Topekan David Schmidtlein doesn't look or act like a cat fisherman.
For instance, as he probes the steep drop-off of a submerged oxbow at Melvern Lake, operating an electric trolling motor from the front deck of his Ranger boat, it looks like he's in pursuit of crappie or walleye, not channel cats.
For decades, Schmidtlein and several other members of his family have been consummate crappie fishermen, winning or placing high on the leaderboard at area tournaments. Moreover, they catch a lot of walleye and white bass.
Nevertheless, several summers ago, the Schmidtleins began applying many of their crappie, walleye and white bass fishing tactics to catching catfish.
Before the Schmidtleins concentrated on catfish, they drifted the mud flats at Perry Lake, using gizzard shad for bait and catching a respectable number of cats.
Not respectable enough for the Schmidtleins, however. they like to catch a 100 or so fish an outing, which can't be done by drifting.
So Schmidtlein began experimenting.
Eventually, he determined that chumming strategic spots with a gallon of fermented soybeans was more fruitful than drifting across a vast mud flat.
Schmidtlein found the best spots were adjacent to brush piles that lie on humps, drop-offs, old roadbeds, creek channel edges and points in 12 to 25 feet of water.
Many of these spots are the same ones Schmidtlein had used to catch countless crappie, walleye and white bass. Thus they are seldom touched by other cat fishermen.
Except for his bait, Schmidtlein fishes these lairs as if he were pursing crappie.
In the beginning, Schmidtlein used a variety of traditional catfish baits. But in 1997, he began experimenting with some ingredients, which included fermented soybeans.
Ultimately, Schmidtlein perfected a doughy concoction he calls cat candy, and the channel cats in the reservoirs around northeast Kansas seem to relish it. In fact, there are some splendid spells in late July and early August when he can entice a channel cat to smack his bait every 30 seconds.
Schmidtlein's bait is easy to use.
To affix the bait to a hook, he takes a small dab of it between his thumb and index finger. Then he forms it into a ball around a No. 6 treble hook. The ball also works as a weed guard, allowing Schmidtlein to penetrate brush piles without becoming snagged.
Immediately above the bait, Schmidtlein affixes an eighth-ounce egg sinker to 35-pound-test Tuff Line. The line is spooled onto a spinning reel, which is affixed to a fly rod or lightweight spinning rod. Since the sinker is placed near the hook, it's similar to a jighead, and it lets Schmidtlein accurately place and manipulate the bait around snag-filled coverts.
The baited hook is dropped over the side of the boat, and usually placed from two inches to two feet off the bottom. But the placement depends entirely on the location of the cats. Schmidtlein says channel cat move around and change depths a lot.
If the cats are 15 feet deep over 20 feet of water, he measures out 15 feet of line and drops the bait right in front of their faces. Sometimes he can't entice them to bite unless he holds the bait dead still. At other times he has to move the bait up and down and twitch it.
This summer the Schmidtleins have enticed a multitude of channel cats at Melvern Lake, catching and releasing more than a 100 on most four-hour outings.