Fly Fishing Catfish Washington State

Steve B Howard

When I first started to learn how to fly fish in the mid-90’s on the California Delta, I never imagined that Catfish would be a species I would actively target. I had seen the movie A River Runs Through It and later read the book, so I assumed fly fishing meant Rainbow or Brown Trout like the ones they caught in the movie in Montana. Though both the Sacramento and SanJoaquinRivers both have trour, Rainbows, Browns, and Steelhead, I believe, as far as I know the California Delta doesn’t have any.

So, I was surprised when I started targeting Large Mouth Bass, Blue Gil, Crappie, and Striped Bass in the California Delta that I would often hook Catfish as well.

When I moved back to Washington State I was happy to learn that many of the lakes in Washington State also have both Channel Catfish and Bullheads as well.According to the Washington State Fish and Wildlife website,twenty countiesin Washington State have lakes that hold Catfish.


Fly Rods:For Catfish I always use at least a six weight. Even smaller Catfish are surprisingly strong fish that fight hard, so a beefier rod is useful when you are trying to land them. If I am casting bigger flies or targeting both Catfish and Largemouth Bass, since they are both often in the same waters, I will even use a rod as heavy as an eight weight to help toss the bigger flies easier.

Fly Lines:Though Catfish have been known to feed on the surface, they are if nothing else, very opportunistic fish, I have always had the best luck fly fishing under the surface for them, usually in two to ten feet of water. If I’m not targeting other warm water species like Large Mouth Bass, Small Mouth Bass, Crappie, Blue Gil, or Yellow Perch, I will just use a sink tip set up to get the fly deeper.

Flies:Big Streamers, Wooley Buggers,andLeech Patternsare what Catfish seem to like. Darker colors like black, brown, and purple work best from my experience. Most of the time when I am fly fishing for them it is in very dark off color water, which might explain why the darker colored flies work the best. I will add white and yellow to the tails of my flies sometimes to try and set them off a little bit.

The best luck I have had catching catfish on a fly rod is almost always when I was using a sinking line around or near docks or structure. Often times when I’m actually going after Large or Small Mouth Bass I’ll get a surprise and end uphooking into a nice sized Catfish. I generally use a medium to slow retrieve with several pauses. Most of the time though, Catfish seem to take the fly when it is moving. And then tend to hit surprisingly hard as well. I like using flies with long tails or rabbit strip wings for Catfish. Because the water I’ve caught them in is always dark I never actually see the take. But like I said, they seem to hit flies pretty hard, so missing a strike doesn’t seem to be much of a problem with Catfish. Channel Catfish and Bullheads seem to both take the fly in the same way and in the same water. I have also caught them while trolling flies like Wooley Buggers and Leech patterns in deeper water for trout.In those cases I was usually using a full sinking line to get the fly down. A shorter leader also seems to work better in these cases as well.

I’m not sure where this video was filmed, maybe Iowa, but they do catch some very nice Catfish using flies. That is pretty much the same way I have usually caught them, though I was rarely sight fishing for them since they were almost always in off color water.

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I mainly write about fly fishing in Washington State, Classic Muscle Cars, and Stand Up Comedy.

Seattle, WA

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