In this article I will tell you what I have learned thus far about fishing for catfish in Arkansas at night. I will give you my preferences, tips, and tricks. I’m by no means and expert but I thought I’d share what I learned one summer. I like a list so below are some photos and a list of Items you may want to bring along.
- 4 Cheaper $10 to $20 rod and reels.
- 10 to 20 lb test line
- Medium #2 hooks
- Bank or Dipsey sinkers
- 4 small chem lights for end of rods
- 4 fishing bells for end of rods
- Fish catching net
- 4 square dowel rods
- Coat hanger wire
- Rubber bands
- Insulated minnow buckets
- Battery powered aerators
- Chair and footstool or folding lawn lounge chair.
- Poncho or raincoat and rain boots
- 100% DEET
- Mosquito head net
- Live minnows
- Fish basket to keep caught fish in
- Small fishing multi-tool and finger nail clippers
- Fillet knife or other sharp knife and a knife you can hammer the back edge without harming it.
- Small hammer
- Ice chest for beer with ice
- Beer and ice
- Cap light and other lights
- A book to read (Maybe a book or magazine about fishing?)
First let me explain what the 4 square dowel rods and coat hanger wire is for. This is for making pole rest sticks. You will cut the coat hanger wire and tape two pieces to the end of each dowel. Dowels need to be about 2 to 3 feet in length. Then bend the coat hanger wire to form a Y or other shape that holds the rod in place at the top of the dowel. On the bank at the fishing spot, push the dowels into the ground about 6 inches or so. After you rig your rod and cast it out, place it in the dowel rest on top. It’s best to secure it with something like rubber bands so that the rod can’t bounce out of the holder when the fish are biting.
When rigging the rods, tie the sinker on the line about a foot or so from the end of the line and hook. The hook itself will not be weighted. This is so the minnow can swim around about a foot off the bottom. Catfish graze in the same way that cattle graze more or less. They run around the bottom picking at things. They use smell more than sight, especially at night. Catfish tend to feed better at night. I don’t know if the catfish school or herd around like cattle. But sometimes it seems they do.
Some lakes have rod limits so check with your local regulations. I use 4 rods if I can. I space them out about 4 feet apart or so. I may space the cast out more than that. Usually all four rods won’t be active at one time. And you do have to pull each one in from time to time to check and see if there is still bait on it and if the minnow is still alive.. So if things are going well by the time you bring in one fish, take him off the hook, then rebait and recast, another rod will begin moving. If they get to biting too fast then use fewer rods.
I like using both bells and chem lights on my rods. Sometimes there is not enough movement in the rod tip to make the bell ring, but enough so that you can see the chem light moving up and down a bit. When I fish, I fish from dusk til dawn. I don’t just quit at midnight thinking the fish are not biting. I have had times when about 2 AM I caught the only fish of the night and it was a 3 or 4 pound fish. That will serve one person for 4 meals or a group of 4 for one meal. However I have had a night when I also caught nothing.
Hook the minnows through the backbone so that they can swim around a bit and not die too soon. Use the aerator in the insulated minnow bucket and you will find you have plenty of live minnows left over at dawn. Also if your minnow water begins to warm up use some ice from the beer cooler to cool it back down. A thermometer of some kind might help in determining the temperature of the minnow bucket water and the lake water as well as outside temps all night long.
One night I set out with only a can of “OFF” repellant and the mosquitoes thought it was candy. They tore my back up. I was sitting in a chair that had rungs so that my shirt was tight against my back and the mosquitoes could get to me. After that I decided to give DEET a try. Next time the mosquitoes would hover about 1/2″ from my skin or clothes but wouldn’t land. And mosquito head nets are not only for mosquitoes. One night I went down to the water’s edge to put a fish in a fish basket. I nearly choked to death on a gnat swarm. These were actually some kind of small fly. There must have been a cloud of millions of them.
A fishing multi tool and nail clippers are for removing hooks and clipping line. The use for the raincoat or poncho is obvious. A raincoat and poncho can also be a good wind breaker if it turns of to be a little chilly. Though it was my finding that the air turned out to be perfect most nights with a small breeze blowing across the water to my location even after a very hot day. I found it quite pleasant kicked back drinking a beer with my feet up on a foot stool. Listening to nighttime noises is quite interesting.
