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updated: 8/20/2014 8:57 PM

Hats off to heavy-fighting Cats

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Not every fisherman I've encountered looks to land the biggest or heaviest bass.

The same could be said about those kind souls who prefer to come home with a dozen or so black crappie. That number is just enough to whet the appetites of some family members when the filets are gently sautéed in a large frying pan.

Today's column came about following a late morning episode with Spence Petros, otherwise known as Piscatorial Petros.

We were just finishing our pond-hopping routine. I turned my back on him as I headed back to my truck. That's when he yelled that he had a big fish on his light Grandt Payara spinning rod.

I figured he was a big boy and he could handle the fish without any assistance from me. And he did -- after a 10-minute battle.

It was a big channel catfish, about 10 pounds and it hit a small minnow.

That was enough to prime my pump for big catfish.

Two days later I drove to a spot on the upper Fox River, equipped with two 8-foot long, stout rods I had previously used for big cats in western Illinois.

I stopped at a butcher and purchased some chicken livers, which were kept cold in a small freezer bag.

Minnows, chicken livers, and even some of the commercial stink-dip bait concoctions work well enough to entice large channel catfish to the hook.

I learned in the past that sunfish and bluegills make excellent live bait for jumbo flathead cats, especially on the Rock River.

During one Rock River expedition with the late Daily Herald photo guru Mike Seeling, he tied into a large flathead that scaled over 50 pounds. He had to drop the live bait into the morass of dead, submerged tree branches, some 8 feet below the surface.

When one is hunting for big flatheads, it's standard operating procedure to use a heavy rod; very heavy line (50-pound test and heavier), and the kind of reel normally used for muskie and pike fishing.

On this particular Fox River, day I would be satisfied to hook and land channel cats -- large or small, mind you -- to satisfy my desire for some battles.

I've stood in the tackle aisles of some of the big-box stores and listened to conversations involving anglers who spent an inordinate amount of time demeaning all species of catfish, and the people who go after them.

I chose not to get involved because I believed these characters deserved to go about life wrapped in their own opinions.

I set up on a sandy bank of the upper Fox. I had 30-pound test on the reel, a slip-sinker setup with a large hook and a gob of chicken livers on the river's bottom.

The other rod was rigged in a similar fashion, except I used a smaller sinker setup and a Thill float as a strike indicator.

Fifteen minutes had elapsed when one tip rod with the slip-sinker started bouncing around. I picked it up, set the hook, and then the other rod (with the slip-float) did its own jump-down-spin-around-pick-a-bale-of-cotton routine, to borrow a song lyric.

Two fish at once -- wow.

The first channel cat weighed in at 5 pounds. I never got a close look at number two because it outsmarted me by heading for a downed tree, and wrapped the line.

It was a tremendous battle, one I hadn't really expected, but nonetheless, it was an event well worth the time.

I caught a half-dozen more catfish on this morning -- but nothing as heavy or large as the one that knew its way around the underwater forest on the Rock.

• Contact Mike Jackson at, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM.

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