The secret to catching catfish is in the smell, and there are several secrets to keeping the smell off you.
By Bob Hood
Star-Telegram Staff Writer, Fort Worth, Texas
You don't have to wear dirty clothes or a clothespin on your nose to enjoy catching catfish, Albert Guiterrez of Zapata once said while swinging a feisty channel cat into his boat on a warm, early-summer morning at Falcon Reservoir.
But both help.
There is something about the pungent odor of catfish bait and soured maize that reminds Guiterrez of the sweet smell of golden-brown catfish fillets sizzling in a skillet after a day on the lake.
Summertime is catfish time, and high water levels and windy weather have prevailed on many Texas lakes, creating prime fishing conditions for scavengers such as channel cats, Lake Benbrook angler Jay Fowler said last week.
And to enhance their chances of catching catfish, many anglers have learned that baiting an area in advance will bring in the cats and put them in a feeding frenzy.
"If you can't stand the smell, then you might as well stay at home," Guiterrez said while putting several scoops of soured maize from a trash can into a five-gallon bucket before a day of fishing for cats on Falcon Reservoir, which is on the Texas-Mexico border about 50 miles south of Laredo. "The worse it smells, the better the fishing will be."
Baiting an area to attract catfish is a widespread practice, but the type of chum used is as varied as the baits anglers use.
Soured maize or milo is the favorite of most anglers, while some prefer soured cracked corn or wheat. Others simply use blood bait, ground shad, dog food, or combinations of several similar ingredients.
Souring grain to bait out a catfish hole is easy. Most anglers fill a five-gallon bucket half full of the grain and add just enough water to cover it. The bucket is then set in the sun, where the grain will ferment and be ready to use within a week. Within two weeks, it will be even further soured, although additional water may be required as the grain swells, absorbing the water in the bucket.
Fowler said he pours a can or two of beer into to the bucket during fermenting.
Usually, about six to eight cups of soured maize used in a small area, such as around the base of a stump or tree, is enough to attract catfish within an hour or two. Avid anglers bait several areas the same day then fish all of them, rebaiting each spot as they leave it.
Baiting the same area twice or more a week can bring in catfish on a regular basis, just as a wildlife feeder does for white-tailed deer.
Most avid catfish anglers agree that the stronger the odor, the more fish the bait will attract, but an angler can avoid smelling like the bait by taking a few precautions.
Bob Fincher, a former Texas fishing guide who specialized in catfish, once suggested several easy ways for anglers to "stay clean" while catching catfish.
"If you're going to bait out an area ahead of time with soured maize or chum the area with blood bait or something else, don't use your hands," Fincher said. "Instead, use a plastic measuring cup. That way, you have a handle you can hold on to that will keep your hand away from the maize or blood, and it's easy to wash off when you're through."
Some anglers put their chum in a container then use a line to lower it into the water. Or anglers can use a burlap sack or plastic container with holes punched in its sides to bait an area with soured maize, dog food or ground pieces of fish.
Types of baits used to catch catfish are extremely varied, ranging from night crawlers, frozen shrimp, blood bait and dough baits to wieners, catalpa worms, chicken livers, cheese, grasshoppers, crawfish, minnows, cut baits and even the entrails of catfish.
Among the commercial baits available, punch (dough) baits are the most popular, not only because they catch fish but also because they can be readily obtained and are easy to use. A variety of punch baits are available, ranging from ground fish parts to cheese to blood.
Treble hooks in sizes from Nos. 6 to 10 with springs or sponges on their shafts are regarded as the best for punch baits because the springs and sponges help hold the bait onto the hook.
Baiting the hook without getting the punch bait on your hands isn't difficult.
"If you're using punch bait, you can either use a stick to push your hook into the container of bait or do what I do - use a one-quarter inch piece of PVC pipe with notches cut on each side of one end," Fincher said. "That way, you don't have to get the stuff on your hands."
Threadfin shad or small gizzard shad rank at the top of the list among live bait, and many anglers say fresh, frozen shad is just as productive, especially when drifting or tight-lining along a shoreline where dead shad and other aquatic creatures have been washed there by high winds a day earlier.
Whether drifting under a slight breeze day or night, or fishing a tight line from the bank or boat, fishing for catfish can be a rewarding experience.
But, as Guiterrez suggested, remember to keep the bait downwind.