Most will agree, pound for pound the channel catfish is the hardest fighting catfish. When it comes to catching channel catfish, it’s important to know the best time of year to hit the water. Spawning yields some of the best fishing year-round.
While anglers can chase catfish throughout the year to varying degrees of success, an understanding of the spawning season will not only help you fill up a stringer but do it much faster.
In this article, we’ll cover the spawning season of channel catfish throughout the 50 states, how to angle for channel catfish, and a few tips you can use to fill up that stringer in no time.
Table of Contents
- What are the Important Factors in the Channel Catfish Spawn?
- Angling During Channel Catfish Spawning Season
- When do Channel Catfish Spawn in Your State?
- Channel Catfish Fishing Tips During the Spawning Season
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When do Channel Catfish Spawn?
Channel catfish prefer a little warmer water for spawning compared to other catfish species. This means they’ll generally spawn later than other local catfish. They prefer 4-10 feet of good structure for hiding to build nests. Log piles, overhanging rocks, rip rap walls, and dams all provide great spawning structure.
Water temps of mid 70s to low 80s is preferable.
Lake inlets or warmer areas of slow to moderate rivers are preferred. Pre and post spawn is the best time to target channel cats. Mid spawn channel cats might be a little more difficult but can still be caught with the right tactics.
What are the Important Factors in the Channel Catfish Spawn?
In late spring and early summer, when water temperatures are in the high 60s to low 80s, all catfish species spawn. If the water temperature drops or fluctuates too much, catfish may delay spawning until conditions are more favorable.
Channel catfish spawning temperature is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Catfish spawning seasons are delayed in the north because it takes longer for water temperatures to rise compared to the southern part of the hemisphere.
Spawning can also begin at different times in different parts of a single water body. One part of a lake can be warmer than another so spawning will occur sooner in the warmer area.
Water in creek/streams that empty into a lake is often warmer. Spawning will begin at the mouth of these streams first and progress to the lake itself only after some time has passed and the rest of the lake has warmed.
An excellent place to fish for catfish, especially in the early stages of spawning, is near the lake’s headwaters, where nesting is common.
Channel catfish love dark, secluded places to swim. Bank burrows, nooks between boulders, and buried wood heaps are all good examples.
When male catfish reach sexual maturity, they select and prepare nesting places. The female then enters to lay her eggs in a sticky, bulbous, yellow mass. The male then fertilizes the eggs and chases the female away.
Males will guard their eggs against predators while fanning them with their fins to keep them aerated and free of silt.
After hatching, the young will stay close to the nest for another 6-10 days, depending on the water temperature, before they are ready to swim independently. The male will guard the young until they are ready to leave.
Angling During Channel Catfish Spawning Season
During the spawn, catfish are not always easy to catch. Often, this is due to fishermen casting their lines in the wrong areas, convinced that their usual spots will still produce fish even if the catfish have relocated to spawn.
Little streams that feed into the lake can be great spots to cast a line at fish that have migrated upstream from the lake. Even in rivers, catfish will move upstream into the warmer tributaries to spawn and reproduce.
Channel catfish are known to travel considerable distances in pursuit of the ideal water temperature to reproduce, making it more challenging for anglers to locate.
Stretches of streams or rivers that empty into larger bodies of water, like lakes or estuaries, are excellent fishing spots.
These transition areas serve as either the starting point for catfish on their annual migration to spawning grounds or the spawning grounds themselves.
When fishing for catfish during the spawn, anglers should focus on tributaries that bring in warm water.
It is common for catfish to ambush their prey from behind or below the structure that generates current brakes. To prevent your bait from getting caught, cast upstream or laterally to these areas.
Catfish can be found year-round in the water just below river dams, especially if the barriers prevent them from moving on. Catfish will concentrate under these big dams for weeks at a time during spawning, eating a wide range of other fish, insects, and crustaceans.
