Catfishing doesn’t have a strong tradition in Idaho, but it could. Fisheries biologist Joe Kozfkay is comfortable in saying there’s over a million catfish in the Snake River, CJ Strike, and Brownlee. To show off this bountiful fishery, Kozfkay took a couple of young anglers fishing in the Snake River near Parma.
The Snake River in southwest Idaho is home to both channel catfish and their larger cousins, flatheads, with channel cats being by far the most common. Channel cats are available in such large numbers there’s no bag limit on them, and previous surveys done by Idaho Fish and Game have shown the harvest is so low it doesn’t affect the population.
Catfishing tips: where to find them
Catfish are well distributed throughout Southwest Idaho, but here are some favorite places where anglers can target them:
- Steck Park: Located northwest of Weiser on the Snake River
- Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area: Located near Parma, there are several access points to the Snake River and Lower Boise River and nearby islands where catfish are abundant.
- Martin Landing: Located on the Snake River just upstream from the mouth of the Boise River, there’s a boat ramp and walk-in fishing access to the Snake and lower Boise.
- Marsing: There’s a boat launch and city park near the Idaho 55 bridge that provides good access to the Snake River
- Walters Ferry: There’s a boat launch and dock on the Snake River.
- Map Rock: Boat launch and good walk-in access to the river on the north side of the Snake River about 5 miles downstream from Walters Ferry.
- Bernard Landing: Boat launch and dock about 5 miles downstream from Walters Ferry on south shore of the Snake River.
- Crane Creek Reservoir: near Midvale; be careful if it rains as roads may become muddy. This reservoir may be shallow at times.
- Lake Lowell: consistent stocking has produced a great fishery especially during late June and July.
Catfish can be found in most of the habitat in the Snake River, from deep holes to shallow riffles. So anglers should fish for them in different places.
Kozfkay noted the fish are very migratory and move in and out of reservoirs, so you may have to move around to find them. Catfish will find your bait pretty quickly if they’re feeding, so if you go 10 or 15 minutes without a bite, move to another spot.
Fishing for catfish can be pretty simple. You don’t need a whole tackle box full of lures and baits, you just need some large bait hooks (4/0 circle hooks work really well), some swivels, and some pyramid weights.
A good basic set up is the “sliding sinker rig' that Fish and Game requires for sturgeon anglers. It’s a good set up for catfish as well, and reduces the chances of lost tackle becoming hazardous to fish and wildlife.
There are many options for bait, and you might start with a common nightcrawler. But experiment with different bait, such as shrimp, cutbait from any oily fish such as carp, sucker or pikeminnow. Crickets are also a popular catfish bait, especially Mormon crickets when they’re available. There’s also a variety of premade catfish baits available at sporting goods stores and tackle shops.
Kozfkay says catfish are true omnivores and will eat anything in the river they can get their mouths around.
You can find more catfishing tips and information in “Big fish, big fun: catfish are the Snake River’s overlooked bounty.”