For years I have seen fishermen hang their poles up on the nails in the garage too early. I used to be one of those guys. Always was told when the water gets cold the catfish hibernate. Would just wait till the waters heated back up and pull the poles back down.
Don't believe it, ever try to go a day without a meal, lets say a couple of days, how about a week without any food. No way my friend and a catfish is the same, they don't hibernate they just don't go as far to get there next meal.
Once they find food they are stuck to an area like glue. Catfish are eating machines, and that's all they do is eat and they are absolute pigs during this time of year and a Channel Catfish will eat anything he can get those recurved lips on. Rather than chasing down a live Shad they take the easy route and go after the dead, dying and the weak.
Cold water slows them down, they are not as aggressive as they are during the warm water months, but they still eat, and Boy do they eat. I fish the Ohio River mainly for Flatheads starting in the spring when the waters warm up to about 50 degrees and fish till the cold weather makes it impossible for me to safely launch my boat. I am mainly a river fisherman, but there is a time when I forsake the river and head for a lake here in Southwest Ohio.
C. J.Brown reservoir is located about one mile north of Springfield,Ohio just off of Interstate 70. 2,120 acres of water. Lots of shoreline to prop a pole. The "Brown" as we call it is known very well for its Walleye population, but ask any Walleye fishermen and he will tell you that they will unhook five Channel cats for every Walleye.
Channel cats are very abundant in this lake and they are large, very large, and it's not unusual at all to catch several ten pounders during a spring outing. Why are they large? Shad, gazillions of the things. This is a very fertile lake, most of the water has a green tint to it all year long from the plankton that grows in it and thats the number one food source for Shad. Most of these are Gizzard shad, but I have cast netted a few Thread fins out of this lake.
Each winter as the waters of the Brown get cold, Shad will start schooling up in huge balls on this lake and it is not unusual to see several dozen schools out on the lake at a time. The majority of them are three to four inches long all moving together shifting back and forth in the lake. The cold water forces them to head for deeper waters where it is warmer and as the cold air temperatures set in, the lake freezes over.
During the Spring as the sun warms up the water and the ice is coming off the lake small and large Shad are seen floating on the surface of the water. Shad don't handle cold water very well it stresses them out and causes them to die if the lake gets froze over for any period of time they die by the thousands. As the water starts to heat up it gets worse, more bodies floating on the surface, some are suspended in the water and some trickle to the bottom of the lake.
In 2001 CJ Brown had a massive Shad kill, click here to see pictures.. Depths2001.html
To a Channel cat this is Paradise, kind of like driving by a steak house and you can smell the aroma of Black Angus beef coming from the exhaust fan. Dead bodies of Shad just make a Channel cats mouth water like no tomorrow. They are absolute gluttons during this time, and are very easy to catch.
You won't need much in the way of tackle, just need a good pole, ten to twenty pound line spooled on your favorite reel, some one ounce egg sinkers attach a swivel on a one foot leader and some 2/0 hooks be it Kahle style or regular style hooks.
Couple of different ways you can fish, on the bottom or under a float, I like to use balloons. If you're floating just suspend it above the bottom. What about bait, well there are tons of it floating around on the lake all you got to do is go out there and scoop it up and your all set. You will see lots of ones that are just starting to die and these are the ones to gather up, there kind of twisting around swimming around in circles, kind of stuck on stupid looking, put some ice in a cooler and lay the bodies on top.They can be used cut up or impaled on a hook whole.Watch for the gulls, they are one of the keys to the location of cats. The gulls feed as heavy on Shad as the cats. This lake is easily fished from the shore but it is better from a boat, Why? Structure, catfish love the stuff, we are talking tree stumps, drop-offs, boulders, gravel and mud mixed bottoms. The Brown doesn't have an over abundance of structure but what little is there the cats will be near it.
Two things on this lake make Catfishing after the ice clears off outstanding.
So we have here a very interesting scenario. A nice wind blowing all these mouth water Shad back into this flat shallow area with Buck Creek flowing in from the North East so all the bait just gathers in a very large area and kind of swirls in a big circle. Mister Whiskers comes in and just starts chowing down. Look for piles of dead Shad bodies in the area, Channels like to come from below on the floaters and suck them down so you will hear a popping sound as they open there mouths and slurp them down. Look for combination of gravel and mud areas, this time of year the water is fairly clear, but if the wind is blowing it will be muddied up bad. There are several combinations of both types of bottoms in this area. I look for limbs sticking out of the water, and stumps, the water is shallow back here about four foot deep to one foot so keep the trolling motor up, there are numerous gravel bars in the area, the depths can change very fast in this area. One of my favorite areas to fish is the old black mud bottom in front of the Islands.
This type of area is one of the best producers for big Channel cats, you're looking for one thing, Holes in the mud. Round six inch holes. Remember earlier when I talked about all those dead floating Shad. Well some of those dead bodies burst as the sun comes up and heats the water. That exploded body trickles down into the mud and as the wind begins to blow they get covered up with this soft gooey black mud and the Channels just root in this stuff and go crazy. My son Larry and I stumbled onto this pattern a few years ago, saw all these holes, it was real puzzling trying to figure it out. Then we saw a very large Channel whose head was sticking out of one of these holes, he came out turned went down in the hole and popped out another hole, they were using them like tunnels to move across the bottom of the lake, been fishing them ever since.
Sometimes you can see their tales sticking out of the water while they're standing on their heads trying to gulp down these Shad that are buried in the mud. They will push down on the bodies pinning them to a hard surface and then open their mouth and eat them up. Another method that Larry developed was to remove the weight from your line and just impale the cutbait on the hook and lob it out there where you see the cats breaking the water, the bait falls at a very slow pace and they don't pass it up as it sinks to the lake bottom. When you catch them there bellies are bulging and the cats have that black mud all over them and please don't make the mistake of laying one them in the bottom of your boat, they will excrete all that black mud, Oh man what a mess!! It is tough to clean up.
I catch and release all my Channels but if your looking for some fine table fare this spring head on over to C.J.Brown reservoir for some nice Channel Cats after the ice comes off the lake. The main ramp is at the entrance to the park.
Now I'm going to make it real easy for you, here is a map of the Brown.The main ramp is located at the star at the bottom of the map. Buck Creek runs thru the biggest portion of the lake and it is colored in Blue.
See that red dot on the map, be very careful in this area, there is a series of humps about twenty two of them in this area, when the Corps draws the lake down in the winter these humps are just below the surface of the water, so I would kind of swing wide of that area, or take it slow, if the water is clear you can see the change in the color where the humps are.
Another area to watch is where it says "No Wake Zone" there is an old gravel road marked on the map but it comes out much farther than what is marked, it is solid gravel and cats hang all over this stuff, it comes up to a crest in the middle so you can fish both sides of it.
Your headed towards the back of the lake where the islands are.There are numerous stumps and chunk rock back in this area along with the holes I mentioned earlier and plenty of gravel bars, alot of this area is fully exposed where the lake is drawn down, but you can weave your way back into the area if you are careful. There is a lot of area to fish here so there is plenty of room, it is an untapped fishery that my son Larry and I have been fishing for quite sometime by ourself so it is time to share it.
One other thing make sure you have a good anchor and plenty of rope,I would no go back there with less than one hundred feet. Sometimes the wind blows so hard that you have to anchor on some solid stuff to get the boat to hold still. That gooey mud just won't hold a boat when the wind is roaring.The Channels in this lake feed very heavy when the wind is blowing anchor your boat out in front of the islands about two or three football field lengths away.
So there you go can't get any better information than what I just gave you unless if you spend time on the water with myself or my son Larry....Enjoy.....Doc Lange