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Texas Sportsman
Understanding The Catfish Spawn
Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some strategies for dealing with the spawn and reluctant fish.

All species of catfish will move into tailrace waters just before, during and after the spawn. Find boulders and cutbanks and you can find some surprisingly big fish.
Photo by Keith Sutton.

It was late March last year when one of my fishing buddies called to say the white bass were making their spawning run up the tributaries of a local lake.

"They're swimming up the creeks and piling onto the shoals," he said. "We need to get out there soon if we're going to catch some."

The next evening we each caught more than 50 fat white bass apiece.

In April, when the dogwoods bloomed, the crappie started bedding on my favorite lake. Catching 30 or more a day was a cinch. Largemouth bass were spawning at the same time, and a lure worked near shoreline shallows produced one on nearly every other cast. May was bluegill time; scores of these fat panfish could be taken from a single bed when using crickets for bait.

Spawning season is peak time to catch many game fish, but when catfish are considered, it's a different story. The spawning habits of catfish differ greatly from those of other game fish, and fishing success may take a nosedive when blues, flatheads and channel cats are on their nests. Unless you understand why this occurs, you're likely to return from a late-spring or early-summer fishing trip frustrated and perplexed.


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All of our major catfish species spawn during spring or summer when the water warms to an optimal temperature. Channel and blue catfish spawn at 70 to 84 degrees, but 80 to 81 degrees is considered best. Flatheads spawn at 66 to 75 degrees.

Not surprisingly spawning begins at different times in different latitudes, progressing from south to north.

Even more important to anglers in their home waters, spawning also may occur at different times within a single body of water. For example, nesting activity often begins first in the headwaters area of a large lake. Creeks and small streams above the lake warm first because they are shallow and fed by the first warming rains. These in turn feed larger streams flowing into the lake, and they, too, warm up before the deeper main lake. Thus, headwater reaches attract catfish early in the season and are among the best catfishing areas this time of year.

NESTING FACTS
All our catfish are cavity nesters. Blue catfish deposit their eggs between rocks, in root wads, depressions, undercut banks or other areas protected from strong current.

Flatheads select sites such as hollow logs, excavated caves in clay banks, root masses from downed trees or manmade structures such as old tires, car bodies and metal drums. Channel catfish usually select dark, secluded spots such as crevices in piles of woody debris, burrows in banks, and spaces between and under rocks.

A sexually mature male selects and cleans a nest site and spawns with a female he lures there. After the female lays her mound of sticky yellow eggs, the male fertilizes the mass, drives the female from the nest and begins guard duty. He protects the nest from predators and fans the eggs with his fins to keep them aerated and free from sediments. The eggs hatch in six to 10 days (depending on water temperature), and the compact school of fry remains near the nest a few days before dispersing. The male guards the fry until they leave.


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