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Big cat time at Clear Lake

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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First off, let’s all be sure to take a moment today to remember the fallen… Okay, so after that somber thought, you’ll probably need something really fun to do this weekend to cheer you up. Luckily, I’ve got just the ticket! Just the ticket that is, if you like catching a lot of big fish on light tackle. You in? If so, it’s time to head over to Lake County and visit Clear Lake for some hot catfish action. I know, I know…Clear Lake’s the “Bass Capitol” of the West, but it’s catfish fishery is also world class and it can really kick into high gear this time of year. Fall Feeding Frenzy From now until at least mid-October (provided we have an Indian summer), the kitty fishing can be epic over there as the fish go on a big, grand finale type of feeding frenzy before the leaner months kick in. There are a few different varieties of cats in Clear Lake, but the ones I target are the channels, which can average an impressive 8 to 10 pounds this time of year — and 20 pounders aren’t out of the question. While cats in general have a reputation for being bottom-feeding scavengers, channels are really pretty cool gamefish. They’re efficient predators that prefer live bait to dead stuff and are very scrappy when hooked. Baiting Up So, what’s the best bait to use on Clear Lake to target oversized whiskerfish? Well, it depends a lot on what you find when you get to the lake on a given day. If there are lots of birds like grebes working an area, you can bet that there are schools of live bait around — threadfin shad and silversides, mainly. If big bait balls are present, the cats are sure to be nearby. In that situation, your best bet is to fish with the stuff on which the cats are focused. Silversides are tiny baits and hard to obtain, but you can catch shad pretty easily. If you’re fishing out of a boat, be sure to keep your livewell pumping so that the bait stays fresh and lively. From shore, put your shad in a 5-gallon bucket and change out the water regularly. Again, the key here is to keep the bait alive. On a recent trip to Clear Lake, a buddy and I eventually ran out of live shad and had to fish fresh-dead baits the second half of the day. The difference was amazing — we went from a bite every cast with the live stuff down to a hit maybe every half hour or so on the not-so-lively baits. If there are no obvious signs of bait around, you can go with collar-hooked nightcrawlers, or live jumbo minnows. Rigging Up For live bait catin’, use a 1/8-ounce slip sinker and a light wire octopus style hook tied onto 36 inches of 12-pound fluorocarbon leader. Then, thread a shad through the lips onto the hook and you’re in business. One of the most important factors to consider when using live bait is you can overwhelm the offering with a hook that’s too large. Big hooks will quickly kill and then sink a bait to the bottom. Instead, use ones like No. 6 Owner Mosquito hooks, which are made from light gauge wire but are still plenty sharp and strong to handle a large catfish. Hot Spots There’s tons of good cat water on Clear Lake and you can find ‘em near docks, pilings, tules and rock walls. Some of my favorite spots include Henderson, the State Park and the Lakeport waterfront in 3-20 feet of water.