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Big Muddy = Big Catfish

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 8, 2010

Blue catfish survey

He certainly did everything he could to explain the ways of Missouri River catfishing to me.

Schneider said the problem with finding blue cats in the Missouri River is the abundance of suitable habitat for the fish, which can top 100 pounds.

“The blue cat can live right where he wants to live,” said Schneider. “He wants the deepest water, and he doesn’t mind the current, so he’s living right in the main channel.”

There is a lot of “main channel” acreage in the Missouri River, but Schneider has discovered ways of narrowing his search. Blue catfish tend to retreat to deep water during the day, then come out at night to forage in shallower water. He looks for conditions that boost the chances a particular stretch of channel will hold big cats.

One is the entry of water from a tributary stream or a levee district drain. We found such a spot just a few yards downriver from a levee district outflow, and that’s where we hooked the 10-pounder.

Big blues also like to hang out at the boundary between eddies and the main channel. He sometimes anchors in slack water just outside the current and casts into the channel, letting the flow carry his bait into that sweet spot.

Another consistent catfish attractor is a submerged hump of sand in or near the main channel. Schneider uses his boat’s side-scanning sonar to locate some of these features. He finds others when the river is at low flow.

“When the river is down in December or January,” he said, “I’ll take that cold trip by myself and lock spots in on my GPS. I found one sandbar last winter that actually has a hole in it. That was a thrill for me. That’s a very big deal, knowing that when I’m night fishing I can go in two feet of water and have a hole right there with at least 12 feet of water.”

Schneider’s grasp of blue catfish behavior took years and hundreds of hours on the river to puzzle out. Some parts of the puzzle were harder than others to fit into place.

“It took me forever to learn to fish sandbars,” said Schneider. “I didn’t understand the principles behind it or anything about it. I didn’t understand why a catfish would want just a bunch of sand. I didn’t know about the mussels and the crayfish and the other things they are foraging on as

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