State Park Cats In The Sportsman's Paradise

Across the northern tier of parishes, there are a number of Louisiana state parks that offer good options for channel catfishing. Let's have a closer look at them. (August 2009)

Virtually all of the waters in state parks across northern Louisiana have populations of channel catfish.

Photo by John E. Phillips.

My brother-in-law, Roy Dupree, is a serious catfisherman. Living on Clear Lake in Natchitoches Parish, he knows he can catch channel catfish on his trotlines just about any time of year he chooses.

Dupree sets his lines differently than most trotliners. He drops the baited lines to the bottom, knowing that catfish tend to grub around in the mud for something to eat.

However, he avoids baiting his lines in summertime because oxygen levels at the bottom of the water column are low or nonexistent and any fish taking the bait quickly die from lack of oxygen.

Although Dupree's experiences confirm that there are certain methods for catfishing that should be avoided in warm weather, summer is an excellent time to catch catfish on any number of Louisiana's lakes. You just need to employ methods that keep catfish alive and kicking when brought to the net.

With summer coming on, a host of Louisianans starts tuning in to things to do outdoors when the weather heats up. Louisiana didn't get its nickname, Sportsman's Paradise, for no reason; there is plenty to do outside and ample spots to do them, especially if your preference turns to fishing for catfish.

In the Bayou State, there is no shortage of whiskerfish, which ply our state's waters from border to border. There are four main varieties of cats that call Louisiana home -- bullhead, flathead, blue and channel catfish. Since the channel cat is the most sought species in general, let's take a closer look at these fish that are fun to catch and to eat.

The Louisiana state-record channel catfish is 30.31 pounds, but the vast majority of our channel cats run significantly smaller. Even so, a 5-pounder on light tackle can give an angler a serious bout.

Channel catfish are more streamlined in shape than the other varieties of catfish in the Pelican State. They are silvery in color with scattered small black spots along the sides and sport a deeply forked tail. Channel cats are similar to appearance to blue catfish, especially in smaller models. If you catch one weighing 50 pounds, be assured it's a blue catfish, because channel catfish don't attain weights nearly as heavy.

If you want to get technical and nail down the identification, check out the anal fin. That fin on a channel catfish has up to 29 rays and is rounded, whereas the blue cat has 30 or more rays and has a straight outer edge.

If there is one thing certain about a channel catfish, its food preference runs the gamut. Channels eat just about anything, alive or dead, including red wigglers, Canadian night crawlers, catalpa worms, minnows, crawfish and crickets. They also drool over stink baits, as well as rancid cheese, congealed blood, fish guts, chicken livers and can even be caught on chunks of Ivory soap, wieners, dog food or just about anything else organic.

Channel catfish serve as the main entree at hundreds of catfish restaurants in Louisiana. The fish served at such eateries are pond-raised fish raised entirely for the market.

PLACES TO FISH

One really cool deal about fishing for channel catfish in summer in Louisiana is that the best fishing takes place at several of our state parks. Let's look at state parks in the northern half of the state and how they stack up for catfish action.Lake Bruin State Park

The Lake Bruin State Park is located on an oxbow lake just off the Mississippi River near St. Joseph in Tensas Parish. There are more than 3,000 acres of water in Lake Bruin, and visitors to the state park have access to all of them.

According to fisheries biologist Mike Ewing with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries working out of the office in Ferriday, Lake Bruin has a teeming population of channel catfish and they are popular targets in summer.

"Most fishermen going after channel cats in summer fish for them at night. By August, the weather is hot and nighttime fishing is much more comfortable," Ewing said.

"The best places to try are the lighted piers where there is deeper water and brushpiles just off the piers. Preferred bait is night crawlers. Some set trotlines baited with live crawfish and they catch lots of catfish here," he added.

Three large fishing piers and a year-round boat launch are in the park as well. Rental boats also are available on the lake.

The park offers a day-use area with picnic tables and barbecue grills adjacent to fishing piers with restroom facilities nearby. A covered pavilion allows visitors to enjoy meals no matter the weather conditions and most facilities at the part are wheelchair accessible.

For more information, call the park toll-free at (888) 677-2784.

Lake D'Arbonne State Park

Located in the heart of north Louisiana on the outskirts of Farmerville in Union Parish is 15,250-acre Lake D'Arbonne.

Sitting amid the piney woods in rolling hills, Lake D'Arbonne State Park features five fishing piers on the lake, which like magnets, draw visitors to the park. Designed to keep the focus on nature, park facilities blend with the natural landscape to enhance the outdoor experience in this 655-acre park.

Lake D'Arbonne is very popular, not only for locals but visitors as well. From its cypress-studded sloughs and bays to flats and open water at the dam, Lake D'Arbonne is a haven for fishermen, especially those who have their eye on a stringer of channel catfish.

Mike Woods is the Statewide Technical Advisor for Fisheries Management with the LDWF and was formerly the fisheries biologist responsible for Lake D'Arbonne. Wood is impressed with the population of channel catfish on the lake.

"This lake is wall to wall with channel catfish," he said. "They reproduce in the lake and it is actually teeming with good eating-sized channel cats. You're not going to catch a lot of big channels here, but you can catch all you want of those up to 2 pounds each, which make excellent table fare.

