So, do you want to catch more fall catfish? Most people do not find cooling water and catfish to be synonymous. Rather, they look at it as more of a fluke should they catch a catfish while trying to fish for walleye or smallmouth. I am here to tell you that once these catfish feel the water temps begin to cool, the feed bags go on, and you can find some of the best catfish fishing from September through November.   

Fish being a cold-blooded animal, you would think that as their environment cools down, so does the fish's metabolism. While this is biologically true, the urgency the fish feel to put on pounds before winter is true as well. In the north, I live in Channel Catfish country. While the lower parts of the country are enjoying mild weather and blustery windy days, we are covered in ice and snow. The remarkable thing about channels is that they will bite year-round, and yes, even through the ice!  

Whenever I teach a seminar, whether it's at Bass Pro or hosted at a local bait shop, there are three main points that I like to teach. They are as basic as you can get and are easy to remember. They are ordered by importance, but one won't sustain success without the other two.

Find the Right Location to Catch Catfish

Where are the fish? This is the main question you should be asking yourself as soon as your boat splashes the water. Have you ever heard the saying that 90% of the fish live in only 10% of the water? Now, take a 38k-acre lake and find out where those little slivers of 10% are.

I could fish random water all day, and I MIGHT run over 2 or 3 fish, but that would make for a pretty boring fishing trip, don't you think? So, how do we find where they are? One way is to glean past knowledge. I keep a pretty solid log of my fishing trips from years past. I don't go into extreme detail for the number of fish, water temp, air temp, location, water level, and date. That's it. Just knowing those things from now, going back 3 to 4 years, can give you solid clues into where you need to start looking.

find the right location would help you catch more catfish

For those of us who don't own fishing sonar, keeping solid records will be an inexpensive yet fairly accurate option. With records, you can also look back on similar conditions and set up a pattern. As a guide, if I am having a tough day on the water, I will crack open my notes and look for similar patterned days. It doesn't take long to find them after that.

Next, we glean the knowledge of what we know about a catfish's biology. Just like most predatory fish, they will follow where the food is. Similarly, they will go where food is easiest to attain with the least amount of energy spent. A common misconception is that channel catfish are lazy scavengers that just feed off of the bottom and eat dead and nasty rotting food. While this CAN be true, they are also very adept predators that will eat a variety of live baits, including bluegill, perch, crayfish, shad, frogs, etc. There have been many instances where I have been fishing for flathead inside of log jams with live large crappies and bluegill for bait and catching double-digit size channels in the process. So, should you find a school of shade on the sonar, many times you will find catfish not too far away. 

Getting back to basics is a fantastic way to find fish as well. We all know about high banks and swirling slow-moving pools behind structures on a river where cats like to sit. But why do they sit there? Most people believe that it's a place for them to rest out of the current. While true, there is an even more practical reason they sit there. Have you ever noticed how long small sticks, logs, and other debris stay in those places before they finally wash back out to the main current? The same goes for food. These areas are buffets of sorts. Any food item being washed downriver will hit the whirlpool created by the structure and then be washed into the slow-moving water behind it, often falling into the scour hole created by the current. So not only did they not have to work hard to stay positioned in the little to no current, but food washed up at them and lingered longer in the area, making it easier to find. 

Finally, the time of day. Catfish only bite best at night, right? That is not always true. A lot of where this misconception comes from is old-timer bank fishermen who happen to be catching catfish in their favorite spot. Normally, a bank fisherman's favorite spot is pretty close to shore and not out in the main channel. That is because, normally, catfish tend to head closer to the shorelines during the night and slowly drift closer to main channels and ledges during the day. In the fall, many times, the noonday sun triggers a feeding frenzy because the bait moves around due to rapidly warming water temps. 

a fisherman holds the catfish he caught

Presentation of the Catfish

I know what you're thinking. What does presenting a piece of cut bait to a channel have to do with anything? I am here to tell you Everything. There are a multitude of misnomers about catfishing that are being proven wrong all the time. One of these is that catfish are bottom feeders. In all actuality, they feed all throughout the column. I have personally seen catfish being caught on pad crashers and topwater poppers. For the longest time, I was a diehard Carolina rig guy. I thought that the only way to catch catfish was a piece of cut bait below a swivel and a sliding sinker. In all actuality, there are so many different ways to present bait in a way that improves your catch rate exponentially.