Catfish typically congregate in the slower waters surrounding the dam, called “brakes,” waiting for food to be carried by the currents.
Several banks near dams have been fortified with boulders and metal sheets to prevent further erosion from the current. Catfish might easily make a home in the spaces between these rocks.
Try to find structural abnormalities like a downed log, half-submerged pipe, or unusual rock formation while fishing along these rock sections. Casting near large rocks that alter the stream’s flow is also a good idea.
Over time, Catfish can make nests in the deteriorated concrete that reinforces levees and dams. Using fishfinders, fishermen can detect prospective nesting locations in concrete, which may look smooth from the surface but are, in reality, pockmarked below the surface.
Catfish typically bite during spawning when the bait is placed near or on top of a nesting spot because they mistake it for a predator trying to steal their eggs.
The most effective strategy for fishing these areas from a boat is to start downstream and work parallel to the bank upstream while scanning the water with a fishfinder.
Keep your boat a safe distance from any prospective fishing holes. Cast your bait so it floats over or lands near the opening of the hiding spot.
Anglers can use a variety of methods when fishing from the shoreline near dams. I like to break out multiple rods and cast them in stong currents. Here, I use Carolina or Texas rigs so that I can target breaks in the current.
Another option is to cast upstream with a hook and bobber with the hope that it floats over or near a nest as it makes its way downstream. This allows anglers to be more proactive in their approach and mobile if the area doesn’t yield cats.
When do Channel Catfish Spawn in Your State?
|US State||Channel Catfish Spawning Time|
|Alabama||May through August, at water temperatures ranging from 70° to 84°F.|
|Arizona||Mid April through June. The optimal water temperature for spawning is between 70° and 80°F.|
|Arkansas||Late May through June at water temperatures of 75°F or more.|
|California||April to August at water temperatures ranging from 70° to 84°F.|
|Connecticut||Late May through early July ..when water temperatures stabilized between 70° to 74°F|
|Colorado||Early summer when water temperatures reach an excess of 70°|
|Delaware||Early summer. The optimal water temperature is 70° to 74°F .|
|Florida||April through June when water temperatures exceed 70°F|
|Georgia||Early summer when water temperatures sit between 70° to 74.|
|Hawaii||March to September when water temperatures hit 68° to 70°F.|
|Idaho||May – mid June when waters exceed 75°F.|
|Illinois,||End of May into late July. Water temperatures must reach between 80° and 82°F|
|Indiana||Early summer when water temperatures range between 70° and 74°F.|
|Iowa||May through July in Iowa with optimal water temperature at 75°F.|
|Kansas||May – late June/early July. 68° to 70° water temps initiate migration. 70° to 74° trigger spawning.|
|Kentucky||April to mid-June when water temperatures sit between 70° and 85°F.|
|Louisiana||Late spring – early summer when water temperatures exceed 70°F. Spawning can run until August if conditions allow.|
|Maine||Early summer when water temperatures top 70° to 74°F.|
|Massachusetts||Early summer. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are optimal.|
|Michigan||Late spring..water temperatures between 70° to 85°F are optimal.|
|Minnesota||Late June with optimal water temperature at 75°F.|
|Mississippi||Early summer. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are optimal.|
|Maryland||Mid-April to the end of May. The optimal water temperature is 75°F.|
|Missouri||Final week of May if water temperatures exceed 75°F until late July.|
|Montana||May to June. Water temperatures between 70° and 80°F are optimal.|
|Nebraska||Early June through July. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are optimal.|
|Nevada||Early summer. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are optimal.|
|New Hampshire||Late spring through the early summer. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are optimal.|
|New Jersey||Late spring – early summer. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are optimal.|
|New Mexico||Mid-spring into Midsummer. The varying climates/elevations will vary timing. The optimal water temperature ranges from 72° to 84°F.|
|New York||May – June. The optimal water temperature is 70° – 74°F.|
|North Carolina||May – July. Water temperatures ranging from 70° to 80°F or optimal.|