On one occasion I sat down, heard and saw something large rustle in the grass just in front of me on top of the bank. I also heard rocks being knocked around as it scurried away. I thought, “What was that? A rabbit!”. I grabbed my flashlight and walked over to where it was and saw nothing. So I stepped on down onto the rocks and, between some larger rocks, I saw a huge grey snake body about 3 to 4″ in diameter and a small head peeking up at me flicking a forked tongue. It was a huge water moccasin. I said to him, “Okay, Mr. Snake you respect me and I’ll respect you.” I went back to my chair to continue fishing. At bit later in the night I heard a splash down in the water and could see by the moon light it was the snake swimming around a few feet from the bank. So I tossed a few pebbles at him as a warning to stay away. He moved around the bend and away.
That was the same night when a catfish stole my rod and reel. I was using two cheap rods and reels and two more expensive ones that were a gift. Luckily the one he got was a cheaper one and not the gifted one. I was sitting there with nothing biting for quite some time. Was reading my book. Saw one pole begin to move a little. Then a hard pull. Next a hard pull that caused it to bounce. As I’m getting up to grab the pole, another hard pull that cause it to bounce out of the rod holder and onto the ground. So I’m scrambling to grab it when it was jerked down onto the rocks at the water’s edge. Finally as I’m about to fall getting down to it, it was jerked into the 5 foot deep water and gone. I didn’t bother to jump in after it.
For bait I also tried using chicken livers wrapped up in pieces of panty hose and rubber bands to hold it on the treble hooks. That didn’t seem to work well at all. The bait quickly disappeared. I also tried “stink” bait on treble hooks with same results and very stinky hands. I heard that it is best to sun dry the livers for a day until they toughen up. That way they will stay on the hook. That makes sense, though I have yet to try it. Now if you coated something similar with stink bait and dry it then maybe it would stay on the hook better. I have had no luck with dough balls or artificial minnows or dead minnows either. My conclusion is that live minnows work best. Also large living earthworms can work well. And other bait that is used would be cut up bream, perch and blue gill.
For cleaning you need a fillet knife and possibly a heavier kitchen knife, buck knife or cleaver. A cutting board is nice to have. I like the cutting board with the clamp on the end. You will need a pair of pliers (or multi tool) for pulling skin, and a hammer for hitting the back edge of a knife or cleaver with when cutting through thick bone. After gutting, simply use the fillet knife to cut the skin around the head and on each side of the back fins. Cut the skin around the tail area and around any fins. Then, with the pliers, pull the skin off. It’s not difficult. You have to hold one end while pulling on the skin. Cut around the back bone near the head and break off the head. Discard the with the guts. If the fish is large enough, 2 pounds or larger, use the cleaver or kitchen knife and hammer to cut through the backbone. Cut cross sections, which are called steaks. If you would rather fillet it instead, then go ahead, but I never do.
A fish will dress out to be about 1/2 its live weight with bone in. Filleted maybe only 1/3 its live weight. So a 3 pound catfish yields about 1 and 1/2 pounds of meat. The largest catfish I have personally seen caught in Arkansas was 25 pounds, which would have dressed out to about 10 to 12 pounds of meat. Though I’m not sure how it would have tasted compared to 2 to 5 pounds catfish, which are more ideal for eating. Cooking is simple. In a bag mix cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper. Put each piece in the bag and shake like you would shake and bake chicken. Then fry in oil in a cast iron skillet. Turn as needed to brown evenly. Thicker pieces may need to be cooked on lower heat longer and possibly with a lid for the first part of the cooking.
Bring along some bream fishing gear with some worms for fishing at dusk and dawn for small pan fish. This is often the best time for catching pan fish. Also don’t be surprised if you catch a bass at night while catfishing. One more thing to remember is to watch for snakes entering your fish basket to try to take your fish. You want to check your fish in the basket before putting your hand down in there just in case a snake got in. Good luck and happy fishing.