"Catching channel catfish on D'Arbonne is a year-round operation," Wood added. "There is no period of the year when the catfish won't

bite and that is the main reason fishing for them here is so popular."

A drive around the lake validates what Wood said. Chairs line the banks along state Route 33 with fishermen of all ages, creeds and cultures watching several lines cast out and propped up with forked sticks. Watch long enough and you'll see a whippy rod bending and pulsating as yet another D'Arbonne channel catfish is headed for the skillet.

For more information on Lake D'Arbonne State Park, call (888) 677-5200.

Poverty Point State Park

Poverty Point Reservoir and State Park are among the newest of the state's recreation areas. The lake and park are new; the site itself is ancient. Archaeological findings reveal a culture that inhabited the region as early as 1730 to 1350 BC.

The 2,700-acre, man-made lake that is the centerpiece for Poverty Point Reservoir State Park offers visitors an outlet for a diversity of water sport activities. A variety of freshwater fish inhabit the lake with the eye-popper of the bunch being the outsized channel catfish that make their home in Poverty Point Reservoir.

"Some very large channel catfish live in this lake," Mike Wood said. "It's not at all uncommon to see some caught in the 20-pound range. There is a huge forage base of shad, and these fish grow fat and healthy."

Wood noted a popular method that local anglers use to fish for channel catfish on Poverty Point. With the lake being so open, drift-fishing is popular, and the innovative tricks some use are indeed different.

"For drift-fishing, some of the local fishermen have found a way to control the speed of the boat as it drifts along and also allows the boat to drift sideways, giving anglers at both ends of the boat equal chances to fish unencumbered.

"They take two five-gallon buckets and two lengths of rope," Wood explained. "Holes are cut into the bucket bottoms and after tying them to each end of the boat, the buckets are tossed overboard and allowed to sink. These act as dual 'drift socks' and allow the boat to drift along sideways, and it is very effective."

The majority of anglers catch their own bait for catfishing. They locate schools of shad and use cast nets to catch them.

"Cut shad is the bait of choice and the lake has an unending supply of bait, which makes fishing here an economical proposition," Wood summed up.

For more information on fishing for catfish on Poverty Point Reservoir and for information about the state park, call (800) 474-0392.North Toledo Bend State Park

Located near Zwolle, North Toledo Bend State Park is situated on the shores of mammoth 186,000-acre Toledo Bend Reservoir.

The park provides a spacious boat ramp, large parking lot, boat rentals and a fish-cleaning station.

The park sits on 900 acres along the eastern shores of Toledo Bend. The lake offers some of the best freshwater fishing to be found anywhere in the country.

Ricky Yelldell is the fisheries biologist who manages Toledo Bend for the LDWF. He said this portion of the lake holds a tremendous population of channel catfish.

"The park is located along San Miguel Cove and is probably the hottest spot to catch catfish on the entire lake," Yelldell confirmed. "The San Miguel is a major cove off the main lake and has several creeks coming together in the area. There are lots of flooded timber, creek channels and shallow flats. This area has it all for prime catfishing habitat.

"Lots of anglers set trotlines for catfish in this area, while others use rods and reels and tight lines with a variety of baits to catch lots of catfish," Yelldell added.

For more information and directions to North Toledo Bend State Park, call toll-free (888) 677-6400.

South Toledo Bend State Park

This state park, obviously located near the southern end of Toledo Bend Reservoir, stands in stark contrast to North Toledo Bend State Park. This southern park is adjacent to bluffs along the main shoreline of what is known as the "Big Pool."

"There is fairly deep water in this area, but there are no creeks next to the park as is the case with the North park," said Yelldell. "Even so, there is some good catfishing to be had in this area.

"Anglers target the hydrilla beds out from the shore and they fish the edges with minnows or stink baits, such as cheese or blood. There's another bait that is used locally and prepared by anglers who fish the area strictly for catfish. They make their own bait by slicing wieners into strips, placing them in a plastic bag and adding red food coloring and oil of anise. They let it soak overnight or until the next fishing trip is planned. From what I hear, the catfish love it and lots are caught with this rather unusual bait," Yelldell explained.

"As is the case on the northern end of the lake, catfish are an underutilized resource and people are missing a good bet by passing them up. This lake is full of catfish just waiting for something to bite."

Jimmie Davis State Park

Located on Caney Creek Reservoir -- more commonly known as Caney Lake -- Jimmie Davis State Park is fairly new, but is already attracting hordes of campers and anglers each year. The lake was named in honor of Louisiana's two-term Governor Jimmie Davis, who grew up near where the park is located.

Five-thousand-acre Caney Lake made its name by giving up the majority of the bass, crappie and redear sunfish listed in the state's Top Ten category for state-record fish. Catfish, however, are just now coming on, according to fisheries expert Mike Wood. "Caney Lake has a growing population of channel catfish and I expect it to continue to grow because the lake has a heavy shad base, the main reason why these other species have grown so hefty," Wood noted.

Located on a peninsula on Caney Lake, Jimmie Davis State Park offers two boat launches and a fishing pier.

For more information on visiting Jimmie Davis State Park and its fishing opportunities, call toll-free (888) 677-2263.

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