|North Dakota||Early summer. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are optimal.|
|Ohio||Early summer. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are best.|
|Oklahoma||Late May – middle of June when water temperatures exceed 75°F.|
|Oregon||Early summer. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are optimal.|
|Pennsylvania||May – mid June. Water temperatures ranging from 75° to 85°F are optimal.|
|Rhode Island||Early summer. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are best.|
|South Carolina||May through July. Water temperatures between 70° and 80°F are best.|
|South Dakota||Mid June through July with water temperatures between 66° and 75°F.|
|Tennessee||late July or early August. The optimal temperature is between 70° and 80°F.|
|Texas||Late spring – mid summer. Water temperatures exceeding 75°F or optimal.|
|Utah||Early May – mid June. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are best.|
|Vermont||Early summer. Water temperatures between 70° and 74°F are optimal.|
|Virginia||Late May – July. Water temperatures between 70° to 80°F are optimal.|
|Washington||End of May through June. The optimal water temperature is 70°F.|
|West Virginia||Early summer. Water temperatures between 70° and 80°F are best.|
|Wisconsin||May into July. The optimal water temperature is 75°F.|
|Wyoming||End of May – early July. The optimal water temperature is 70° to 80°F.|
Channel Catfish Fishing Tips During the Spawning Season
Locate some warmer water. The most important factor for catfish to spawn is warmer water temps.
Target streams leading into the lake or move upstream on a river.
Some form of structure is necessary for catfish nests. A structure is required for several reasons, including but not limited to the following: blocking off light, providing a safe refuge from predators, and providing a break in the current.
It’s vital to look for places where the current has slowed down, as these are ideal hiding spots for catfish.
During the spawn, the best places to fish for channel cats can change. It is not wise for an angler to remain in one place for too long if the waters are unproductive. Instead, anglers should explore new areas while keeping the mentioned criteria in mind.
An angler shouldn’t spend more than 15 minutes fishing in an area if they’re not getting any bites. Catfish that are spawning may not be as hungry, but they are very aggressive while protecting their eggs. Don’t hesitate to cast your line near their nests if you want a bite.
By, not In, or Through
Catfish may be difficult to fool if your cast drifts right by or onto the nest. To avoid scaring away the catfish and still elicit a predatory response, anglers should cast upstream and let the bait float near to or over the nest.
Sonar (fish-finders) and general knowledge of the bottom structure can aid fishermen in locating nests. Sonar is helpful for locating catfish spawning grounds everywhere, including in concrete walls and under submerged logs.
Check out this great YouTube video on fishing channel catfish during the spawn!
How many eggs do channel catfish lay?
3,000 – 50,000 with larger fish laying more
What is the best time to catch channel catfish?
Pre-spawn and post-spawn when they are searching for or leaving spawning beds. During the spawn is good too but more fish are hiding in structure then.
How long does spawning last for channel catfish?
Around 2 weeks. Fry hatch in 6-10 days but adult males will stay with the nest and fry for a while until the fry are ready to leave.
Can you catch channel catfish during the spawning season?
Yes. Pre and post-spawn are best as fish are searching and on the move. Mid-spawn is still good but a little more difficult.
What depth do channel catfish spawn at?
4-10 feet of water is the most typical
Do channel catfish bite during the spawning season?
Yes but you have to trigger an aggressive strike. They’re not usually feeding heavily. They will, however, defend the nest. You’ll want to drift by or over the nest opening with your cast… but not too close or they’ll spook.
Catching channel catfish during the spawn can seem like a daunting task for inexperienced anglers. However, a better understanding of the catfish’s habits and movements can help anglers. This is key to success during one of the most unpredictable times to fish.
Remember to locate warm water and structure. These are both great starting points for locating catfish spawning grounds. Additionally, feeder streams and dams can help anglers catch these fish on their journey to the nesting sites.
Let us know about your channel catfish spawning experiences below!