Spring Into Big Cats

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Spring Into Big Cats

Spring Into Big Cats
Captain Ernest Miller (Ernest Miller)
Last Chance Charters


Spring is the time of year when so many things begin to show promise. As flowers spring up and the sun begins to show it self a bit more often our spirits are lifted as we begin to think more about what we want to do or get done outside. As a fisherman myself spring is always a time of year I look forward to. Traditionally it’s been about chasing Walleye’s around Michigan or Steelhead fishing on the Muskegon River. One thing I wasn’t aware of as spring begins to unfold. One of Michigan’s best kept fishing secrets lies waiting. Fishing for Catfish in West Michigan can produce 10 to 20 Channel Catfish a trip often in the range of 3 to 15 pounds. Option to target big catfish like Flathead Catfish are also available. Even though you don’t catch as many fish as you do when targeting Channel Catfish. Hooking fish in the 30 to 40 pound range is common.

There are a good amount of people out there that recognize how much fun these fish are. I’ve not seen many that realize the numbers or the size of the Catfish we have in West Michigan’s rivers. I know I never did. All though I have caught my fair share while targeting walleye’s or other species. My passion for Catfish was always limited to the fond memories I had of growing up on a lake and fishing for Bullhead after dark. It wasn’t until the last few years I realized how much others not only enjoyed fishing for catfish but have a sincere passion for it. One person with just such a passion is fishing guide Dan Lipski. My kids call him “Dan the Catfish Man” . Dan owns and operates River Kat Guide Service. Dan grew up spending a good amount of time fishing with his father on the Grand River. It’s easy to see after spending any time at all with Dan that he loves to fish. Get him on the conversations about big cats and his passion runs deep. While talking to Dan about Catfish strategies. There seemed to be three main things he considers when going after Catfish. Looking for good structure, the bait you use and how those baits are rigged.
Dan’s set ups consists of 8 foot fiber glass composite rods, Abu Garcia level wined reels spooled with Power Pro braided line. He uses Power Pro 10-40 for most of his fishing but has several reels spooled with 12-50 Power Pro for targeting bigger fish. The fiber glass rod will take the abuse of the hard fighting fish and the Power Pro line Dan feels is required. Dan said “with the fact these fish like to hold close to the structure they like to turn into it as soon as you set the hook”. With this extremely tough line, Dan can put the pressure on the fish as soon as he sets the hook. “You need to turn their head away from the troubled areas right away. When they do get wrapped up, the no stretch characteristics of Power Pro sticks the pressure directly to the fish to pull them out” Dan commented.

Bait options are numerous but Dan is very particular about which baits he uses. He decides what he is going to use based on what he intends to target that day. One of Dan’s favorites baits when targeting big numbers of fish is a stink bait made by Cat Tracker. When he needs to put big fish in the boat It’s all about using big and lively bait. Some of Dan’s most dependable baits are 12 inch live Shad and hand size Blue Gills. If good numbers and overall quality fish is the goal. “A fresh creek chub is where it’s at”Dan says. He puts a great deal of effort catching these chubs and keeping them alive. Fresh is so important he keeps them alive and turns them into a precision piece of cut bait right before they go on the hook. Dan said “ fresh but not alive is key when using Chubs. It’s the smell that their attracted to “. For rigging cut bait or live bait Dan likes to use a 3 to 4 ounce slip sinker with a very short lead to a blood red # 7/O Daiichi Circle hook which keeps the bait tight to the bottom. He uses 7/0 for live bait and 5/0 Eagle Claw #84 for cut bait.
Areas that hold fish can be easy to find but challenging to deal with. Like targeting many other fish finding structure is definitely the key. One way to get started when trying to locate where these fish maybe holding is to start with the most obvious. Looking for a log or logs sticking out of the water is a good place to start. These fish like cover and so does their bait. A log can offer suitable feed along with easy swimming as the fish will lay in the slack water created by wood or other obstructions. One thing that’s very helpful to have is a depth finder. Even if it’s not a top of the line Lowrance fish finder. Many of the rivers in West Michigan have very low visibility. The basic models show depth and seeing where the depth of the water makes a sudden change is what you need to look for. A sudden change in depth if even by a few feet can create a comfortable spot to hold for big cats. By watching your fish finder you may find those changes were made by wood or piles of rocks that are underwater that aren’t as easily noticed.

When targeting rivers and structure it’s important to bring an anchor heavy enough that you can drop straight down and hold your boat position. The less line you have out to the anchor the better. The tighter the lead to the anchor the less the boat will move in the wind or current. Using an anchor at both the bow and the stern of the boat is best. Anchoring your boat up stream form the area you have decided to fish is a must. Choose a weight that is heavy enough to stay right where you cast it. When fishing rivers it’s best to prevent your bait from dragging on the bottom. With good anchoring and your weight holding your bait in place your able to spread your lines out and loose fewer rigs. The weights Dan use he pours himself because of their shape. He says “any slip sinker will work “ but Dan suggests keeping your leader short from your sinker to your hook to minimize snagging.

Springtime Catfish in West Michigan will be on my list of things to do for years to come. I hope it’s on yours too. For more information on fishing in West Michigan you can find Dan Lipski at www.riverkatfishing.com.

Find out more about the author Ernest Miller at www.michiganfishguide.com.




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