Growing up, I loved fishing for channel catfish in my little flat boat.  I would pull up to my favorite catfish hole, drop the anchor and sling out my favorite stink bait.  As I grew older, I wanted a new challenge and started watching Youtube videos on how to catch flathead.  I was instantly hooked on flathead fishing and slowly faded out fishing for channel catfish.  Now at the age of 30, I am back fishing for channel catfish in a way I have never done before – drift fishing.  A few of my co-workers wanted to try this technique and asked if I wanted to tag along.  After doing some quick research online, we hopped in the boat, flipped down the trolling motor and starting drift fishing for catfish.

We caught nothing!

We went again a few days later and caught 1 fish.  After making a few adjustments, we went to the same area and caught 6 fish.  After making several mistakes and learning on the fly, we are now catching a good amount of channel catfish every time we hit the water. 

Here are the 2 most important changes we made to finally find success when drift fishing for catfish.

1. Use Fresh Bait

Fresh bait is critical.  The first time we went out we did not bring a cast net to catch shad.  So, we stopped at the local gas station and bought frozen shad.  When the shad unthawed, it was very soft and did not stay on the hook long.

Now, we buy fresh shrimp from the local fish market and bring the cast net along in the boat to catch shad.  If we run out of shrimp, we catch fresh shad!  We have found that fresh shad and shrimp are the best baits to use in our area.

Quick Tip

Always bring several baits when fishing a new river or lake for channel catfish and see which bait works the best.  I fish two different rivers within 50 miles of my house.  One river I catch a lot of channel catfish on shrimp.  The other river, I cannot get a bite with shrimp, which forces me to use shad.

2. Know Your Speed and Depth

You will not catch channel catfish in the same depth every day and you will not catch them at the same speed.  When you get out to the area you plan to drift across, try different speeds (usually between .5 – 1.5) and try different depths.  Once you catch a fish, document the speed and depth on a piece of paper or on your phone.  When you catch another catfish, document like you did before.  If you continue to document, you will soon find that “sweet spot” when it comes to depth and speed and will likely catch more channel catfish as the day progresses.  

At first, drift fishing for catfish was frustrating.  I knew how to catch channel catfish the way I did when I was younger, and I had a hard time fighting the urge to go back to the way I did it before.  However, seeing that first fishing rod bend over and the intensity of it while drifting, I was hooked for life. 

If you are struggling catching channel catfish or any other fish, do not give up!  Keep trying and changing your approach.  Eventually, you will find your way to success. 

Do you chase flathead catfish too?  Check out my article – How to Flathead Fish: The Basics

Interested in running bank poles?  Check out my other article – 7 Tips on How to Fish with Bank Poles

My Favorite Reel for Drift Fishing

Abu Garcia C3-6500 Fishing Reel

The Abu Garcia C3-6500 I use for flathead fishing and now for drift fishing.  I have had this reel for many years and have not had one problem with it.  I typically use 15 pound mono-filament line.  

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Justin J. Lind

September 2019
White Buffalo Outdoors

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