Throughout the dog days of summer, the channel catfish is king. During the sultriest spells and when the sun is hot and shiny as a new dime, some of the area's savviest anglers can catch an incredible number of cats.
During the past 30 years, several different schools of thought about cat fishing have emerged. Each professes to possess the best methods for alluring channel cats that abide in northeast Kansas reservoirs.
One group is called the drifters. Another contingent adheres to a method called chumming. Of course, the most primeval mode is employed by the trotliners and set liners. The newest group uses spoons. There is even a tiny cadre of trollers.
Occasionally, some folks in one school will utter disparaging words about another school. For instance, the trotliners and set liners are regularly criticized for utilizing a primitive and unsportsmanlike method. Likewise, chummers are called cheaters because they toss fermented soybeans, milo or wheat into the water to attract and excite the cats.
The chummers and trotliners, however, often are unfazed by this criticism because they are busy catching more catfish than all the other schools of cat anglers combined.
In August, most cat fishermen hereabouts are either chummers or drifters.
Marty Schmiedeler of Topeka is a dogged and impassioned drifter. For nine summers, Schmiedeler has staged the Perry Lake Channel Catfish Invitational.
At this tournament, which traditionally draws about 20 two-man teams of drifters, chumming and trotlining are prohibited and even plying spots that have been previously chummed by non-participants is frowned upon.
The gist of drifting is to allow the wind to propel the anglers' boats slowly across the lake's best catfish lairs. As they drift, most of anglers in July and August use fresh gizzard shad as bait, but congealed beef blood, chicken livers, nightcrawlers and a variety of stink baits can be employed.
According the Schmiedeler, all the contestants realize that more pounds of catfish could be caught at Perry's Hog Trough, which is a community chumming area. But Schmiedeler and his fellow drifters contend they are engaged in an endeavor that involves more skill than chumming. Schmiedeler chides chummers for "herding the fish into one spot artificially, then slaying them."
Unlike a chummer, Schmiedeler says a drifter has to determine the correct drifting speed, the best depth, the most productive area and proper arrangement of his terminal tackle.
At the Perry tournament, when a team of drifters gets all these ingredients properly synchronized, they can catch 57.3 pounds of channel cats, the winning weight in 2001.
But when the system goes awry for a team drifters, the fishing turns sour. It did this year. The winners struggled to catch 13 catfish that weighed 28.5 pounds.
David Schmidtlein of Topeka is an ardent chummer, as well as talented crappie and walleye fishermen. Since Schmidtlein is a former drifter, he disagrees with Schmiedeler's perspectives about chumming, saying it takes as much prowess to be an accomplished chummer as it takes to be a successful drifter or crappie and walleye angler.
A chummer, Schmidtlein says, has to be extraordinarily adroit at interpreting a sonar and operating a trolling motor. What's more, he has to know how to catch suspended catfish.
One point about chumming that Schmiedeler and Schmidtlein agree upon, however, is that it's the most fruitful way to fish.
For example, Schmidtlein and his nephew ventured to Melvern Lake on the same day the drifters struggled to catch catfish at Schmiedeler's tourney.
During the eight hours they were afloat, enduring a heat index of 110, they scattered several quarts of fermented soybeans at five coverts in nine to 24 feet of water. By day's end, they caught and released 93 channel cats, including three lunkers that weighed six, seven and 11 pounds.
These fish were caught on lightweight spinning tackle in 18 to 23 feet of water, and they were enticed by Schmidtlein's Cat Candy a bait he prepares by mixing sour soybeans with six other ingredients.
After that productive outing, Schmidtlein mentioned the one thing that all cat fishermen agree upon. Namely, there is no finer time to catch channel cats than in the sultry heat of a midsummer day.