Is one time of the year better as far as catching cats?
This is a question we’re asked frequently by catfish anglers of all experience levels. It’s normal to question if there’s something you can do to increase your success by taking advantage of seasonal patterns.
As far as what time of the year is best to catch catfish, I’ll give you a general summary of the different seasons and how it impacts the catfish action.
This is based on my experience of over fifteen years as a professional catfish guide in Texas but the same information applies. The same general rules will apply everywhere across the United States but seasonal changes could happen earlier or later depending on climate.
Catfish behavior and patterns are all relative to water temperature because catfish don’t have a calendar, water temperature controls everything.
I could write for hours and hours and fill multiple books with different patterns and catfishing techniques to use different times of the year so I’m going to cover the basics.
The short answer about the best time to catch catfish is that catfishing is good all year long in much of the country but you may be better off focusing your efforts on a specific species of catfish at times to increase your success.
Different Species, Different Times, It Makes a Difference
Answering what time of the year is best for catching catfish has many variables like the catfish species you’ll be targeting, whether you want to catch blue, channel or flathead catfish, if your goal is to catch numbers or size and more.
The best time of the year to catch catfish can vary greatly depending on what your target species is and whether you are targeting bigger or smaller fish.
Catfishing in the Winter is one of my absolute favorite times of the year.
Winter affords a lot of options like cormorant catfishing for numbers of fish and excellent action for blue cats in deep or shallow water.
My favorite Winter catfishing is for trophy blue catfish.
Winter is the absolute best time here in Texas for catching big monster blue catfish consistently and is also easy to produce excellent numbers of blue catfish and channel catfish that are “box” fish.
Winter offers excellent fishing for blue and channel catfish but the flathead bite can be difficult. Many flathead cats are often caught in the Winter but very few savvy catfish anglers will target them during this time.
Whether your goal is big monster trophy class cats or catching numbers of small fish winter is an excellent time for both!
Spring brings on rising water temperatures and a transitional period for fish, catfish included. This is especially true of early season fishing where catching transition catfish can be frustrating especially for inexperienced anglers. Putting some time on the water in and learning to locate and pattern seasonal transition cats will teach you that the early spring transition offers some amazing fishing.
Anytime there’s a drastic change in water temperature the fish scatter and become more difficult to pattern and when water temperatures stabilize then fishing patterns and catfish locations will become more consistent. They’re always biting somewhere but during certain times it can be difficult to find that “somewhere”.
As the weather warms and water temperatures stabilize the catfishing action goes crazy. The warm water makes the cats much more active. They’re hungry coming out of a long winter where cold water makes them lethargic and they’re not feeding heavily. This means them losing body weight during the winter and they’re going to put that back on by feeding heavily.
Late March, April and early May is some of the best blue catfish fishing of the year for numbers of fish and also offers excellent opportunities for trophy class catfish as well.
Channel catfish action is typically excellent and very consistent also.
Flathead catfish are virtually inactive during the winter and the warm spring waters puts them in a feeding frenzy not only adding back the lost Winter weight but also getting ready for spawn.
For more in depth information on catching blue catfish in the Spring check out the Spring Blue Catfish Techniques ebook.
Catfishing in the summer is typically very good. Catfish are among some of the last species of fish to spawn and early to mid Summer you’ll find all three species of catfish spawning.
Catching spawning catfish can be very difficult especially if you’re targeting blues or flatheads. Channel catfish however can be caught in excellent numbers during spawning periods and offer some fast paced action as well.
Flathead catfishing is also typically excellent leading into the spawning period and you’ll find some of the biggest flathead cats caught during this time.
As nights get short and days get hot you’ll see many anglers start fishing at night. Night fishing for catfish is often because of the anglers comfort but many anglers fish at night because of the myth that catfish bite best at night.
The blue catfish bite can be tough during the late summer when the water gets really warm, especially in bodies of water with a thermocline.
The channel catfish bite usually stays good most of the summer and flathead action is especially good also. Post spawn blue catfishing also offer some excellent angling opportunities as well.
One of my favorite summer fishing activities is catching channel catfish in big numbers by using a variety of Summer Channel Catfish Techniques.
Just like the early spring transition rapidly falling water temperatures can mean some tough days locating catfish. Fish will often move quickly and often until water temperatures stabilize. Lakes with a thermocline will be faced with a fall turnover which can mean especially challenging fishing during that time.
Generally in mid to late October lakes have turned over, water temperatures have stabilized and fishing picks up quickly with not only excellent numbers of catfish being caught but big trophy class catfish as well.
Outside of a lake turnover fishing for blue and channel catfish is generally excellent during the fall.
The falling water temperatures will put flathead cats into feeding frenzy as they prepare to bulk up and add extra weight to help carry them through the long cold winter when they’ll not feed as heavily.
There’s a variety of catfishing techniques to use during this time and different ways to catch catfish. Drift fishing or “drifting” is a very popular way for anglers to catch blue catfish and channel catfish during the Fall (and other times of the year also).
In many parts of the country cormorants or “water turkeys” will show up in big numbers in mid to late Fall and splat fishing can not only produce some excellent action but some trophy class catfish as well.
Many anglers that have problems locating and catching shad or other bait for blue catfish during the winter will take this time to load up on bait and freeze it for the winter.
The Seasonal Advantage
I target catfish of all species and sizes all year long as a professional catfish guide and tailor my target sizes and species based on the best action at the time.
Catfishing is good all year long but there are certainly “peak” times or times when the fishing is better and you can increase your odds by targeting specific species of catfish at different times (assuming you have all three species of catfish in your home waters).
The Best Time To Catch Channel Catfish
Channel catfish can be caught all year long. My favorite time to catch channel catfish is during the summer from pre-spawn until the water temps begin to drop in the early fall.
Fall and Spring would be a close second for catching channels but it’s hard to beat the red hot action in the summer when it comes to catching numbers of channel cats.
The Best Time To Catch Blue Catfish
Blue catfish can be caught all year long (though fishing for blue catfish during the spawn can be tough).
For numbers of blues I like the Spring starting in early to mid March and running through mid April for red hot action, big numbers of blue catfish and some trophy class blue cats mixed in. Fall also offers some excellent blue cat action as well.
For trophy blues, the big monster trophy class catfish December, January, February and March are what I’d consider the best time and hottest action for catching monster blues.
The Best Time To Catch Flathead Catfish
If I could pick just one time of the year for flatheads it would be September and October. The fish are feeding heavily getting ready for winter and fishing during this time has always produced the most flatheads and the biggest ones as well.
March through May is a close second as pre-spawn flathead action can be excellent as well.
The “True” Best Time Is….
At the end of the day, the best time to go fishing is anytime you can!
I’ve found over the years that no matter how many hours I spend on the water and how much I learn there’s always more to learn and always something that surprises me.
Some of the the biggest cats or best days of fishing have come at times when I never expected it.
You can’t catch them from the couch!
If you’d like to get on the fast track to catching more and bigger catfish check out the Catfish Edge products to learn the top catfishing techniques and seasonal techniques for catching catfish.