For some reason, we just can't seem to get a string of nice, warm days around here. Of course, this time last year, we were enjoying record high temperatures for March and coming off of the warmest winter since 1932.
Not this year. We are well below seasonal norms, despite a few 50-degree days here and there. So, what's a fish-starved armchair angler to do? The shad aren't running yet and only crazy people fish for trout and yellow perch in the cold.
How about this - channel catfish - while the water temps are still in the forties? You betcha!
I recently read a timely piece in the latest In Fisherman that pointed out the feeding activity level of channel catfish at the very first hints of spring. In Mid West or northern climes, this would be referred to as "ice out" catfishing. But since we seldom get solid ice here in the Mason Dixon area, we'll refer to it as "early spring, cold-water cattin."
Water temperatures are still struggling to reach the mid-forties in the region and with predicted highs to be well below normal, expect those magical 50-degree marks to be late this year.
But as for the cats, they often take advantage of winterkill shad die-offs or warmer influx of any rain events that could elevate the water just a tad warmer.
In some reservoirs of the country, the easiest and best catfishing is immediately after the ice comes off, and in relatively shallow water where the shad have been blown or washed into shoals and backwaters where they are easy pickins for the hungry cats.
Made sense. So Bob Elias, my son, Matt, and I recently hooked up with a local pond owner who actually wanted to have some of the big whiskerfish removed from their pond to help get the struggling bass population back on track.
Seems the big catties have been foraging on just about all the largemouths once they hit the 6-inch size. We collected our gear and spent an easy day when the weather finally got almost to 60.
Bob, the Carp Whisperer from previous columns, had come loaded for bear, with ample bite alarms for everyone.
Good thing, because I left mine at home! Anyhow, we rigged up with a variety of baits to include cut fish, shrimp and chicken livers and put a nice spread of baits out on one half of the pond.
We were using 10-and 14-pound monofilament on medium heavy spinning gear with baitrunner reels that would allow us to let the fish take off with the "running" drag, then the "fighting" drag kicked in when engaged with the real handle and the hookset. We used 2/0 Octopus-style hooks snelled to 15-pound test Trilene Big Game and a ½ ounce slip-sinker completed the package.
The tactic is simple. Chuck out a bait, set the bait runner and wait them out.
With the European bite alarms we would place the line in the groove and wait for a run, and wait and wait - then, a screech from on of the alarms. Then it stopped, then shot off again for a few feet. Spring catties coming out of hibernation can be lethargic on the take.
Finally, a fish moved off, and I set the hook to a satisfying weight. After a spirited, if not sluggish, fight I banked my first cattie of the year, a fine 7 ½ pounder. That one quickly made the stringer for fish cakes.
Action wasn't fast, but that can be the gig for cold-water cats. About 45 minutes after that first fish, Matt had a pretty solid run on cut bait and put the stick to a hard-fighting, and obviously bigger, catfish. Patiently playing the fish to the bank, he put the grip on and impressive cattie - a fish that would prove to be his new "personal best" for the species. That one, too, was headed for the "deep grease" release! At just over 30 inches, it was a great way to start the new year fishing!
Although local ponds and small reservoirs are great starting points for jump-the-gun catfishing, don't overlook the Potomac, Susquehanna and Upper Bay complex for quality channels.
For reservoir fish, two Quaker State lakes, Pinchot and nearby Marburg, both in York County, have almost untapped populations of big cats finning in their waters.
Additionally, both of these lakes have the abundant shad population that can draw them shallow this time of year. Throw in the fact that fish in excess of 20-pounds have been taken in recent years and you have a legitimate shot at a trophy channel catfish, with bank fishing in March and April being prime times.
We would have but one other run that evening last week when the sun came out and gave us a chance to cash in on the catties.
That fish ran Matt into some sort of structure and got off. But, hey, it was a pleasant time and we got some tablefare out of the deal.
Bob didn't catch a fish, which was cool, because he usually outfishes everybody, and we renewed and made friendships during some laid-back fishing. Springtime cats, I like it, and I think I'm going back.
Jim Gronaw is a Times outdoors writer. His column appears every other Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7896 or