NorCal filled with catfish hot spots

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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With all of the glamour species we have to fish for in this part of the world, catfish don?t get a lot of love. By they should. Cats are plentiful and live darned near everywhere and they can be extremely fun to catch. And, if you catch them in clear water, they are also great eating. Here?s a quick look at some A-List spots to chase kitties this time of year? Clear Lake While it maintains a reputation as one of the West?s top largemouth bass destinations, Clear Lake can hold its own from a catfishing standpoint as well. Quality channel cats are the primary targets here and they can run large ? really large. The average fish will go 7 or 8 pounds, with 10-pounders common and fish to 20-plus pounds showing up every spring. The lake record is over 30 pounds, so the potential for real glory is always there as well. In May and June, Clear Lake?s channels will be in shallow water. Depending on the weather and water conditions, they?ll either be spawning or just getting finished. The key is to look for the kind of structure that cats prefer during the spawn ? protected areas where they can lay eggs and defend their offspring from predators. ?There are quite a few old truck tires on the bottom of the lake in the shallows,? says Ross England of Clear Lake Guide Service. ?While some of them were just dumped, others were put there intentionally to provide fish habitat. Some guys do really well by targeting those tires ? a lot of times, there will be cats in each one of them.? 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 live minnows. If there are no obvious signs of bait around, you can go with collar-hooked nightcrawlers, clas or chicken livers. Delta With over 1,000 miles of twisting, turning channels, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a catfish factory. It is a prolific producer of ?pan-sized? cats to 10 pounds but also harbors some serious monsters. Blue and channel cats sit atop of the Delta food chain and fish to nearly 80 pounds have been taken here! In November 2005, a 78-pound, 13-ounce blue cat was taken by Randy Gilgert, Jr. of Turlock on the San Joaquin River and a 53-pound channel cat was hooked last September. There?s no doubt that the majority of Delta catfish are taken on cutbait, but drifting live bait is the real ticket to consistently hooking the big guys. Live jumbo minnows ? the largest you can buy ? are super effective, but even more deadly are live bluegill. Monster whiskerfish really seem to have a taste for these small panfish! Now, a quick word about the regulations governing the use of live bait in the Delta. Bluegill are legal to use if you a) obtain them with approved angling or baitfish capture methods (see the DFG?s regs booklet) and b) you use them without transporting them. Catching bluegill on light spinning tackle with red worms is no trouble but they may only be used, as Section 4.05 states ?in the waters where they were taken.? Lake Amador It?s but a tiny spec of water compared to the Delta and Clear Lake, but Lake Amador pumps out its share of oversized catfish. Scrappy channel cats here average a solid seven pounds but often range into the 20-pound class ? and fish nearly double that size are possible. The lake record is a 39-pound, 12 ouncer and it wouldn?t shock anybody to see an even bigger cat one of these days. The cats grow big at Amador because of the prolific food chain the lake supports. In the spring, the tributary creeks flush a whole host of tasty terrestrial chow into the basin. Combine that with a prolific threadfin shad population and an extremely aggressive winter trout stocking program and you?ve got a protein-rich environment in which cats can add some serious weight. ?Spring is absolutely the time for catfish here,? says Laurie Lockhart of Lake Amador Resort. ?We get a pretty good rash of catfish action then. You?ve got the shad population blooming and the water warming up ? a good combination!? Lockhart says that many catfish anglers use the standard baits at Amador ? chicken liver, sardines and mackerel but you can take it to the next level by using live minnows. In the spring months, you?ll often find huge schools of shad pushed up under the docks of the marina and right against the bank in that same area, where you can easily scoop it with a dip net. For that reason, the marina area is a great place to begin your quest for an Amador giant, but there are other hotspots as well. ?Muddy main lake points are good,? she says. ?As are shallow bays, the corner of the dam near the culvert pipe and the campground cove near the auxiliary ramp.? Lockhart also noted that the catfish will hold near the mouths of tributary streams. J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. Find him online at