Sunday, September 8, 2013

Kayak Catfish

This year we have been focused on Buckeye Kayak Fishing Trail's kayak angling tournaments, so ninety percent of our fishing has been directed toward the tourneys. This has put a serious hurt on our time spent catfishing. However, last week Russ got a hold of me and asked if I wanted to go catfishing for a few hours in the middle of the week. He said he had plenty of bait for everyone, so the trip was set.

Wednesday 9/4

Wednesday Amanda and I met up with Russ and hit the water. We got to our launch point, an old dirt road down a private soybean field. It had just rained but the ground was still very solid. After a little debate we decided to put our front wheel drive sedans to the test. No sooner than we got the kayaks in the water it started to pour.
We were already on the water, so there was no turning back at this point. It rained for a good ten minutes before the storm had passed. All the while I was thinking about how we were going to get back out after all this rain turns that field into a swamp. The rain eventually ended for the evening and we started tossing baits out for catfish. Amanda had opted to skip out on the catfishing portion of the trip and focus on other species such as gar and spotted bass until dark. Russ and I on the other hand, dropped anchor and started to probe the hole for cats.

I chose to tie off to a fallen tree at the head of the hole and fish a small eddy in 8 foot of water. I was running circle hooks for this trip, so my kayak needed to be very still. When using circle hooks, I put my rods in my rod holders and engage the reel. When the fish grabs the bait and starts to move off the rod will bow, adding resistance. The slow and steady bow of the rod will then pull the circle hook into the corner of the fishes mouth. At that point the fish will panic and take off, driving the hook deep into the corner of its mouth. For all of that to work, I needed a good anchor and I found one in this fallen tree. I simply threw my anchor over the side of it and ran my anchor line through my anchor cleat. About an hour before dark I got my first bite of the evening. I actually heard the cat hit my bait as the rod shook in the rod holder. I then patiently waited as the rod began to bend. Soon enough I had landed the first cat of the evening. A 7lb 1oz channel catfish that went 27" long. Not a bad start to the evening.
As the sun began to set I made the switch from cut bluegill to live bluegill, in hopes of landing a flathead catfish. About an hour after dark I feel my kayak make a funny movement. It felt as if my nose had pulled away from the tree slightly and then swung back into position. I couldn't see my rods at this point, so I turned on my head lamp to find one rod doubled over. I struggled to get the rod out of the rod holder, but after a very unstable lean forward I got to the rod and started to fight the fish. This fish was definitely bigger than my last, but the swift current made it very difficult to judge. After a couple short burst of drag I brought in my first flathead of the night. A 30" 10lb flathead catfish.
Unfortunately that would be the last fish of the evening. At 11:30pm we decided to call it quits and start packing up. We got the kayaks loaded up on the cars and started our journey back. The old dirt road was now as slick as ice. Russ decided to go first, so I watched as he slid back and forth between ruts in the field. Luckily we both made it out with plenty of mud to spare.  

Saturday 9/7

Saturday Russ and I decided to hit the river and test our luck again. I wasn't so easy to convince this time around. We had planned on hitting the river Saturday anyway, but Thursday evening he called me and said he had to work overtime on Saturday. Our trip would have to start at 8 or later. I was still more than willing to fish at this point. Then he said that there may be people at the put in and that my vehicle may not be safe to leave there over night. At this point my confidence was shot, I told him it may be best to fish another night. The next morning Russ sent me a message that said, "Well are you gonna fish or not?" I took it as an insult, I kind of felt like he was calling me out. It was on, we were going to fish.

This time around we both had plenty of bait to spare...or so I thought. I had 25 bluegill from Rocky Fork Lake between 6-8.5", and Russ had a dozen suckers and over a dozen gills. Russ had to work overtime Saturday so we didnt get on the water until 8pm. We paddled past a few over fished bank spots and hit the first good looking spot we found. A bank lined with fallen trees in 8ft of water. We sat for about an hour without bites before moving on. We quickly found another good option, this time a little deeper with significantly less structure.  I got a few bites but failed to land anything.

