Most fishermen would be happy with a catch of five channel catfish weighing almost 30 pounds.
But Cole and Clay Schmidt…well, they were expecting a little more when they competed in a recent Catfish Chasers tournament at Council Grove Lake.
The brothers from Alma, Kan., took the championship in the buddy tournament. But they were expecting a much higher total.
“We went into this thinking we could bring in 40 pounds,” Cole said. “There are some big channel cats in here.”
The Schmidts caught the big fish of the tournament, an 8.15-pound channel cat. Still, they left plenty of big ones behind, they will tell you.
“We’ve caught 10- to 12-pounders out of here,” Clay said.
Council Grove, a 3,280-acre reservoir in east-central Kansas, typifies the reason the Sunflower State has always been known for its big channel cats.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism labels the channel cat as “the bread and butter fish of Kansas.”
“Quite a few of our reservoirs have good populations of channel catfish, but they are underutilized,” said Doug Nygren, chief of fisheries for Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. “They just don’t get the fishing pressure that other species do.”
John Redmond, Clinton, Perry, Big Hill, Hillsdale, Melvern, Pomona, Elk City…the list goes on and on. Most Kansas fishermen don’t live far from a good spot to chase channel cats, Nygren said.
Council Grove certainly belongs on that list. With its murky water, long flats and abundant shad, the reservoir is loaded with channel cats.
Dutch Honer, 80, knows how to catch them. He often uses a throw net to get fresh shad, then curls the small baitfish on a No. 4 hook, a swivel and a split shot and drifts the flats with that setup.
He has caught channel cats up to 15 pounds that way, and he continues to hope of catching one even bigger.
“I’ve fished for catfish for 46 years,” said Honer, who lives in Wichita. “I’ve fished on the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers, and the biggest channel cats I ever caught there were 5-pounders.
“Here in Kansas, it’s nothing to catch a 5-pound fish.”
Ginger Cansler, one of the owners of Council Grove Marina, will tell you those channel catfish have a following.
“We get a lot of people fishing for catfish,” she said. “And they do well. A couple weeks ago, when the gar were spawning on the dam, the channel catfish moved in to feed on the eggs and we saw a lot of big fish caught.”
The fishermen on the Catfish Chasers circuit aren’t your old-school type. They have modern electronics to help them find the fish, drift socks to slow their drift, Power Poles to hold them in place in shallow water, and the latest in rod and reels.
But in the end, it comes down to the same thing as in the past. They have to figure out a way to get the catfish to eat.
“When it’s too windy, it’s hard to get a good drift on these main-lake flats,” said David Studebaker, who runs the Catfish Chasers circuit. “The catfish aren’t going to hit when the presentation doesn’t look natural.
“They’re down there, but a lot of times the conditions can make a big difference.”