YANKTON, S.D. -- One of Siouxland's premiere summer playgrounds just happens to be a dynamite fishing spot for channel catfish. While power boaters, waterskiers, sailboats and personal watercraft course across the surface of Lewis and Clark Lake, a big population of sleek channel catfish prowl the depths on a daily search for food.
This is not big news to diehard catfish fans. The reservoir's reputation for fat channel cats is a well-known fact among local catfishermen.
Two of the best, Darrell and Pat Carter of Jefferson, S.D., have been cashing in on the action for a long time.
But their catfishing horizons extend a lot farther than local waters. The brothers are currently point leaders in the U.S. C.A.T.S. Pro Trail series. After three tournaments in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky, they have garnered 635 points, far ahead of 490 for second place.
The brothers learned a lot about channel cats on the Big Sioux River, almost right in their backyard. In fact Darrell held the Iowa state record for blue catfish with a 68-pound fish from the Sioux before someone caught a 74-pound, 8-ounce fish from the Missouri River. They have added to their knowledge on a bunch of other local waters and have done well in local tournaments for a long time. Darrell started fishing the pro trail in 2000 and finished last year as the leading point getter.
I joined the brothers last Sunday for a go at the catfish on Lewis and Clark Lake. Early morning found a wind blowing out of the southeast and whitecaps were rolling across the lake, washing against the limestone buffs on the northern shoreline. We didn't need that because drift fishing is one of the most effective ways of catching cats here and the wind, although not strong, would push the boat too fast.
However, by 10 a.m., the wind began to diminish and drifting became possible. We began working across the old river channel with two drift socks slowing our speed and it wasn't long until Pat hooked into our first catfish. As the day wore on, the wind continued to decline and we were soon down to one drift sock and moving at optimum speed for this kind of fishing.
Darrell and Pat are fans of cut bait for channel catfish. They used chubs this day, cutting off the head and tail and then running the 5/0 hook through the entire length of the bait. Their Berkley Big Cat rods were sporting Ambassadeur 6500 reels spooled with 30-pound Big Game monofilament line. When we were anchored our rods were rigged with 1/2-ounce barrel sinkers stopped by a split shot about 18 inches above the hook. While drifting, rods were rigged with a couple of larger split shot pinched on the line about the same distance above the hook.
We used rod holders for both drifting and still fishing.
One of the secrets of catfishing is to keep moving until you locate fish. While there is a tremendous population of channel catfish in Lewis and Clark Lake, they are not carpeting the entire bottom. It's a big lake and there's a lot of water. When a fish or fish are caught, it pays to drift again through the same area.
Darrell says there are spots which are consistent producers and it pays to remember where you have caught fish on previous outings. The old river channel is the major structure in the lake and this also seems to hold numbers of fish. Up on the flats, the depth will be 18 feet or so and then fall off into the old channel which bottoms out at about 28 feet or so, although that varies depending on where you are in the lake.
While we used chubs on this trip, Darrell also brought along shad; however, we never got a bite on the rod which held that bait. Catmen know that could change the next day, or even the next hour, and it is a fact than channel cats will usually show a preference for one bait over another on any given day.
Chubs, however, are consistently good, Darrell says, and shrimp is another bait you can count on. He also uses mooneyes or goldeyes for bait, filleting strips from the fish and threading them onto the big hooks. He prefers fresh bait over frozen offerings and carries a cast net to collect shad and other baitfish.
We landed 10 channel catfish and one flathead catfish by midafternoon and had missed several good bites. Our smallest fish was four-and-a-half pounds and we had three over seven pounds. Darrell said it is not uncommon to catch at least one catfish over 10 pounds on a day's fishing here. We figured our total catch weighed well over 50 pounds. All of the fish were released.
Darrell begins catfishing right after ice-out and continues well into October. He says the lower reaches of the Big Sioux can be excellent late in the year.
Just about any river, pond or lake in our area offers good catfishing. In Iowa, all of the county conservation board lakes hold excellent populations as does Brown's Lake, Snyder's Bend, Blue Lake, Storm Lake, Blackhawk and East Okoboji. Creek arms on any of the other South Dakota reservoirs are also loaded with channel catfish.
When catfishing in Siouxland, there is one thing you can count on besides good numbers of fish. You won't find much competition from other anglers. If there is a gamefish here you can say is underutilized it is the channel cat. For dyed-in-the-wool catmen like the Carters, that's just more good news.
Larry Myhre is editor of the Journal.