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"Cabin Fever" & Early Spring Channel Cats

Written by: Bill Milheim

February 25th, 2008

As I write this Iím fighting the urge to run out and start working on my boat. I can feel the earth tilting towards summer. But who am I fooling?  We just got 10 inches of snow and I spent the day shovelling and ploughing snow. It is the end of February in Northeast PA and it should start to warm up soon. Winters in Northeast Pennsylvania start in October when the leaves fall off the trees and ends when the mountains, valleys, and streams start to bud their lush green forage.  Cabin fever sets in and we dream of spring.  Getting prepared for spring events will get rid of my cabin fever.

"Cabin Fever" hits an all time high amongst the melting snow while the trees are budding and the flowers & grasses are starting to grow.  Prime bass fishing is at least 4 weeks away, and I'm just dying for something to pull on the end of my fishing rod.  My magic number is 40 degrees F.  Once the water hits 40 degrees, it's time to hit the river.  The river water needs to warm to 40 degrees before it will trigger early spring Channel Cat fishing. Itís a great time to get out before most people even decide itís time. So kick off the boat cover and get out there! Channel Cats will start hitting on cut bait or dead minnows. Iíve found that cats will start using the shallows 4-6 feet of water during the early spring. The water starts to warm and they will follow the bait fish into the shallows. As long as the water temp rises above 40 cast along channel cuts that fade into shallow waters. Move your cast closer and closer towards shore.

I use a number 6 hook with a 6 inch leader to at least 12 pound test. For weight I use an eighth ounce bullet weight. Allow the weight to travel freely up and down the line. To join your line to the leader I use a barrel swivel. As a rule I try to keep my line as light as possible for good presentation. But with channel cats thatís impossible. I have caught them on 10 pound test to have a 6 pound cat just tear it up.

Make your cast down stream and allow you line to sink while leaving more slack in the line to allow it to settle on the bottom. The bullet weight does a number of things from keeping almost snag free while giving no resistance when a cat is taking the bait. I would leave your line in the water for ten minutes at a time before I relocate. Channel Cats either hit, nibble, or run. I have found that I will receive a few hits where you can feel little taps then nothing. A few seconds later Bang! Then hold on for so drag pulling fun.

Most bait shops will have minnows this time of year. Cold water cats prefer dead bait. It doesnít have to be stinky, just dead. If youíre lucky enough to find cut bait such as suckers cut them into 1 inch squares and hook either in the corner or dead centre. Minnows are much easier to use. I hook them right beneath the dorsal fin about mid-way down. If the hook penetrates the organs, thats great, it will make it easier for the cat to locate.

If you plan an early cat fish remember safety at all times. I suggest wearing PFD while fishing. This time of year the water is too cold and hyperthermia will come quickly.  

Many people overlook the fun of Channel Cat fishing. Last summer I focused on cats. I spent many summer nights enjoying the night sky and pulling in some giant cats. If you can spend an early spring night rigged up you will be surprised how a cat will give you all the fight you need.


"Uncle Bill introduced me to the world of cat-fishing in the summer of 2007.  Fishing for "Channel Cats" is fun and exciting!  As mentioned above, "channel cats" can either nibble at your bait or take it with a giant "BANG".  You can fish for channel cats on medium-light and heavier rods.  At least 12 # test or heavier leaders are recommended.  Channel cats can range from tiny fish to 30-inches plus.  Fishing for channel cats is a great way to spend an early spring, summer, or fall evening or night.  Channel cats aren't targeted as much as bass, but put it every bit the fight ... and then some.  Give it a try.  Bill Milheim has been fishing the North East, PA area for over 30 years and can be seen frequenting the Susquehanna River near Tunkhannock, PA.  If you have any questions for Bill Milheim, please contact us at admin@stephensoutdoors.com "


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