Curiosity killed the catfish

Warren Kreutziger’s homemade catfish bait includes cheese, peanut butter, evaporated blood and polyfill to hold it on a treble hook.
Warren Kreutziger’s homemade catfish bait includes cheese, peanut butter, evaporated blood and polyfill to hold it on a treble hook. The Wichita Eagle

MARION RESERVOIR – Warren Kreutziger lifted the lid on a bucket of catfish bait and there was no gasp, cough, head jerk, dry heave, face wrinkle, unprintable words or other typical reactions when an angler’s nose gets a whiff of a traditional bait that would make a vulture wretch.

“I don’t use any ground or rotten shad. What I make… catches a lot of catfish and I figure why put up with that smell if you don’t have to,” Kreutziger said as he punched a treble hook into the tub of brown goo. “I just use regular old ingredients you find in the kitchen. “

That’s assuming you have dehydrated blood, 50-pound chunks of low-quality cheese, a lot of peanut butter and pillow stuffing in your kitchen. One thing about it, though: When Kreutziger uses his homemade bait there’s usually catfish fillets in the kitchen by lunch. Tuesday, he brought home enough to feed a sizable family.

For more than six decades, Kreutziger has fished the Neosho River Valley in Marion County. As a boy that meant the actual river, which flowed near where he grew up on a farm. As an adult, it’s been in the lake created when the river was dammed.

“I fished all up and down this when it was just the river,” Kreutziger said, pitching three anchors overboard. “We knew everybody who farmed all of this before the lake.”

He pointed to different locations on the lake and said who had the ground before the lake was built. Soon he was dumping heaping cups of soggy, semi-rotten wheat into the water.

Kreutziger joked it would almost be easier to list what he hasn’t used for catfish bait than what he has, before going through a list that seemed as long as Bubba’s different ways to fix shrimp. And, yes, Kreutziger has used shrimp to catch channel cats, too.

A four-season catfisherman, he has long enjoyed catching good numbers of catfish in the dog days of summer. For the past 20 years, that’s meant fishing over areas he’s chummed regularly with water-logged wheat, corn and soybeans. Some of it has been rank enough to rival the world’s worst diaper.

“I don’t think it has to be really smelly to attract the fish,” he said, putting the wheat pail down, then grabbing a rod and a bucket of bait.

A short stick was used to stab the treble hook down into Kreutziger’s bait. A tug on the line showed a hairy glob stuck to the hook. Kreutziger started talking about the recipe for the catfish bait that’s put thousands of fish in his boat.

“The cheese and the peanut butter are the main things,” he said. “I don’t really measure anything, but I’d said it’s about 80-percent cheese and 10-percent peanut butter. I probably add about another 5 to 10 percent dehydrated blood.” To get the goo to stick together, and on to the hook, he uses poly-fill, the fluffy stuff inside pillows and stuffed animal toys.

He buys the cheese from a local dairy farmer, often getting a price break by taking cheese from older batches or that which isn’t of enough quality for humans. The dehydrated blood, also know as blood meal, is fed to some livestock and Kreutziger buys his at the local feed store.

Kreutziger said he’d wondered about making his own bait for quite some time, but during the 18 years he and his wife Donna ran a baitshop near the lake, he used a commercial bait.

“I finally just got the time to start messing with it,” he said. “It’s been kind of fun, and a lot cheaper than buying bait.”

The part-time guide was over a favorite spot on the lake by 8 a.m. on a late July morning, using three anchors to hold himself where he’d chummed in the past, and would be dumping cups of sour wheat throughout the morning.

“It’s really important to get a good anchor, and to stay in one exact place,” he said “You’re using the chum to attract the catfish to one exact place. You want to be fishing that exact place.”

Fifteen minutes after he lowered his first baited line to the bottom, Kreutziger pulled up a small channel cat and tossed it back.

“Lately that’s what we’ve been catching the most of, small fish,” he said. “It changes. We went through a few days where it seemed like everything weighed five or six pounds.”

Every 20 minutes, Kreutziger raised his line and re-baited since his bait eventually melts away. He was careful to remove the poly-fill that was attached to the hook, place it in the trash and start with a fresh hook.

By 11 a.m., he caught a dozen channel cats from 1 1/2 to a little more than five pounds. Many times over the years, he’s taken his limit of 10 per day. He said the fishing this summer has been inconsistent, and he doesn’t know why.

Was his recent success due to his homemade catfish bait recipe? He’s not so sure.

“A catfish will eat about anything when they’re feeding,” he said. “There are a lot of baits that will work, lots. I just enjoy using my own bait. It’s sure caught me a lot of catfish.”

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