As early season walleye anglers might know, bouncing a jig and minnow on the bottom of the river while utilizing a controlled drift in “cat” waters, you are eventually going to tangle with this species, and more often than not, he will probably be disheartened once “ole whiskers” breaks water after a tug ‘n’ pull and rolling contest. But to the cat river rat, this is “sour ripe music to his ears.” catfish guide Reg Hougelin
What is sour bait you say? Well, it sure isn’t any magic potion. Put simply, it is just cut catfish bait from suckers, carp, baitfish etc. that turns very rotten with a little time.
During the winter, you have what is called a winter-kill, where fish die and lay on the bottom ’til the water temperature warms up and they rise to the surface where wind and current carry them to such places as river eddies, deadfalls, creeks, bridge abutments, etc. This is where the cats are going to be feeding too.
As water temperatures reach the low 50° mark, cats start moving upstream out of their wintering holes in search of food and places to spawn, such as feeder creeks, backwaters, etc. Known as the pre-spawn period, this is when sour bait really shines.
As mentioned before, sour bait is basically winterkill fish that is abundant at this time of year. Preparing sour bait is not difficult at all, but it seems that every catman has his own way of preparing it, though the basics are the same.
First, start by filleting the fish and then cut it into 2″ – 3″ chunks and lay the pieces in a canning jar until you are about 1″ from the top of the jar. Add a few drops of water and close the lid, but not too tight, so the gases can expel out. Bury it in the ground about 8″ – 12″ where the sun will hit it most of the day to let it start ripening. Leave it there for about a week and that’s it.
Catfishing rigs are quite simple and at this time of year I like using the old slip-sinker rig consisting of a sliding sinker, small bead, coastlock swivel and a wide-gap kahle hook. Always use the lightest sinker you can depending on the current and bottom content. I favor the flat sinker because it doesn’t roll on the bottom. Then I place a bead below the sinker to protect the knot where the swivel is tied. The swivel is important to prevent line-twist. Then use a 6″-18″ leader with a wide-gap kahle hook, and string on 1-3 chunks of sour bait, leaving the hook exposed.
As for hook size, I use a 2/0 – 4/0 size because through the years I’ve noticed that you do not need a 5/0 – 8/0 hook size to hook and land big cats at this time of year, unless possibly you are fishing for huge flatheads and blue cats. Change bait frequently to keep the fresh juices moving in the water.
If fished right, sour bait is big catfishing bait! I hope this little tip might help you out because the season is now (early spring).