STORIES OUT THERE FISHING By: Keith ''Catfish'' Sutton Campfires and Catfishing: A Great Fall Combo Autumn is the optimal time to go fishing for some catfish – make the most of your fall fishing adventure with these tips and tricks A campfire, friends and good fishing make a great combination for the autumn catfish fan. (Keith Sutton photo) Autumn is a golden season for catfishing fans. Summer’s crowds have vanished. Lakes, ponds and rivers shimmer beneath canopies of vermillion and amber leaves. Summer-fattened catfish are in prime condition, offering exciting possibilities for action-hungry anglers. No season offers better fishing for these whiskered warriors. Fortunately, most of us can still enjoy a few T-shirts-and-shorts days before winter’s cold sets in, which makes this prime time to enjoy a few hours, a day or a weekend at our favorite catfishing hole. You’ll still be able to catch catfish in the dead of winter, if you’re the hardy type who doesn’t mind dealing with frigid weather. But when the water temperature falls to 50 degrees or less, catfish feeding activity becomes greatly diminished. Better to go fishing now while catfish are gorging and putting on weight before the cold “starvation” period ahead. Begin by inviting a friend to go fishing with you. A fishing buddy is a prerequisite for catfishing. Someone to chew the fat with. Someone to share the fun. Together, you can choose a good catfish hole to visit. A small park lake is great. Or that little reservoir at the edge of town. Lots of rivers are good, too, and fishing a farm pond can be superb in autumn. The tackle you should take doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive. Fish with a cane pole if you like or a medium spinning outfit or your favorite bassing tackle. Cats don’t care, so keep it simple. You’ll also need some sturdy hooks and a few ½- to 1-ounce sinkers. Catfish eat everything. Crayfish. Minnows. Night crawlers. Catalpa worms. Leeches. Frogs. Smelly stuff like stinkbait and chicken liver. Let’s narrow our selections, though, and stock up for our time on the water. If you want to keep some eating-size channel cats for a fall fish fry, stop at the market and buy some hot dogs or chicken liver. If it’s flatheads you’re after, rig an ultralight combo, bait up with crickets or red worms, and catch a bucket full of live sunfish or chubs. For trophy blue cats, you can’t beat fresh chunks of shad or herring caught with a cast net or sabiki rig. Now, it’s time to head for a good fishing hole. If the action part of the outing is as important as the aesthetics, be sure to pick a bank-fishing site within casting distance of prime catfishing areas. This might be a clearing on shore near the outside bend of a river, a spot under a shady tree beside a farm pond levee or a gravel bar adjacent a deep hole on a small stream. The best areas have flat, brush-free banks where casting is easy, and you don’t have to worry about ticks and snakes crawling up your britches legs. When you get there, first things first. Help your fishing buddy build a campfire. You brought your chairs, right? And a lantern? Set those up. Then cut some forked sticks to prop your rods on. Poke ‘em in the dirt on the bank’s edge. Rig up your poles if you haven’t already. All you need is a sinker above an extra-sharp hook. Add a bobber if you like so you will know when a cat starts nibbling. Impale your bait on the hook, leaving the hook point exposed. Cast the bait near good cover or structure. Let it sink. Prop your rig on a forked stick. Chew the fat. Roast some wieners. Don’t get antsy; let the bait sit several minutes before moving it. Like kids after fresh-baked cookies, cats smell their treats then track them down. When they do, they’ll make your rod bounce, but let the fish start moving away before you set the hook. When tightlining, you should feel the catfish yank at the bait before it swims off. When the fish starts moving away, count to three, and then set the hook with a quick, upward snap. When working baits beneath a bobber, wait until the float disappears or starts to move slowly across the water. That’s usually when the fish has the bait in its mouth. At the right moment, lay the steel to your quarry. Then enjoy the action. This is unadulterated fishing – just the right fish, just the right place and just the right time for relaxing, good times angling. Certainly, many of our finny favorites are more challenging, prettier, “fancier.” But because the catfish loves the shallows of ponds, small lakes and streams, because it takes a variety of baits without a hint of caution, because it is as good in the frying pan as any fish that swims, it will always be a favorite of fall anglers. Take one pretty lake, pond or stream. Add one angler or several. Warm them beside a campfire. Toss in a few hard-fighting, good-eating catfish. Season with star-lit heavens. Stir with a light breeze. Brew as long as possible. The result will be unforgettable. Try it and see.