The Ohio River is loaded with channel catfish, all looking for a fight.
They don’t mind if the conditions above their world are sunny or rainy, hot or cold, daylight or dark.
They’re always hungry, and just about any bait you put under their noses – cubed steak, shrimp, chicken liver, hotdogs, nightcrawlers, minnows, doughballs, commercial dips or Wheaties rolled into a ball – will satisfy.
If you’re wanting to take a kid fishing, the river’s channel cats will cooperate to keep him or her interested and delighted. This will give them something they can cling to for the rest of their lives, whenever they feel the need to relieve stress or anxiety that the world will throw at them in abundance.
Right down near the bottom is where you want your bait to be for the best chance of finding feeding channels.
An effective rig involves threading the line through a barrel sinker weighing almost an ounce. Tie a 4/0 or 5/0 hook to the end of the line.
Two or three feet up from the hook, snap on a tiny split-shot sinker to prevent the big sinker from sliding down against the hook. That way, the sinker rests on the bottom while the bait drifts just off the bottom. Even so, because bottom snags are unavoidable, you’ll need to take a plentiful supply of hooks and sinkers.
Another way is to tie a flat, one-ounce sinker to the end of the line. Two feet above that, tie an overhand knot in the line, creating a loop in the line. Run the leader of a snelled hook through the loop, stick the hook through the leader’s loop, and pull it tight. This is an even more effective way of keeping the hook above the snags.
Most of the channel catfish you catch from the river will be in the two- to five-pound class, although eight- to 10-pounders are not uncommon.
For ultimate enjoyment of the battle, I like to use a medium-action spinning reel loaded with eight-pound line on a light pole. The fish bend your rod double as you fight them upstream and down.
Of course, there are not just channel cats swimming down there. You might hook into a 40- or 50-pound flathead, or shovelhead, catfish that you can’t come close to handling with a light rig like this. He will strip your drag, burn up the ball bearings, run out all your line and then break it loose from its tie to the spindle.
The only nice thing about losing a fish like this is that he grows bigger every time you retell the tale of the big one that turned tail and got away.
TALES OF BIG ONES
Get two or more old time Ohio River fishermen together and you’ll always hear stories of “whiskerfish” the size of refrigerators that got away.
Mark Hicks, in his excellent 1994 book, “Fishing the Ohio River” (Big River Press, P.O. Box 130, Millfield, Ohio 45761), tells a big catfish story related by guide Larry Holsinger. It happened in the Racine Dam pool.
‘One time,” Holsinger said, “there was a woman down here after catfish with a big saltwater outfit and 75-pound line. Well, she got into a good one and couldn’t do a thing with it. It was all she could do to keep from being pulled into the water.
“When the catfish took to sulking on the bottom, she had to work on it for the longest time. Finally, she started gaining line. I moved closer with some other folks to get a look at the fish.
“Then we saw it. Big and dark and a foot between the eyes. Before we could even think about landing it, that fish just opened its mouth and spat out a 15-pound catfish.
“The smaller catfish had taken the woman’s bait. The big one had then swallowed it up and wouldn’t let go.”
CLOSER TO HOME
One day Charles Euton and I launched my boat at the Shawnee boat ramp seven miles below Portsmouth. We started a float just downstream from there, adjacent to his home at the top of the bank, where his screened-in “boat house” projects out over the bank.
Drifting alone with a lazy current, about 30 to 40 yards out from shore, we averaged catching a channel cat every 15 minutes. Which is considered slow fishing, really, when compared to those times when the channels fight each other for the bait.
But word of our action on that stretch of the river spread, and soon anglers were converging at the Euton Landing from all over the country. Shore fishermen sitting in the shade of the willows and maples included Bill Stamper of Washington, Pa., Terry Stamper from Texas, and Rich Howell of Dayton, Ohio – all intent on the poles set in forked sticks.
Well, to be completely truthful about it, they were all in for the Euton Family Reunion, held next day in the shade of the shelter houses at Earl Conley Park in West Portsmouth.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at email@example.com or (606) 932-3619.