Novice catfish anglers toss a scoop of floating feed in front of the dock, see 50 or more catfish explode on the surface, and start planning a fish fry. Little do they know, it’s not that easy. Fed fish become wary. In most cases, special strategy is required to catch a stringer full..
You may land one or two, but while you wrestle them in, they’re sounding an alarm that feeding was a trap and others should flee. Action was fast and furious for a moment, but the excitement is short-lived. Many times, they won’t return the rest of the day. When taking company to our catfish pond, we usually fish several hours away from feeding time. They should be more hungry. Pick a spot 25-yards or so from the feeder. Depending on pond size, chum the spot with cattle range cubes, soured corn, or similar attractant. Fish on the bottom. From our experience, they seem less spooked biting naturally on the bottom than taking something dangling from a cork in the midst of feeding.
In past weeks, if you noticed some with scratches or scars on their heads or sides, they’re likely males just completing spawning. They get finned challenging other males for best spawning habitat. Catfish are the last to spawn, starting around June. They seek cavities like rock piles or hollow logs to hide and protect eggs. Males guard eggs until hatched. Young fry remain on the nest until consuming a small yolk sack. When depleted, they leave in search of natural forage. Since catfish are the last to spawn, young bass, crappie, and other species hatched weeks earlier find tiny catfish irresistible. Consequently, catfish survival rates are low. If habitat is not present, they are not stimulated to spawn. Some folks sink trash cans, concrete culverts, or similar cover to promote reproduction. We discourage it. Overpopulation quickly exceeds carry capacity and fish stunt.
Catfish aren’t curious, mostly shy. They train easily. However, do anything radically against conditioning and they’ll bolt. It may be a long while before they return to a routine. Stocking rates are determined by whether or not you feed them or they must rely on natural forage. For best results start with a balanced number. Begin harvesting when they reach 1.5 to 2-pounds. If you stocked 500, after removing 250, simply restock 250. Harvest 250, replant 250. You’ll have a perpetual catfish garden.
Understanding catfish behavior goes a long way toward developing your management style for them. Learn how they act and respond. You’ll be more successful as you culture these fun critters.