The Freshwater Phil guide to Montreal shore fishing spots

Montreal's best shore fishing spots

Monday, August 4, 2014

Still fishing the St Lawrence river for big bottom feeders

Different styles of fishing are suited to different species. Most fish that fall under the category of "game fish", are typically predators, that are usually targeted by anglers casting, trolling or jigging lures, soft plastics, spoons, spinners, and artificial flies.  The vast majority of serious fishermen (and fisherwomen) in North America spend their time chasing those species, where fishing is more of an active pastime than one may imagine.

On the other side of the fishing realm, you have the smaller minority that prefers to target big bottom feeding species while relaxing and enjoying the outdoors. This type of fishing is a lot less active, and is also known as still fishing or dead lining.

Bottom feeders in Canada and the USA don't receive much recognition, likely due to the fact that minimal investment in gear is required. While one may spend many thousands of dollars on fancy boats, electronics and high end gear required to fish bass, muskies and walleyes, still fishing for bottom feeders requires a fraction of the cost. Often denigrated as poor man's fishing or other derogatory terms, the North American sport fishing industry all but snubs this simple style of fishing. Just look at some of the big money bass and walleye tournaments, millions being spent on prizes and sponsorships, all for catching some fish that are slightly bigger that baitfish, and in all honesty, probably better off in a frying pan than on the cover of a fishing magazine.

I fish many styles during an average fishing season, but over the years, the vast majority of my biggest fish were caught while still fishing, with a few exceptions. Reason is simple, the biggest fish in the St Lawrence River around Montreal are species that rarely hit an artificial lure, especially if it's being cast or trolled.

Three of the "big 4" species in the St Lawrence River are bottom feeders, namely carp, sturgeon and channel catfish, with musky being the only exception. Each of these species can be targeted using specific still fishing methods, gear, and setups, which I'll run through briefly:

Carp are best fished from shore, using boilies, corn, and some other varieties of particles used as bait. They have soft mouths are fished with relatively small hooks, which calls for using a looser drag setting to avoid pulling the hook from their mouths.

Sturgeon are best fished with worms or dead minnows, either from shore or from a boat. Fishing for sturgeon requires more attention than carp or catfish, as you need to feel the take and set the hook, as opposed to letting them run like you may with a carp or catfish.

Channel catfish are best fished with dead shiners, or bigger suckers cut into 4 inch chunks, otherwise known as cutbait. A common myth is that the bait needs to be left out to rot to give it scent, but I found that fresh or fresh frozen cutbait works best.

While all three species are fished day or night, sturgeon and channel catfish are much better to fish for at night, especially in the heat of the summer. Still fishing, especially at night, isn't for everyone. You need the patience to sit and enjoy the outdoors, all while waiting for the fish to bite, possibly fighting off hoards of gnats, mosquitoes, and other insects. When the bite is slow, many tend to lose interest rather quickly. This is where the true still fisherman knows that patience always pays off.

As I've spent the past few weeks targeting carp, I decided to switch it up last night, taking Ari out to still fish for channel catfish. We got to out spot shortly before sunset, set up the lines, and waited. The catfish weren't active at all. Not one hit in almost two hours, the thought of having chosen catfish instead of carp for my outing crossed my mind a couple times. However, patience paid off as usual. Bigtime.

Two hours into our outing, one of the lines took off screaming. Ari jumped up and grabbed the rod, I made sure he held off long enough before trying to hook the fish, as I was using a rather large chunk of cutbait, and wide as well, as it was the top half with the head. I have hundreds of feet of line on that spool, so after letting the fish peel drag for a good 20-30 seconds, ari clicked off the baitrunner and reeled down on the fish, as we were using circle hooks, which you can't hookset as you would with traditional hooks.

Judging from the bend in his rod, the fish seemed heavy, but put up less of a fight than you may imagine. It was only once I netted it that I realized that it was one of the biggest channel cats I have ever seen. It ended up weighing in just over 19 lbs, shattering Ari's (and my) previous records by far.


For those that think still fishing is boring, I'd love to see a St Lawrence River bass, walleye or pike top that.




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