How to Catch Big Catfish in Rivers from Shore. You can catch big catfish in rivers by using big baits, targeting the right locations, and moving until you find the big fish bites!
Best Time of Year to Catch Big Catfish
The best time of year by far to catch big catfish, is the late fall and winter. Anywhere from October all the until about February, the chance of catching a trophy fish is going to be there.
The temperature drop in the water usually shuts down most if not all smaller fish. The big fish in the river system will be feeding heavily on whatever they can find.
It is instinct that they eat and get fat before the winter time. I have had my most success in the late fall specifically, this seems to be when the fish are feeding the most, and it still isn’t too cold outside.
There are still big fish to be caught during summer and spring, but the small fish to big fish ratio is much higher. Some days you might get lucky and get a nice fish but for the most part it will be smaller fish.
That is unless you are flathead fishing. Monster flathead can be caught often in the spring/summer timeframe.
Best Bait for Big Catfish
The best bait for big catfish would be large chunks of whatever baitfish that is populating the river. I love using big pieces of shad, carp, and sometimes mullet.
Bigger baits do catch bigger fish, at least initially. At the beginning of the season (Fall/Winter) it is good to use bigger baits, as this will likely attract bigger fish. As the water temperature gets cooler, the catfish’s metabolism will start to slow.
Usually when the water temp dips below 50 is the best time to start downsizing baits. Catfish only have to eat 1% of their body weight one time a week to survive during winter.
Because of this, the bite will drastically slow, and catfish will not be eating larger meals. The winter can be tricky, but very rewarding.
In the summer and spring time, it can be helpful to use live bait. Usually the bigger live bait will get bigger fish. Not all small fish can eat a 6-8 inch bluegill, so this really helps you to dial in on bigger fish.
If you are continuously getting small fish bites, it is good to put on something live.
Best Areas to Target
In Fall and Winter
The best areas to target in the fall are river channels, holes, and also creek mouths. Spot location can be very easy to select during this time, just due to the fact that the fish are moving.
They are all migrating up and down the river to get some food in before the long winter. Fall can be one of the best times to get on a hot bite.
As we roll into winter and the water temp drops below 50 degrees, the catfish will migrate to the deepest sections of the river. This is actually a good thing to help you narrow down where they will be.
The best areas in the winter time are deep holes, deep river channels, warm water discharges, and really just the deepest areas you can find in your river.
Catfish can be very predictable during this time of year. You need to find those deep sections of your river. More often than not, you will find something living in there.
During the winter time, many say to only give a spot 15-20 minutes. I have tried this theory myself and have found it to be false. I have consistently caught big fish every hour at one time in a spot.
Because of this, I usually give it about an hour in one spot before I think about moving on to another. The goal is to find a consistent bite. If you are getting a consistent bite every 30 minutes, you are in a good spot.
15-20 minutes is too fast of a trial run before you completely give up and abandon one spot.
In the Spring and Summer
You should have no problem finding a bite. The hardest part is finding the big fish bites. Most if not all of the fish will be in relatively shallow water. Because of this, there will be a lot of small and medium sized fish that will likely eat your bait before any big fish come along.
I target rocky channels, creeks, river mouths, and also flats. To narrow down your bites to bigger fish, I like using live bait. The bigger the better, as small fish cannot fit a bigger baitfish in their mouths.
Try targeting deeper water than usually to find the big ones, the bigger fish may just be waiting there for a baitfish to wander by. Small fish can be a hassle during this time so it good to explore and see where the big fish are at.
Also, you can use bigger dead baits. The bigger baits tend to attract bigger fish, but not always. The mass amount of scent in the water is a dinner bell ringing for catfish of all sizes.
If you notice you are getting a lot of small bites on your bigger baits, then it is best to just switch to live bait, or move spots.
Use Google Maps and Depth Charts to Find Fishing Spots
Being a bank angler, I know the struggle of finding great bank spots. Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error, and some lost gear along the way. Definitely use Google maps to find accessible areas from shore.
I cannot tell you have many spots I have discovered by using Google maps. Look for a nearby parking lot or even a turnout you can park in on the side of the road. If you have to walk a bit then so be it.
I would rather walk a mile for a good fishing spot then spend a day in a bad, easy access spot. Depth charts are pretty accessible, simply Google depth charts of your local waters to see what the river bottom looks like.
You can find the deep holes, channels and many other features. You can then compare the depth of the river with bank access, and see where the best spot may be to toss a line.
Google maps and depth charts are underrated, and should be in every bank angler’s toolbox.
Move Often to Find the Big Bites
In Fall and Winter
I like to give it a good hour in a spot. This seems to be the sweet spot that I have found for getting on a decent bite.
I know the catfish “rule” is to move every 15-20 minutes, but I have disproven that. You also want to make sure you are getting the big bites. If you are constantly catching small fish, then you may not want to waste time and bait in that area.
Move to new spots, and try to find the big ones. Your chances will be there in the winter time, so you can stick it out in a spot. More often than not, you will get at least 1-2 big fish bites.
I really do not move too much in the winter time, but if you have no action at all after an hour, it is best to move on.
If you need some help with rigging, here is a good read.
In the Summer and Spring
It is important to move often if you are not getting the big bites. If your sole mission is to catch big fish, then you do not want to be wasting your time with small fish.
More often than not, if you are catching a lot of small fish in an area, there most likely is minimal big fish around or none at all.
After catching I would say 4-5 small fish, I would make a move. You could get lucky later in the day and get a big fish, but the odds are not in your favor.
I typically move to some deeper water in hopes of running into some bigger fish. Like I said, do not just stay in a spot and hope for a big one, you need to be moving to find those bigger fish.
It is easy to get complacent, but just remember the mission is catch big fish.
Your rod and reel need to be able to handle a big fish! It is very possible that you catch fish over 20lbs. I go with heavy action rods, but bare minimum you should go is medium heavy.
You need a solid rod to lift those fish out of the depths. The length of your rod varies depending on where you’re fishing. I fish from shore so I like using longer rods.
Although length is not important, it is essential you use a Length you are comfortable with. Your reel should be able to hold a good amount of line. I like choosing reels that can hold at least 200yards of line.
This way if you break off, you will have plenty more line on your spool. This also helps with being able to cast far, and still have plenty of line on your reel.
Catfish can be runners, so be prepared with plenty of line. I also like power handles, they can help you pick up a lot of line while fighting your fish. Catfish can be tough to bring in when you bring in maybe a foot on line a crank.
For hooks, there are so many different options to choose from. If you have a brand preference then go with that, but make sure they are the right size.
8-10/0 hooks are what you should be using this time of year. The fish you have a chance of hooking have big mouths, so you want a good hook that will fit and hook the fish well.
If you are using smaller chunks, use a smaller hook. Bigger chunks of bait usually require a bigger hook. However, if you down size your hook, and your hook up ratio isn’t great, you may need to upscale your hooks again.
I have had this issue in the past, using small bait and small hooks has lost me some big fish. The small hooks cannot get a great hookset in a bigger fish’s mouth.
It will often not catch the side of the mouth, or it will catch for a second then pull out.
I personally have been using smaller pieces of bait this year, with a bigger hook.
This has helped keep fish on for me.
Catching big fish can be a lot of fun. Not many people catch trophy catfish, so take these tips and get out after yours!
Be sure to stay tuned into my Youtube Channel for my latest adventures!