Fall catfish are not as temperature-sensitive as spring. In early spring, we don't start trolling or dragging Santee Cooper rigs until the water temps get above 65 to 70 degrees. In the fall, however, we have trolled bait until the water temps reach 45 degrees in late November. Remember, in the preface to this article, I talked about the need to supersede the fish's metabolism? What do we mean by trolling baits? We mean exactly that we use our trolling motor, the wind, and special rigs in order to cover more water. Anchoring in one spot and throwing bait into a spot is a terrific way to catch catfish, and one can be very successful in doing so. 

But wouldn't you want to put the bait in front of as many catfish as possible during the precious few hours you have on the water? Instead of sitting and waiting for the fish to come to you, trolling the bait at half of a mile per hour through those high-probability areas gives you much better chances as you're bringing the bait to them. As said before, this is a warmer water technique but can be accomplished with immense success throughout the fall. While trolling, pay attention to the shoreline or the area on the sonar below you. Take note of notable features and where you start and stop contacting fish. It won't take long until you have a pattern together and you're boating doubles and triples.

Choose the Right Bait to Catch Catfish

Choose the Right Bait would help you to Catch more Catfish

Finally, and to me, the least of importance, BAIT. Whenever someone posts a picture on social media or is telling their tall tale at the local bait shop, the 1st thing someone asks is, "Whatcha catch 'em on?' People base their success or failure on the fact that they just did not have the right bait that day. While it can matter in some situations, what I have found in 5 years of guiding is that as long as it's fresh and natural to the water you are fishing, a channel catfish will eat it. 

A time that I DO find where bait matters is when the reservoir that I guide on is absolutely flush with shad. Eastern Iowa is well known for being a farming country, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, and our eastern border being the muddy Mississippi. But something we should be even more well known for is that our reservoirs could supply every bait shop in the country with our bumper crop of shad. Sometimes, there is so much shad it's hard to read the sonar anywhere you go. With so much shad feeding these fall catfish, you would think shad would be an excellent choice as bait, right? Well, you would be partially right. If I threw you into a swimming pool of hotdogs, and then I threw 2 or 3 rib eyes in there, I'd bet you could find the rib eyes pretty easily. Many times, when we are in a fall shad bloom, I am fishing with white suckers or green sunfish. They look, smell, and taste different. They are still a prime food source, but they are more distinguishable from the constant smell of shade in the lake. It's much easier for them to single out and hit your baited hook. 

Lastly, as the water cools down, I have experienced a preference for smaller cuts of bait. They prefer smaller, more frequent meals over the large meals of entire heads and body sections of cut bait during the late spring and summer months. Think of a shad the size of a dollar bill and try to cut it into four equal parts. 

Get the Proper Equipment to Catch Catfish

As for equipment, I tend to go lighter in general. A medium-to-medium light action rod with a Pisicfun Alijoz 300 spooled with a 30lb braid is about all one would need for Iowa channels and the occasional ornery flathead that decides your presentation is worthy. 5/0 circle hooks on a 30 lbs. leader with a 3-inch foam cigar float for a rig. Carolina Lake weighs 2 oz; dragging weight keeps the whole rig lightly dragging the bottom perfectly. Sometimes, I will incorporate a small line rattle into the mix, but it's not entirely necessary. Out of all the pieces of advice I could give you, it is to get out on the water and experience your specific puddle for yourself. It's much more challenging to catch them from your living room. Get out and fish as much as you can and share it with a loved one!


Martin Ennor

Martin Ennor

Martin Ennor owns and operates Enter Iowa's Outdoors Catfish Guide Service LLC. He has been in business for five years and has fished for his whole life. Along with being a father to 4 children and a husband to his loving wife Alicia, he somehow finds the time to guide while he works as a maintenance supervisor for Be Yonder Getaway at Sleepy Hollow Campground. In his former life, he Was an infantry team leader in the United States Army and has served deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, where he ultimately was wounded in an IED attack and was awarded the Purple Heart. During his ten years serving, he was also a weapons instructor with the 1st Army Small Arms Readiness Group, where he taught Marksmanship to deploying service members. In his spare time, he takes part in competitive shooting and catfish tournaments.


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November 23, 2023 — Martin Ennor
Tags: Fishing Tips

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