How To Catch Early Spring Channel Catfish

Catching channel catfish in spring, how to catch channel catfish

When Early Spring Comes, So Do Hungry Channel Catfish!


I’m getting older…The days of fishing from sunrise to sunset or “practicing” for bass tournaments just to fish a new pattern on actual tournament day while spending all kinds of money are starting to dwindle.  I’m not retiring from the bass action but catching channel catfish in early spring is quickly becoming my escape!

Bass combo rod and reels that run several hundred dollars are now being replaced by Walmart brand heavy duty equipment.  Instead of a butt seat with little back support, I’m sitting back in a rocking lawn chair with a coffee sitting in a molded in cup holder.  Getting older really isn’t that bad!



Channel Cats Become Way More Aggressive In Late March


Keeping in mind that channel catfish spawn once water temperatures stabilize in the low 70’s, in late March in most areas of the US temperatures have already risen to the mid 50s.  Channel cats are now on a time crunch to feed up to make up for fat storage losses from a slowed metabolism, and prepare for a grueling spawn.

It’s this time that channel catfish roam the farthest distance in a day giving your bait multiple chances to come in contact with many fish.  Knowing where they will roam most through a process of elimination is as easy as finding the warmest water temperature on the lake!



Warmer Areas Of A Lake Will Lead To More Spring Catfish Success


When searching for those areas that act as chum lines for channel cats, I will focus on just a few key areas which include:


  • Riprap (especially along northwest shores)
  • Warm tributary inlets
  • Boat Ramps



is my first choice when looking for those early spring channel cats.  I will first look at the northwest end of a lake, which would typically have shallower waters that warm up the quickest.  The sun is still rising lower in the sky and the northwest rocks have the longest time to heat up.

The second reason I love riprap is that in most cases the riprap ends a short distance out into the water where either a sandy or mud bottom offers the fish easy areas to lay and wait for an ambush opportunity.  

I will place my bait, typically on bottom about three feet outside the rip rap allowing me to retrieve and check my rigs periodically for bait loss with minimal snags.


Warm Tributaries

come with warm spring rains.  Small ditches fill up with water absorbing warm ground temperatures with them.  They then flow into larger ditches, then creeks, and finally into the main lake.  

Those warm water runoffs can carry water temperatures that are over 5 degrees warmer which attracts all kinds of prey to the area.

Here using a simple cork, split shot, and hook rig yields my best results.  


Boat Ramps

The easiest way to catch channel cats in early spring is to focus on large boat ramps after a spring rain if you had a warm sunny day before the precipitation came in.

Catching Early Spring Channel Catfish,Catching Early Spring Channel Catfish on boat ramps, channel catfishing
Warmer spring rains that dance off of concrete that has been warmed by the sun makes for a deadly combination as it heats the winter waters activating channel catfish!

Boat ramps often have large parking lots that are paved with heat absorbing concrete that can be up to 40 degrees warmer than the actual water temperature.  All ramps are naturally graded to allow the rainwater to quickly find its way back into the lake.  This warm runoff supercharges channel catfish into biting aggressively.

Just like with the riprap, concentrate on western boat ramps, the larger the better!





What Baits Work Best For Channel Catfish In Early Spring?


When trying to determine which catfish bait will work best in early spring, keep a couple of things in mind.

Catfish are roaming more individually than in schools and are chomping on anything they can find.  They are using their noses and can cover great distances quickly so something oily and smelly will be your best bet.

Cut shad is the number one go to in early spring for channel cats.  I will usually net a dozen or so gizzard shad and cut them into thirds.  If legal, use two hooks above a four-ounce weight.  Place the body cut on the top hook and the head cut on bottom.

If fishing with a cork than choose a larger float and no weight!




Channel catfish can be caught 365 days a year but as soon as the spring equinox arrives, the bite will switch into hyperdrive!  Channel catfish have only a couple of short months to prepare and will spend virtually all day looking for food.

Be sure to plan your day out by looking for the obvious areas where water temperatures will be their warmest.  When you do get a hit be patient!  Let them hook themselves and prepare for a great battle!




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