For most, the best catfish fishing from a kayak is in the summer when anglers working shallow flats and coves find excellent action in several Southern California reservoirs. But when targeting trophy catfish, there isn’t a better time than the winter.
Kayak fishing for trophy-size fish is much different than warm-weather catfish fishing, in which you get a lot of bites — and smaller fish.
When seeking trophy catfish, an angler needs more patience, stouter gear and the ability to fish in deep water. I would recommend you check out fishing kayak reviews from WaterSportsHQ.
There’s only a small group of anglers that fish for the biggest catfish in Southern California, but catfish greater than 50 pounds are readily available to anglers targeting a handful of lakes. Southern California yields the state’s largest catfish. The state record — a 101-pound blue cat — was taken from San Vicente Reservoir in 2000. And there is no point in going fishing on your yak, without a good kayak paddle.
Many die-hard anglers are looking to raise the bar. Few experts think the record will stand much longer.
Although hooking and landing a monster catfish isn’t easy, it can be easy to predict where the next state-record fish will be caught. In fact, several fish larger than state records have been caught and broken off near the boat or measured by state agencies.
In 1998, the California Department of Fish and Game, while electrofishing Otay Reservoir, shocked a catfish they estimated to be 110 pounds. That fish was measured and released, and it hasn’t been caught or reported dead, so chances are it’s larger than 130 pounds now.
Keep in mind, the state-record catch was released back into San Vicente. That fish was stocked as a 2-year-old in 1985 when it weighed 1-3 pounds. That fish was growing roughly six pounds a year, which puts it at more than 120 pounds now. Experts believe there are other catfish from that same plant that are close to 150 pounds.
Southern California seems sure to yield the next record catfish. Many big-cat specialists believe that fish may be caught before spring. January through March is often an ideal time to catch blue cats.
“We know where the next state record is,” said Ronson Smothers, inventor of Catmando catfish baits and former state record-holder.
Blue catfish require several decades to reach 100 pounds. Most of the fish that can contend for a record stem from plants that took place in the 1970s and early ’80s. It’s important to remember that these fish are a limited resource. Once they are stocked in these reservoirs, they don’t reproduce. So anglers are asked to release these enormous fish so the population can be preserved.
As a rule, blue cats greater than 20 pounds don’t bother with small meals. They eat mostly fish. To maintain a population of blues, most lakes have trout and bluegill on which the catfish can feed. Large catfish don’t have a problem eating stocked trout or slurping bluegill from inside tules.
A handful of waters have the potential to yield a catfish greater than 100 pounds. But San Vicente has the greatest percentage of large catfish available. Many biologists believe that there are more than 25 catfish near 100 pounds.
Anglers know how to hook San Vicente’s catfish, but landing them is another story. Fishing mackerel soaked in catfish sauces and pastes near the buoy line in front of the dam is a sure bet if you are patient. Although many fish are broken off in this area because of rocks, trees and other structures on the reservoir bottom. If you hook a big cat here, it’s important to try and hoist it off the bottom quickly to keep the fish from putting your line in a zone where it’s likely to break off.
Another San Diego County water, Lower Otay Reservoir, is a mainstay for big blue catfish. Otay has suffered from overfishing and a lack of plants, and reservoir operators believe that of the last group of blues that was stocked several decades ago, very few fish remain, perhaps less than a dozen. Most of those fish should be 60-130 pounds.
Otay is targeted less than other catfish reservoirs and does not harbor rainbow trout. The catfish here eat bluegill and small bass. Often, it’s bass anglers tossing crankbaits near the tules that hook the biggest catfish.
Lake Jennings, in east San Diego County, is new to big cats. The reservoir has held blue catfish for more than 30 years, but it wasn’t until recently that anglers became aware of these fish.
Jennings is the smallest on the list of state-record holding lakes, but its lack of size keeps these fish concentrated in a smaller zone and much easier to target.
“Nobody has really fished them here. And since they tend to be in areas where they aren’t easily accessible, they simply haven’t been able to be targeted,” Hugh Marx of Lake Jennings said. “We know there is a state record in here. Our lake record is 68 pounds, but the guy who caught that lost one that he estimated at 120 pounds. He had it to the boat, but didn’t have a net big enough to get it in.”
Jennings’ prime zone is found by anchoring on a buoy line and casting into the closed area with fresh mackerel soaked in Nectar juice. (It is legal to tie onto the buoy line here.) Let your bait sink to the bottom and be patient. You’ll likely have to release several channel catfish before hooking a blue.
Irvine Lake in Orange County is guaranteed to hold a state record. Smothers’ previous state record was released into the lake in 1999. That fish is well over 100 pounds now.
Irvine likely has the least number of 100-pound-plus catfish, but the record definitely swims in its waters. Smothers and other anglers have been after it for years, but a lot of fishing pressure may keep action tough on the largest fish.
Catching smaller channel cats couldn’t be easier than at Irvine. There isn’t a better channel catfish lake in Southern California.