Everyone knows that Mississippi and catfish go together “like peas and carrots.” All three of the major catfish species (channel, blue and flathead) occur statewide and are relatively abundant throughout the Magnolia State. And with that in mind, we can all acknowledge that catfishing in Mississippi is “like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get.”
From the Mighty Mississippi to the Tenn-Tom and all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico, the Magnolia State boasts great catfishing year ’round. And even though whiskerfish are not considered a game fish in the state, catfishing remains one of the most popular outdoor activities for both young and old alike.
Whether fishing rivers or streams, lakes or ponds, reservoirs or ancient oxbows, anglers can find an endless supply of possibilities to get hooked on catfishing. And since the state has 119 public lakes, more than 123,000 miles of rivers and streams, and 225,000 acres of freshwater fishing opportunities, finding a place to catch a mess of cats is a very simple task.
Topping the list is a magnificent body of water that is as legendary as its name for the excellent catfishing it provides. The “Father of Waters” flows 410 miles along the Mississippi border, and catfishing prospects are superb from one end to the other.
The muddy waters of the Mississippi River offer up a smorgasbord when it comes to the various sizes and kinds of catfish an angler is apt to catch. However, the “big three” of the whiskered fish on Old Man River and its tributaries include: blue cats, flatheads and channel cats.
Although 100-plus-pound catfish are possible in the deep waters of the Mississippi River, a typical blue cat or flathead catch will typically be between 15 to 20 pounds, with channel cats running closer to the 5- to 10-pound range.
When it comes to gear for catfish, anglers have a variety from which to choose, all of which are very effective in catching catfish. Most anglers on the Big River are die-hard trotline fisherman. Every now and then you will come across a jug fisherman, and on the rare occasion you may even run into a hand grabber, but they are more commonly found on smaller streams and lakes where the water is much more shallow.
The main thing to remember when selecting baits for river catfish is that fresher is better. While there is no “best” catfish bait, fresh shad, skipjack herring, shiners and goldfish are popular.
Jimmy Cassell of Port Gibson, a veteran Mississippi River catfisherman, believes in the old saying “The deeper the hole, the bigger the fish.” And with a seemingly infinite supply of deep water holes along the Muddy Mississippi, locating a prime fishing spot is never a problem.
“I concentrate mainly on holes that are 60 to 100 feet deep, unless I can find a deeper one,” Cassell said. “I don’t waste my time on a hole less than 50 feet deep.”
Wing dikes are some of the best hotspots for catfish. These long, narrow rock structures built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are all along the entire length of the Mississippi River. Their intended function is to divert the strong current of the Big River into the main channel to prevent shoreline erosion.
Catfish seek out the deep holes on the downstream side of the dikes that are created by the water swirling back on itself as the current is forced around the end of the dike and toward the middle of the river. The center of these giant eddies, or swirls, is where anglers will find the really big blues and flatheads.
By casting into the center of the swirl, bait will be pulled quickly to the bottom where it will remain stationary. Then the only thing to do is sit back and wait for that rod-bending strike that will soon follow if a catfish is nearby.
Still, there is no single best place to catch catfish on the Mississippi River. As any veteran catfisher in the Magnolia State will say, almost any location along the Big River has the potential to produce a nice stringer of catfish.
ROSS BARNETT RESERVOIR
Located just northeast of Jackson, the massive Ross Barnett Reservoir offers some incredible catfishing opportunities. This 33,000-acre reservoir is a catfish factory, offering excellent chances for channel, flathead and blue catfish, with the tailrace water below the spillway is one of the most popular locations on the “Rez.”
Pan-size channel cats and blue cats dominate the catch, but any catfish that grabs a line anywhere on Ross Barnett could turn out to be a monster. The baits utilized below the spillway are as varied as the anglers themselves. Some of the more effective include goldfish, bream, shiners, stinkbait, liver and earthworms.
