Lots of catfish are getting away once they bite. When should I be setting the hook?

I’m losing a lot of catfish once they bite. Am I setting the hook at the wrong time? What advice can you give?

Cats are known for their finicky ways, when they grab a bait. Because they do almost everything by feel, they are particularly sensitive to the sensation of the food in their mouths, and to any resistance that may be associated with it, and they tend to err on the side of caution, spitting up anything that seems “funny”. To help combat this, there are two main pointers to consider. First off, when you are “hooking up” your bait, make sure that the hook is positioned so that it is generally hard to feel, at the outset, but so that it has an easy job of connecting with the fish, once the bait is taken. In the case of a bait fish, bait the hook by feeding it in through the mouth of the fish, out of one gill, and then under the fish’s belly, setting the hook up through the fish’s body and back, so that the tip of the hook is just poking through the back of the bait fish, behind the dorsal fin. In this way, the hook is almost entirely covered, but is waiting to point up, when the line goes tight. The second pointer, is that, due to their cautious nature at feeding time, cats need to feel that they “got away” with the bait, and they will balk at any resistance offered, before they swim off with their prize. So, when a cat strikes, do not pull back immediately. In fact, right after the initial hit, point your rod tip straight at the fish, holding the rod at arm’s length, so that the fish has slack line, and can feel zero resistance, and allow it to take the bait and swim with it. Then, when it has taken all the slack up again, set the hook. By giving it these few seconds to swim off, you are giving it a chance to well and truly engulf the bait, and you will let it get past its initial concerns at the strike moment, which will make all the difference in the number of cats you actually hook up with.


Dan Eggertsen is a fellow catfish fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on catfish fishing since 2004.

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