Night Catfishing Magic on Sprague Lake

Some of the most enjoyable fishing I’ve done in the Inland Northwest has been the times spent night fishing for catfish on Sprague Lake.

One of the reasons that I wanted to do an article on catfish fishing on Sprague Lake is that I recently learned of proposed plans by the WDFW, (Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife), to rehabilitate the lake this fall. It seems that the fishing angler density has fallen off the past few years to one of the lowest in the state. WDFW surveys say that the lake attracts fewer than five anglers per acre a year. You can read the whole story by Rich Landers of the Spokesman-Review at their website.

While Catfish can be caught during the day at Sprague Lake, I’ve always had the best results and experience at night.

I, for one, would miss the magic of Catfish fishing at night on Sprague. My son and I usually head out with plans to be on the water prior to sundown. The best times for us are the hot nights of summer when the air temperature stays in the high 60’s and above after dark. Far enough from the city lights, the stars overhead shine brilliantly and the band of our Milky Way Galaxy can be clearly seen. The stars seem close enough to reach out and touch them.

Another part of the magic are the multitudes of bats, feeding on flying insects, swooping so close that they often tick your line as it leaves your rod tip to the water. Besides being harmless to humans, bats eat their weight in mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects nightly, which might otherwise be feeding off of you. Despite this benefit, I still recommend the use of a good spray or lotion repellant containing “deet”. The best I’ve found is the Avon product called, “Skin-so-Soft”. It is far and away the best smelling repellent I’ve used that was still highly effective.

Harper Island on the southwest end of the lake is an extremely active bird nesting site and even at night the sounds of gulls and other waterfowl fill the air. I have often wondered if the birds on the island ever sleep. If they do, you wouldn’t know it from the noises coming from there, even well after dark.

Since it is the nature of Catfish fishing to be a waiting game… a lot of that time is spent talking, telling stories of past fishing trips and anything else that comes to mind. We usually bring along a small propane barbecue and cook burgers and hotdogs. Good flashlights are essential, and one of the foam mounted headlights that can be hooked up to your 12 volt battery can be pretty handy for navigating to and from the boat launch, along the shoreline, and around Harper Island (see map above) on the southwest end of the lake. Usually one angler holds the light for the person fighting the fish or head-mounted lights can be great also. The east side of Harper Island has been our preferred spot for night cats, but I have heard from other people that the creek mouth, (Cow Creek), at the far southwest end of the lake is quite good also. Either spot is just a short distance from the public launch at that end of the lake.

Now let’s get down to the equipment you will need for these monsters.

Rods: First you will need a good stout rod. Any heavy to medium heavy rod in 6 to 7 foot length will probably suffice. Ugly sticks will do the job well enough.

Line: Line requirements too, are fairly simple, 15 to 25 pound monofilament or braid or heavy test fluorocarbon. If you’re fishing for trophy’s that get much bigger than 20 to 25 pounds you might want to up your line to 30 or even 35 pound test.

The Right Hook: The right hooks just may be the most important factor to consider. Since practically every bite you get your bait is swallowed, you want to make sure that when you set the hook that you don’t gut or throat hook your fish. A circle hook will slide back up the throat and then usually hook in the jaw.

In addition to setting without rod action, circle hooks are favored in commercial fisheries because they hook and retain fish, even on slack lines. They also tend to hook fish in the jaw, causing less mortality than standard J-hooks. Make sure to use a heavy-gauge hook. Cats have been known to straighten thin-wire hooks.

The Hook-set: Using circle hooks requires some attention to your hook-set. With reels with a clicker you would set your drag light and turn on your reel clicker. When the clicker starts to click, (indicating that the bait has been taken), tighten up your drag and slowly bring back your rod tip with a gentle sweep. Too early or too aggressive a hook-set can pop the bait out of the catfish’s mouth.

What Bait to Use? I have the best luck with a golf ball size chunk of fish on a 3/0, 4/0 or even a 5/0 size circle hook. Trout chunks work great, (but you didn’t hear it from me), and some people persist in using earthworm, chicken livers, stink baits and even cornflakes, oatmeal and flour concoctions. The truth is, just about anything edible with a strong scent is likely to attract and entice a catfish to bite.

Reels: Hands down, large bait-casting style reels have the cranking power to move these big fish. Spinning reels can and do work and many catfish fishermen swear by them. Just for fun, my 31 year old son hooked and played one large catfish with a child’s Scooby-Doo pole and even its inferior reel might have brought it boat side had the line not been broken off on the outboard motor.

Other tackle: Some people use weights to keep their baits on the bottom. With a large chunk of fish on your hook I haven’t found it necessary. Besides, the rocky bottom of Sprague can cause your weight to hang-up in the rocks. Some cats do like to roll when hooked, so a good ball-bearing swivel can be an advantage. Bobbers can be a good idea both from the standpoint of being a bite indicator, and, (if it is being slowly blown across the surface), it can drag your bait along with it presenting it to a larger area. I prefer to watch my line and rod tip. There isn’t usually much doubt when you have a catfish on. Last, but oh so important, a good large net is an essential item to boat these behemoths.

The Fight: I have heard some people say that catching a large catfish is like pulling in a large log, or some other such nonsense. These comments are usually made by someone who has never caught a large catfish. I can bear testimony that a Sprague Lake catfish of good size usually puts up one heck of a fight.

Getting there: The town of Sprague is just 37 miles from Spokane, WA. After leaving I-90 go through the town to the South shore road following it to the public access road near the southwest end of the lake.