Catfish bite when the ice melts
Tips on where and how to catch catfish in early spring
Chris Penne is an aquatics biologist in the DWR's Ogden office, where he specializes in reservoir and lake management. He works with a crew of six other biologists and is responsible for fish and amphibians in seven counties of northern utah.
Signs of early spring are all around me: robins chirp, trees are beginning to bud and lettuce has even sprouted in the garden. Another ice-fishing season is coming to a close.
It’s a Saturday and I’m in the garage doing a bit of spring cleaning. I put away the ice-fishing gear for the season. As I hang up those short rods, I reflect on the many trips I made and all the fish I caught through the ice: cutthroat trout at Strawberry, kokanee at Causey, rainbow trout at Rockport, perch and crappie at Pineview and Willard, and bluegill at Mantua. I can’t help but marvel at the variety of sportfishing opportunities Utah has to offer!
Next it’s off to the backyard to clean up those leaves that didn’t drop until midwinter. As I’m raking, my mind drifts to another sort of spring cleaning that happens at several Utah waters during ice-off. My mind is on catfish again.
If you’ve read my earlier blog entries, you may remember that I am a catfish aficionado (a-fish-ionado). So it may come as no surprise that while most Utahns think about trout fishing at ice-off, I’m thinking about catfish.
Catfish will eat just about anything, but they’re pretty fond of gizzard shad. In northern climates, cold water stresses and kills gizzard shad, particularly the small ones. During the winter, these dead shad often float to the surface and become frozen and lodged in ice forming on top of the water. When the ice thaws in the spring, a whole winter’s worth of shad carcasses are released. Wind and wave action push the shad to shore, and that’s where you can find catfish doing their “spring cleaning.” Find a shallow windblown shore where the shad carcasses have been pushed, and the fishing for catfish can be lightning fast.
Willard Bay Reservoir is the only reservoir in northern Utah where gizzard shad can be found, but if you don’t live near Willard, don’t despair. Even though the ice-off bite is more pronounced in shad waters, there will still be an ice-off bite in any water where forage fish don’t make it through the winter. So, if you think you can handle a bit of cold spring wind in your face, and you want to try your hand at ice-off catfishing, here are some tips:
- Find a windblown shore with shallow depths.
- Try using cutbait to mimic the dead fish the catfish are feeding on. If you have a two-pole permit, fish a different bait to get noticed. Try chicken liver or worms on your second pole.
- Put your bait on the bottom by attaching a sinker to your line about six inches up from your hook.
- Don’t feel you have to cast far. The catfish should be feeding in just a couple feet of water. This means you may want to limit your cast to 10–15 feet.