CLEVELAND - It's summer. Water temperatures are sultry. Fish are laying low. Yet, you have some spare time and you want to go fishing. You're in luck. Ohio is home to some of the best catfishing in the country, and there is no better time to catch catfish than the summer.
There are a number of catfish species available in Ohio. Bullheads and channel catfish are found in many lakes and streams around Ohio. They're generally easy to catch. You'll also find shovelhead catfish in some waters. They grow big, in excess of 50 pounds, and they're a little more difficult to catch.
Regardless of which species you target, they all make great table fare if cleaned and prepared properly. There are nothing like catfish fillets, breaded in cornmeal and pan or deep fried, to bring home the flavors of a summer fish fry.
Of course, before you can eat them, you have to catch them. The most popular species of catfish is the channel cat. They are stocked in many lakes in Ohio, and they're native to many others, as well as most of the big streams around the state. Catching them is usually easy, and doesn't take a huge investment in tackle or bait.
To get started, all you'll need is a basic bottom rig. One of the easiest to put together consists of a sliding or bell sinker that is placed above a snap swivel. Then a simple snelled hook is attached to swivel. That's it. Head for your favorite lake or stream, bait it up, and toss it in. The bait should be fished on or close to the bottom.
So, what kind of bait are we talking about? You have several options. You can go with nightcrawlers, minnows, shrimp, cut bait (pieces of raw cut up fish), prepared dough baits (available at many bait shops), chicken livers, or even hot dogs. Many anglers have their personal favorites, but all will produce.
When you get to the lake, if you're not familiar with it, scout around. Channel catfish like access to deeper water, but will feed in the shallows, especially around weeds and submerged structure like trees and rocks. Look for areas near drop offs, too. You'll often find channel catfish sitting just at the edge of the drop, waiting to ambush unsuspecting minnows above. While you can fish for catfish from a boat, you don't always need one. There are great catfishing opportunities from shore at many Ohio lakes and streams.
Once you've found your spot, toss your baited rig into the water and wait for a bite. You can put your rod in a rod holder, but don't venture too far away. Many a rod has been lost when a catfish ate the bait, and took the rod with it. Watch the tip. Sometimes the catfish will take your bait gently, with the only sign a telltale tapping of the rod tip. Give the fish a few seconds then set the hook. Other times, catfish will run with your bait, and there's no mistaking when that happens. Your rod will bend. Set the hook immediately.
Landing a catfish and getting it off the hook can be a challenge. Catfish have sharp, pointed dorsal and pectoral fins. They can pierce the skin if you're not careful. Your best bet is to use heavy gloves when handling the fish, or to grasp it from the underside. You'll probably need pliers to remove the hook from the fish's mouth.
Despite that minor obstacle, catfishing is fun and can save the day when nothing else is biting. Plus, we have a great catfishing resource here in Ohio, and one that every angler can easily access and take advantage of.
If you're looking for places in northeast Ohio to catch catfish, you might want to try Nimisila Reservoir and the Portage Lakes in Summit County; West Branch Reservoir in Portage County; the Tuscarawas River from Canal Fulton to Dover; Pleasant Hill Reservoir and Charles Mill Reservoir near Mansfield; and Wallace Lake in the Millstream Run Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks System. One other note, check state health advisories to find out if there are any restrictions on fish from a particular body of water before eating it. You can find those advisories here: http://www.epa.state.oh.us/dsw/fishadvisory/index.aspx