Summer is catfish time in S. Illinois
“Summertime and the catfish are jumping.” This line from an old song of the 60’s is a reminder of the excellent catfishing available in southern Illinois lakes and rivers. The catfish are not jumping. But, they are thumping those tasty morsels that anglers present to them.
A staple of southern cooking, catfish are also available in restaurants as well as local lakes. But, it is more fun to catch your own. Here are some tips for catching your own in Williamson County.
Top catfish producing lake in the county is Crab Orchard Lake in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Marion. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the catfish population of this 7,000-acre lake is self-sustaining and has not required supplemental stocking to maintain the fishery.
The Crab Orchard Lake contains both channel and flathead catfish. It also contains a good population of bullheads, a member of the catfish family that does not gain the large size of the others.
Fishing for catfish is a laid back type of angling. The rigs are simple and the baits, although often smelly, are simple as well.
It is a good idea to remember that catfish like cover. They are bottom feeders that hold
around rocks and stumps. Once one sets the hook, the fish will do its best to break off
the line. Veteran catfish anglers prefer a line that is of at least 12-pound test.
The tough line helps prevent the sandpaper-like teeth of the fish from wearing or weakening the line causing a break. With high quality tough line, anglers can fish around rocky, stump infested, underwater terrain.
Most often the rig for catfishing is simply a baited hook suspended beneath a float (cork, bobber or whatever one calls it). It is cast to a probable location and allowed to sink to the level where the fish are believed to be located.
Bait can be live or dead. Popular baits include: minnows, leeches, crayfish, catalpa worms, leaf worms, red worms, nightcrawlers, frogs and cut bait. Cheese baits, popular in the spring, are less successful in the summer heat.
During periods of overcast or drizzle, catfish cruise the flats in search of food the same as they do at night. Under such conditions, a three-way rig works well. One swivel is attached to the line that goes to the reel, the second to a drop line of about eight inches with a heavy sinker on the end. The third swivel is attached to a line of about 30-inches with a hook and bait at the end. The rig allows the bait to float just off the bottom a location popular with catfish.
Catfish can also be found in most of the other Williamson County lakes. Another popular place to fish for catfish is Little Grassy Lake a1200-acres body of water to the south of Crab Orchard Lake but still in the refuge area. It produces many channel catfish on a regular basis throughout the summer.
Whether fishing from shore or boat, in the evening or morning, night or day, catfish are a marvelous fish for action. They can be as finicky as any game fish, and yet do not require a lot of expensive tackle to pursue.