No matter where you fish or what you are fishing for there is one source of knowledge you should never overlook – the local angler. Whether you are a pro or just getting started the local angler has something you probably do not and that is experience on that particular body of water. One of the things Susquehanna River bass anglers can learn from a local is how to use cats to catch bass.
The Susquehanna River is a widely popular destination water for those seeking unparalleled smallmouth bass fishing. Generations of anglers have grown up along its banks, casting for bass; and one of the favorite baits is tiny cats. No, I do not mean cats as in fuzzy little kittens (although I have heard rumors of such bait being used for musky!). The cats I am referring to are stone cats, a member of the Madtom family of catfish. While outsiders may think it crazy to use catfish as bass bait the locals know there are days when nothing else can come close to matching them. After all you are providing a natural, locally available food source which the bass would be actively pursuing any way.
Madtoms, including stonecats, are the smallest members of the catfish family and can be found throughout the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds. Although plentiful they are seldom seen by anglers as they tend to hide during the day, even burying themselves in the gravel to avoid detection. Their preferred habitat is the rocky riffles of flowing water or gravel shoals of lakes. They also prefer warm water so you mountain trout stream is an unlikely collection point. Although cab able of growing to as much as 12″ in length the average is closer to 6-8″, a perfect size for enticing large smallmouth.
Unfortunately stonecats are seldom found in bait shop and when they are tend to be a bit too expensive for the average angler. So this means you need to catch your own – or makes friends with someone who does. If you are looking for your own source simply identify a likely location and gently stir the gravel / rocks while holding a small net on the downstream side. Some stonecats will swim away but you will net enough out of the current to get started. Another possible method is to net them at night while they feed on smaller fish, larvae or flies.
Once you have a few stonecats in hand fish them like you would any other bait – hooked through either the dorsal or lip and moving as freely as possible. Remember ,as with any member of the catfish family the stonecat does have venom glands at the base of each pectoral spine and if handled improperly can deliver a painful sting.
Trust me, if there are any hungry bass around throwing a stonecat in front of them is like ringing the dinner bell! Give it a chance and see for yourself.
Good luck, good fishing!