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Fishing Mississippi

Stalking Mississippi Catfish

by Cliff Covington   |  May 31st, 2012 0

The words “catfish” and “Mississippi” are virtually synonymous. And with Belzoni being tagged the “Catfish Capital of the World,” it is surprising that Mississippi isn’t known as the “Catfish State” instead of the “Magnolia State.” But regardless of its nickname, Mississippi is home to some of the finest catfishing on the planet.

Let’s take a closer look at the three most popular Mississippi catfish and identify a few of the premier catfishing destinations where they can be found around the state.

As the name implies, this species of catfish can be easily identified by its long flat head, small eyes and large mouth. In addition, the flathead is the only North American catfish species with a lower jaw that is longer than the upper jaw. Another distinguishing feature is their squared tail, instead of the more common notched tail found on other catfish. Their body color is typically an olive-yellow or brown with darker brown blotches. Flatheads live a long time and can grow to enormous sizes. While most flatheads weigh in the 10- to 40-pound range, they can grow nearly 5 feet in length and reach weights well in excess of 100 pounds.

Flathead catfish are loaners preferring deep pools with slow moving current and an abundance of cover, such as submerged logs and brush. They rest for the majority of the day, venturing into the shallows to feed at night. They also seek out the shallows during the breeding cycle, preferring undercut cavities along riverbanks, submerged hollow logs, and masses of tree roots.

Flatheads are opportunistic and omnivorous in their feeding habits, dining on both plants and animals. As they grow older and larger, they become very predatory, preferring to feed on bass, bream, shad, crawfish and even the occasional mouse or frog. The flathead’s large mouth and unique physiology are perfect for observing prey swimming above them, lunging upwards, and engulfing it in a single bone-crushing bite.

Anglers pursue flatheads for their massive size, the strong fight they put up, and the incredible table fare they provide. Some of the more popular flathead baits include: fresh shad, bullhead catfish, large shiners, pond perch, crawfish and nightcrawlers.

Channel cats are the most common of the freshwater catfish. They can easily be identified by their distinctive forked tails and dark spots scattered along the length of their bodies. In general, channel cats have smaller heads and are more slender than other catfish. Their coloration varies depending on location and environmental conditions. The most common coloring is gray or grayish brown with a slightly silver tint on top. Side colorations vary from greens to yellows to a brilliant white. Channel cats have excellent growth potential with the potential to exceed 50 pounds. But while the channel cats size range is smaller than the flathead or blue catfish, their populations are greater.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Whether it is streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, or reservoirs, channel cats thrive in any body of water that provides adequate food, spawning and temperature. They seek out areas with clean bottoms of sand and gravel, preferring deep quiet areas away from strong currents. They also have a tendency to position themselves along eddies where food and food odors wash toward them.

The channel catfish is omnivorous and eat virtually anything, from insects and larvae, to other fish (dead or alive), and even some types of fruits and berries. With its mouth situated on the underside of its sleek head, the channel cat is an efficient scavenger. But like the flathead, a channel cat attacks unwary prey if the opportunity presents itself.

Because channel cats are most active at night, they are a favorite of those who set trotlines. And due to their keen sense of smell, they are most attracted to bait that gives off strong odors. Some of the more effective channel cat baits include: nightcrawlers, chicken or beef liver, minnows, cut bait, and commercial stink baits.

Blue catfish are often mistaken for their relative, the channel catfish due to their similar appearance. They get their name from the blue overcast to their body, especially on the top of their head and down their back. And while both have deeply forked tails, the differences between the two are quite profound.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Blue cats have larger rounder heads and longer anal fins with flatter margins compared to the more rounded anal fin of the channel catfish. Also, blue catfish never have black spots on their body like those found on young channel cats.

In addition, blue cats are among the largest species of freshwater fish in North America. Only the alligator gar and a few species of sturgeon get larger. It is reported that blue cats exceeding 350 pounds were landed from the Mississippi River during the late 1800s.

Blue catfish are a warm-water fish found primarily in large rivers and lakes, though they do inhabit streams, small rivers and some natural lakes and ponds. Unlike flatheads and channel catfish, blue cats prefer non-turbid rivers with a relatively swift current flow. Blue cats are among the species of fish that flourish in rivers that have been manipulated by locks, dams, and riprap that directs current into the middle of the rivers, while carving out deep holes.

Outside bends in rivers, tailwaters below dams, and the mouths of smaller tributaries are all common blue cat locations. In large reservoirs, they seek areas that provide both deep water security and easy access to shallow feeding areas.

Blue cats have the same nocturnal feeding habits as channel catfish. While they eat nearly anything that is available, large blue cats feed primarily on other fish. Blue cats take a wide variety of bait and aren’t too picky about whether it’s dead or alive. Because they rely heavily on their keen sense of smell, blue cat anglers use bait with a strong odor. Some of the more popular baits for blue catfish include: shad, skipjack herring, shiners, goldfish, liver, cheese bait, and stink bait.

Now that we know a little more about the catfish species that call Mississippi home, let’s take a closer look at some of best catfishing destinations the Magnolia State has to offer.

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