Ty Wolf follows the migration closely at this time of the year.
No, he’s not a waterfowl hunter. He’s a catfisherman.
When the cormorants stop at John Redmond Reservoir in eastern Kansas on their way south each fall, he has come to expect some of the best channel-cat fishing of the year.
So, you don’t get the connection? Well, let’s see if I can come up with a PC way of explaining this.
The cormorants gorge on shad, their preferred meal. Then they roost in flooded trees, digest their meals and …well, they poop.
Channel catfish then move in to feed on the droppings, which are heavy in shad, and they concentrate below the roost trees. That makes them vulnerable to fishermen such as Wolf.
That might sound like some outlandish fish story, but it has become a reliable pattern for Wolf and other Kansas fishermen.
“We call it the ‘splat’ pattern,” said Wolf, 37, of Olpe, Kan. “We look for the trees that have the most cormorants roosting there. Some of them are white from all the droppings.
“We’ll flush the cormorants when we move into the area, but we know there’s a good chance there will be catfish in the water beneath those trees.
“Sometimes we’re casting into water as shallow as 1 foot. But there’s a chance of catching some big channel cats.”
Wolf proved it on a recent outing with me and Phil Taunton. After netting shad, he cut them into pieces and prowled for cormorants. Once he located a big flock of the water birds perched in a patch of flooded timber, he anchored, baited up and made a long cast to the base of one of the trees.
He didn’t have to wait long to get a strike. As a rod bent sharply in a holder, he set the hook and watched a big channel cat splash to the surface.
The fish fought hard as it was pulled into deeper water, but it wasn’t long before Wolf had the 8-pound fish in the boat. He admired his catch for a few seconds, then tossed it back into the murky water.
Score another catch for the splat pattern.
There were others the day. We caught and released nine other channel cats, all of them healthy and full of fight.
The only disappointment for Wolf? The trophy cats that Wolf often catches at this time of the year didn’t bite.
Wolf has caught channel catfish up to 20 pounds at John Redmond. And he knows of bigger ones that were caught in recent years.
All of those fish were released, a must in Wolf’s eyes.
“We practice CPR—catch, photo and release for channel cats 10 pounds and bigger,” he said. “A lot of fishermen know this pattern now, and if everyone kept the big fish they caught, it wouldn’t take long to put a dent in the population.”
John Redmond, a 9,400-acre reservoir, is one of the best channel-cat bodies of water in the state, Wolf said.
It is shallow, murky and fertile—perfect for channel catfish. It annually produces huge populations of shad. That gives the catfish a year-around food source and keeps them growing.
Until recent years, the catfish and other fish were running out of water at Redmond. The reservoir was gradually filling in from siltation.
But a dredging operation has created deeper water in spots and has given the catfish more room to roam.
That is a welcome development for Wolf, who fishes regularly at John Redmond. He gets excited once fall arrives.
From Columbus Day until the cormorants migrate south can be some of the best fishing of the year, he said.
“There are times when the channel cats will be under those roost trees so thick that you can’t keep a line in the water,” he said.
Wolf, who fishes the Catfish Chasers tournament circuit, organizes a fall buddy tournament at John Redmond in honor of his late friend and fishing partner, Virgil Brown. The catches that are brought in verify Redmond’s status as a premier channel-cat location.
In this year’s tournament Oct. 22, there were three channel cats in the 20-pound class brought in. The biggest, caught by the team of Jesse Nufeld and Greg Postier, weighed 21 pounds.
The winning team, Rob and Stefanie Stanley, caught 76.10 pounds of catfish, mostly channels.
Wolf was among those landing big fish in the tournament. He starts by netting shad, then cuts them into pieces for his bait. He uses 20-pound monofilament line, big Kahle hooks and 1-ounce sinkers.
“Sometimes in the fall, we’re fishing so shallow that it’s almost like topwater fishing,” Wolf said with a laugh. “You set hook and the fish immediately come to the surface.
“It’s an exciting type of fishing.”