits.  Bluegills and shad are the preferred live fish baits.
Regardless of the type of water, catfish tend to feed in the evening, early morning and nighttime during the summer.  It is probably due to their remaining deep in cool water during the day for comfort.  Then as the shallow water begins to cool, they will move up to feed on the natural feed available.  The exception is when it rains.  Following a summer shower, the water cools a little and it seems to encourage feeding habits of the catfish.  It is also possible that rain washes some of the terrestrial insects into the water and the fish find them tasty.
There are probably more catfish taken from shore than from a boat.  However, boated fish are usually larger.  This is more a function of ability to get to where the big ones hide.  Most shore caught fish are part of a put and take situation.  Small ponds and lakes are often stocked by wildlife agencies as part of programs to introduce kids and novice anglers to the sport of fishing.  These programs are very popular and most public waters contain stocked catfish.  The hatchery raised fish are stocked by various private and public organizations.
Medium sized lakes and some of the larger rivers are also accessible to shore anglers.  In the evenings and early morning, the cats in these waters will move about in the shallows to feed.  The rest of the day they hole up in deep holes or near stumps.  The key to success is to fish all the water both horizontally and vertically.
Anglers will cast to the holes with bait suspended beneath an adjustable float.  If not fish bites within 20 minutes, the angler retrieves his bait and moves to another location.  Then repeat the process.
The systematic angler will fish the bottom of the water column first.  If no bite is received the middle of the column depth is tried and finally the top portion.  Most fish are in either the bottom or the top one foot of depth.
Contrary to the popular song of the 60’s “Summertime” the catfish do not usually jump.  But here in southern Illinois they are still biting and fighting.  Give it a try this summer.
Free information regarding motel accommodations and points of interest is available from Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1602 Sioux Drive, Marion, Illinois 62959 or by calling 1-800-GEESE-99.  Information is also available online at, the Williamson County Tourism Bureau website.  The e-mail address is

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