by Matt Freeman
Well, fall is in the air! Cooler temps at night, the sun is setting a bit sooner and the weather is just beautiful— like it always is this time of year.
As a lifelong resident of the Kern River Valley, I wanted to share one of my very favorite types of fishing up here, and that is for catfish.
Fall catfishing in the lake can be very productive, and Lake Isabella has some big ones. We have two types of catfish in the lake, channel catfish and white catfish; although there are always rumors of blue cats as well. If you do catch one of those… send me a picture!
The lake record for channel cats is approaching 50 pounds. That is a big kitty! And it is a very healthy fishery; in the fall they are eager to feed before the onset of winter.
There are a couple of different ways I like to target the Isabella cats: from a boat-fishing structure and from shore fishing drop-offs and coves.
You will be surprised at how channel catfish act. They are a true gamefish. They do not just eat dead stuff on the bottom as the old stereotype goes. They actually MUCH prefer live bait and fresh-dead cut baits; and believe it or not, they will readily hit a crankbait or plastic worm or mini-jig too.
There have been plenty of times when I have hooked what I thought was a crappie for the ages and it ended up being a nice-sized channel cat— LOTS of fun on light line and mini jigs. Not to mention the fact that they are great eating, just like crappie.
If you can get your hands on some live threadfin shad, you are in the money on the catfish and anything else in the lake!
If not, fresh dead works great too, and also chicken livers and your various dough baits. I have done well with the Berkley Jar baits also. Do NOT get that stuff on your hands, though; trust me, you will have a day of regret! It works great, though. Use the treble hooks with the sponge attached and what they call “catfish worms,” which are a treble hook with a leader and a plastic ribbed worm attached that holds the jar bait in place as you dip it. Like I said, dip with a stick, NOT with your fingers!
Use a simple rig, 10 to 12-pound test, an egg sinker and swivel and a leader with your bait— make your leader a couple of feet. Catfish are not line shy, but no reason to use line that is too heavy. Personally, I believe the lighter the better; you will get bit more than the other guy with the heavy line, even with catfish.
Take advantage of the two-pole stamp that is available and fish two bait rods; target coves, drop-offs and submerged rocks and stumps. From a boat, if you can find bait fish, up against structure. Those catfish will be right underneath them.
Go get ‘em!