Where to Find Catfish in Rivers

Fishing - Where to Find Catfish in Rivers

Catfish can be found in rivers around the world.

Rivers provide ideal habitats for catfish, with their variety of structures and holes. These places allow fish to hide, feed, and breed while allowing anglers to locate them.

Fish can be caught using various techniques and lures. Baits such as nightcrawlers, cut bait, and artificial dough baits work effectively.

Outside River Bends

Catfish in rivers typically congregate around the outer bends of creek channels. These spots, usually in 15-25 feet of water, can be fished with live bait, jigs, or bottom rigs.

Catfish thrive in outside bends due to the current that constantly scrapes away at the river bottom, creating ledges and undercuts ideal for blue cats. Unfortunately, these ledges often become cluttered with trees or logs washed downstream during high water periods.

When rivers reach flood stage, catfish will move out of the main channel and into areas out of the current to feed. These include cut banks or flat shelves on banks for shelter.

Fish the outer bends of creek channels by drifting live bait off a bottom rig or anchoring up using either a jig or bottom rig. Your bait could be small sunfish, minnow, or sucker.

A unique feature of these bends is the recirculation eddy. This eddy separates from the inner bank about halfway through each bend and rejoins it approximately midway upstream. Flow in this slow-moving feature has a velocity magnitude below 0.1 m s-1 and pressure at mid-height below hydrostatic.

Wing Dikes

Riverine wing dikes provide excellent fishing for catfish. These rock structures were manmade barriers built into the stream to control water flow, narrow the channel, reduce sediment accumulation, and slow downstream movement near banks to help prevent erosion.

Wing dikes differ from conventional dams in that they only reach part way into the water, diverting water into a faster-moving center channel, reducing sediment accumulation, and eliminating the need for dredging.

These structures reduce water flow near a river’s bank, which prevents erosion and enhances habitat. They are commonly used to safeguard riverfront property and provide more fish habitat in the rivers they serve.

For fishing catfish in these structures, set a trotline and bank line near the ends of the dikes or in brush piles downstream of wing dams against banks. Use baits have proven to attract catfish, such as worms, chicken livers, and dip.

When fishing for blue catfish, search areas where the current is strong, and water is deep – such as along the main channel near wing dikes or downstream of reservoir dams. Here, blue catfish usually congregate in large groups.

River Holes

Catfish fishing in rivers offers many opportunities to choose from. Popular spots include holes, wing dikes, and bottom channels.

Holes (Smiles or Frowns) are holes created in a river bed due to a depression caused by water flowing over a boulder (or ledge). When one ends the hole facing downstream (Frown), exiting, it is relatively straightforward; however, if one’s end is upstream (Smile), exiting can prove challenging.

Catfish thrive in large rocks, logs, and boulders, especially rivers, providing cover to rest and hide from the current while awaiting their next meal.

Catfish beds provide a secure spot to place live or dead bait fish, likely attracting catfish into eating them. During wintertime, when water temperatures drop, and catfish become less active, you can still find them here as long as you regularly provide fresh bait.

When rivers become extremely low, channel cats often migrate to deep pools, runs, and troughs with abundant oxygen and food. They often swim miles to reach these spots, typically in fast-moving or deeper water.

Tributary Mouths

Catfish often spawn in tributary mouths and migrate upstream during the dry season due to factors like flow conditions and water transparency.

A study along 685 km of the Xingu River, a clearwater tributary to the Amazon in Brazil, revealed that large catfish like Phractocephalus hemioliopterus and Pseudoplatystoma punctifer had made their way upstream through Big Bend rapids – previously considered barriers for migration – during both dry season and rising water periods. They traveled distances varying between 347 km and 164 km, respectively.

Large catfish often congregate near deep water at tributary mouths during the wintertime. As other migratory fish migrate upstream and into river channels during this time of year, catfish will feed off of what’s gathered from incoming waters.

When still-fishing from shore, tributary mouths are an excellent spot to find catfish, especially when casting to the slack water-holding areas between open gates or running turbines. Bobber rigs work best here as the high rod tip keeps most of the line off the water, leading to more hook sets.

Migrating catfish is a valuable and sought-after source of protein for many fishermen and an important source of income in the Amazon basin. Therefore, their conservation has become a pressing concern across South America. With the growth in hydroelectric dams across this basin is expected to have an impact on migratory species like catfish; however, the lack of information regarding their movements within river channels remains an impediment to effective management strategies.

Bottom Channels

When rivers become critically low, channel catfish often retreat to deeper pools or even migrate miles for suitable stretches that provide oxygen and food. These areas are known as “channel cats’ paradise.”

If you can identify a river where current flow runs over stumps, rocks, and the back of a sandbar, you might be able to locate some good fishing opportunities. These spots are known as current seams and usually occur at the edges of eddies or small channels with the restricted flow.

Many fishermen rely on bobbers and dangle baits such as nightcrawlers, shrimp, crickets, or cut bait in these conditions. Others prefer fishing from below with a sinker rig and waiting for a tug at their line.

Another excellent spot to find river catfish is when storm runoff brings mud-stained water into the stream. This murky water attracts various prey, such as worms, microorganisms, insects, and baitfish.

Run-offs can be found in shallow puddles within the main river or a feeder creek that enters it. They’re also common in drainage ditches, side creeks, and tributary mouths, where the flow from the main river empties into smaller channels or creeks. When summer rains commence, these puddles and channels make fantastic fishing spots for catfish!

Piles and Piers

Rivers, piles, and piers make excellent fishing spots. They provide catfish with a safe haven from the current while being close enough to catch a meal.

Some bridges provide excellent fishing grounds under riprap. Corners, where the bank gives way to the bridge superstructure, can often yield decent catfish action, especially during windy conditions.

Catfish often inhabit streams and dams, which provide a perfect catch-and-release habitat. These hardy fish often shelter under slow-moving water alongside brush piles, log jams, and other manmade obstructions that provide basic habitat.

Catching Catfish Under Bridges – Bottom Bumping
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