By this point it was after midnight and we were struggling to find fish, I was beginning to think it was going to be one of those nights where we'd go home with our tail tucked between our legs. We soon got to a section of river that was wide and fairly shallow, on average 2 to 3 feet. I began to zig zag between banks trying to find the deeper side, constantly checking my fish finder as I went. At this point the current had picked up, but so had the depth. I quickly came across a spot where the bottom went from 3 feet deep to 12 feet deep. It was the first hole in probably a half mile of river. The actual hole was probably only 30 yards long by 10 yards wide, plenty for 2 guys to fish. We anchored up and got our baits out. I took the head of the hole and Russ tucked in behind the largest piece of structure. I wanted to get a fish so I cut a big bluegill in half and hooked up his head in hopes of finding a big channel cat. I put it on a 8/0 circle hook and tossed it out. I then set my rod in the rod holder and began to wait. This time I had brought the glow sticks along, and clipped them to the tip of my rods. This allowed me to see my bites as they happen, not after the fish had moved my kayak around. On my second rod I hooked up a live bluegill and tossed him 10 yards away from my last bait. My lines were in the water for probably 20 minutes before one of the glow sticks started to head toward the water with my rod tip. A fish was starting to lean on my rod, but wasn't hooked yet. I patiently waited for the rod to go all the way down and then my drag started to slip in the rod holder. I leaned forward and started reeling down on the fish. At this point the fish had no idea it was even hooked, when I grabbed the rod out of the rod holder it went nuts. My kayak had shifted toward the fish and my drag started rolling. After five or six seconds of non stop drag my line went slack, the hook had failed to find flesh. I was sick to my stomach. That was by far the largest thing I had hooked into for a couple years, if not ever. I hung my head for a few minutes and listened to the bugs as they were surely mocking me. About five minutes later Russ had hooked up with a fish, and for a moment I thought that maybe he picked up the fish that I had lost. He quickly assured me that his was probably only 10 pounds. He brought it to the surface once before the fish found his anchor line. Both of us had lost fish within 10 minutes. We sat around for another hour or so, before deciding to move on.

At this point it was now 2am. Russ had stuff to do in the morning and he had been up since 4am the previous day. I could tell by his actions that the trip was nearing its end. We paddled down stream a few hundred yards when I came across a spot very similar to the last spot where we had lost fish. I told Russ I was going to fish it for a little bit, he didn't sound too thrilled but he didnt say anything about leaving yet. I was just about out of bait at this point so I figured one last spot should do it. I tied off to a small tree that was 20 yards upstream from a huge fallen tree near a steep bank. I tossed out another bluegill head in hopes that I'd get a shot at another big fish. Before I could even get my second rod in the water I had something slam the rod. It shook the kayak hard, but once again failed to find the corner of the fishes mouth. I was getting discouraged at this point. I had two gills left, both of which were in the 8.5" class, normally way too big as live bait for me. I cut one in half and hooked up the head, after all it seemed that that's what they were hitting on. On my other rod I tied on a 7/0 octopus hook and tossed out the bluegill alive. I put it about 5 feet off of the bank, 15 feet upstream from the fallen tree. I disengaged the reel and set my clicker. I was all out of bait at this point, two more bites and Russ could go home. It wasn't 10 minutes before I felt a thump on my leg. I had set the rod with the live bluegill across my lap because I like my rods to set horizontally when I run bait clickers. Five seconds after the thump, my bait clicker begins to roll slow and steady. I flipped on my head lamp, disengaged the clicker, and watched my spool as the fish steadily pulled out line. I engaged the reel, leaned forward, and set a solid hook. However, my hook-set was stopped short. I could only muster to bring the rod up to a 45 degree angle as the fish started to pull drag. My hopes weren't real high after losing the big fish earlier, but after 20 seconds of the fight I figured I'd better settle in for the long haul. The fish quickly pulled off about 10 yards of line before turning and heading up river. As he made his way up river all I could do is hang on and pick up a little line as he got closer to the kayak. Soon enough he started to pass me and the kayak. At that point the nose of the anchored kayak started to point out into the river, I was sure that my anchor was going to slip at any minute. I then realized that I should have found a better tree to tie off to, as the fish started to pull my kayak and the limb my kayak was tied to out off of the bank. Then the fish surfaced, just enough to show me his tail. My initial thoughts where that I had hooked into a very strong 20lb flathead. It soon surfaced again, and then pulled drag as it dove back toward the bottom. The third time it surfaced I had its head coming right at me, so I tried to end the fight quickly. I stuck my hand out and tried to grab his bottom lip, but he wasn't having any of that. Back to the bottom he went. After another minute of swimming around the kayak I brought him to the surface yet again, this time my hand slid right into the corner of his mouth and then around the bottom jaw. I then hoisted him into the yak and admired my catch. It was definitely bigger than I had previously given it credit for, but only the scale would tell the tale.

Now somewhere during this epic 5 minute battle I had grunted to Russ....I say grunted because I tried to yell while the fish was driving the butt of my rod into my midsection. Which to Russ probably sounded like a distressed grunting noise. Russ had figured it out though and was on his way upstream by the time I had it landed. We got the tape out and took a quick measurement, it went 41". We took a few pics and broke the scale out, 31 pounds...plus or minus a couple ounces.
I was soaked from constantly throwing water on him to keep him moist while he patiently waited for his photo op. Air temps were in the high 40's/low 50's so I would soon pay for that decision. I was out of bait, and Russ was ready to head home. We decided to call it quits at 4am. We got to the take out at 430am, Russ took off and swapped vehicles.  He got back and we were loaded up by 5am. At this point I was shivering, so I was glad we decided to call it when we did. I got back to the house at 6:45am and sent out a few photo txts to close friends, just to let them know what a little lost sleep can get them.

I have to say that nothing quite compares to the feel of the sheer power of a flathead catfish. I have caught nearly a dozen bass exceeding 4 pounds this year and to be honest I probably wont remember any of them by next spring. This one however, is different. This will be a story I tell for years to come.

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