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Catfish Fishing in Florida

Written by Capt. Noah on Friday, 28 June 2013. Posted in Fish Info

There are many Catfish species in the order Siluriformes occupying freshwater in every continent except Antarctica. There are massive ones and smaller ones. There are long ones, short ones, fat ones and thin ones. Most of them have prominent barbels that resemble a cat’s whiskers and are responsible for their name; but there are a few that do not have whiskers. Found in freshwater lakes, rivers, streams and ponds, Catfish are a prized catch for many anglers. Not only are they tasty, they can grow into extraordinarily enormous fish. The bodies of fresh water in Florida teem with Catfish varieties; the most popular of which are the channel catfish, blue catfish and flathead catfish. These monsters are among the biggest freshwater fish on earth and they are exhilarating to catch.

Catfish live inland or in coastal freshwaters of every country. They are most diverse in tropical waters around the Americas, Africa and Asia. Most of them prefer shallow, running water but some are known to live underground and some even in underwater caves. Although these fish prefer freshwater environments, there are a small number of species that live in saltwater. They have many nicknames in Florida, but these names may refer to another type of Catfish elsewhere.

Catfish have heavy, bony heads and reduced gas bladders that cause them to sink instead of float. Their body shapes vary according to the species but most of them have cylindrical bodies with a flattened head and mouth. This allows them to dig along the bottom for food. They have very large mouths that contain no teeth. They rely on gulping their prey into their mouths instead of cutting or biting into them. Some rarer species have suction mouths that allow them to fasten themselves onto objects. They have a reduced maxilla that supports their barbels, making them unable to protrude their mouths.

Catfish may have up to four pairs of barbels. One can be found by their nasal cavity, another by their mouth and two appear on the chin. These unique characteristics are there for a reason. Along with their chemoreceptors (found along their bodies), their barbels help them to “taste” and “smell” anything they touch; including chemicals in the water. This is how they detect and locate their food. They do not rely on their eyesight for hunting and their eyes are therefore small. Catfish also appear to have advanced hearing.

Scales are lacking in Catfish. Their bodies are naked although some species wear armor plates that vary among them. This is because these fish breathe through their skin and it is why there is a mucus layer over them. Catfish have a powerful, hollow and bony spine on their dorsal and pectoral fins. These can be locked into place as a defensive mechanism; and they can cause severe injury. Some species produce a protein that can be injected via their spine, acting as venom. In certain species, hospitalization may be required if you are stung. In others, fatalities have been recorded. In most catfish though, these stings are not venomous.

Catfish range in size. Some only grow up to 12in while others can measure over two metres. Thailand is home to the largest catfish species, called the giant Mekong Catfish. The largest Flathead Catfish on record weighed 123lbs. Catfish are nocturnal bottom feeders, but they will take bait on the surface too. These awesome fish are highly successful predators and will eat almost anything. Here are some tips to help you catch Catfish in Florida:

Tackle for Catfish

Virtually any type of rod and reel setup will work for catching Catfish. If you are fishing from the banks then a longer rod will allow you to cast further and have better manoeuvrability around cover. If fishing from a boat, you can use a shorter rod. The lighter your tackle and rod, the more you will feel the exhilaration of these strong fish as they fight you. Keep your tackle simple. Use small hooks that are sharp. These fish have thick mouths that blunt hooks will not penetrate. We recommend using 17lbs braided line and medium heavy spinning outfits for the larger Catfish. Attach a light weight about ten inches from your hook to keep your bait near the bottom.

Bait for Catfish

These hungry fish have no problem gulping baits of all varieties. Fresh shrimps, crawdads, chicken livers, bread dough and cut baits such as minnows, bluegills, crappies, shad, herring or anything will be devoured by them. Cheese, hotdogs, bologna, stink baits, night crawlers, worms, grasshoppers, you name it and they will eat it. Live bait works well but cut bait works better because their body fluids can be smelt from vast distances.

Techniques for Catfish

There are so many ways to catch these monster fish. These techniques have been proven successful for catching Catfish; but remember that seasons and where you are fishing are the main considerations. Here are some tips to help you catch Catfish in Florida:

  • Catfish are hungry at dusk and dawn. The best time to go fishing for them is in the morning, as soon as you can see what you are doing. By fishing early, you will increase your chances of catching them tenfold.
  • Use chum to attract them. You can use anything with a strong odor, as well as sour grain. Throw some balls of chum where you plan to fish and you are sure to catch many.
  • Keep your line tight with your weight just at the bottom. Be ready to set the hook the minute a fish bites because they will steal your bait and nibble it right off if you do not do this. We recommend holding your rod and keeping a finger on the line to feel when a fish is biting. You can use alarms and other alerter products but often you are unable to react fast enough.
  • If fishing from the bank, cast as far as you can and let it settle. Reel in a few metres every five minutes or so. This will cover a larger area for locating the fish and will cause the mud to rise and settle again – attracting any Catfish in the area.
  • Look for water that moves at different speeds. Where these two speeds meet is a fantastic place to find these fish. They will not expend unnecessary energy fighting the current. Look for breaks in the current such as rocks, trees or other bottom structure. The current moving over it erodes deep pools. Catfish will often lurk there and dart out to ambush prey swimming past.

Call today to book your Catfish Fishing Charter in Florida and discover the monsters of freshwater.

About the Author

Capt. Noah

Capt. Noah

Noah is a United States Coast Guard licensed captain and PADI divemaster. He grew up in South Florida and has a passion for all things involving water. He is one of the rare bread of boaters who loves sailing and power boating. Noah sails competitvely and enjoys travelling, photography, and cooking. 


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