Catfishing methods in the main lake vary widely. You are just as likely to encounter a group of hand grabbers running their boxes in the shallows as you are tight-liners in the main channel above the Highway 43 Bridge. However, some of the most productive catfishing on the “Rez” can be had floating jugs or watching a bobber on the stump flats around Rose’s Bluff. Some of the more popular baits used by catfish anglers in the main lake include earthworms, liver, goldfish and bream.
As they have for the past several years, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation has partnered with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks to hold their annual youth fishing program, better known as “Katfishin’ Kids.” This year’s event will be held June 6, 2015, at the Turcotte Laboratory located off Highway 43 on the Madison County side of the reservoir.
Rods, reels, bait, lunch and fishing instructions are furnished to participants free of charge. It’s a great way for children ages 15 and under to learn about the pleasures of catfishing.
The Pearl River begins its winding journey in the historic area of the Nanih Waiya Indian Mounds of Winston County, where it is formed by the confluence of Nanawaya and Tallahaga creeks. It flows southwesterly into the Ross Barnett Reservoir and through Mississippi’s capital city, before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico through Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound. Along its length, this scenic river offers excellent catfishing.
While the catfish found in the Pearl can’t compare to the enormous monsters found in the Mississippi River, they more than hold their own when it comes to sheer numbers. As with most of the river systems in central and south Mississippi, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads dominate the catch.
While tightlining is a popular method of catching the biggest of the catfish that lurk these murky waters, trotlining remains the method of choice for anglers who seek large numbers of eating-size cats. Depending on the type of bait used, either method is sure to provide a smorgasbord of cats.
When it comes to tailrace catfishing, there is no equal to what the Tenn-Tom Waterway has to offer. Unlike other large rivers in the Magnolia State, this waterway contains a number of locks and dams, which serve the purpose of maintaining a somewhat predictable pool level along its length. The top two tailrace catfishing hotspots on this waterway have to be below the Aberdeen and Columbus dams, near the Alabama line in northeast Mississippi.
Due to the fact that boats are restricted in the tailrace areas, bank catfishers have the upper hand. A fenced concrete pier offers plenty of room for anglers to spread out along the structure and wet a hook. Most of these piers are an easy walk from public parking areas.
Trotlining and jugfishing are not allowed in the tailrace areas, making rod and reel the method of choice. And since there is no limit on catfish on this waterway, anglers can keep all the fresh filets their freezers will hold.
While flatheads and channel cats are plentiful behind these dams, the blue cats are the bread and butter of the tailrace areas. The big blues and flatheads congregate in large numbers behind the dam to gorge themselves on the abundant supply of shad. From an elevated position on top of the dam, large numbers of giant catfish can often be seen lined up behind the dam like a school of hungry sharks waiting on their next meal.
The Homochitto River flows from its source in Copiah County in southwest Mississippi for about 90 miles west and south, emptying into the Mississippi River between Natchez and Woodville. Homochitto, meaning “Big Red,” is the local Indian name for the river. While the upper end of the Homochitto is primarily a shallow, clear-flowing stream, the lower end gets much deeper and murkier before emptying into the Mississippi River. Shoreline and wade fishing with a cane pole or setting a series of short trotlines in the occasional deep hole are the two most common methods used to extract the abundant channel cats that call the upper portion of this river home.
The lower third of the Homochitto affords the use of a small johnboat to set trotlines, tightline or even jug fish for the larger catfish that move up into the river from the Mighty Mississippi. However, access is limited with only two public boat ramps: one located 17 miles south of Natchez on Highway 61 and the Homochitto Landing at Lake Mary in western Wilkinson County.
The Yazoo River is the primary tributary of Mississippi’s largest river basin. The Yazoo River Basin drains an area over 13,000 square miles. This extensive river basin covers all or parts of 30 counties and is over 200 miles in length. The headwaters of the Yazoo River originate with the Coldwater River near the Tennessee state line, and the river gains size and strength from numerous tributaries until it converges with the Mississippi River north of Vicksburg.
And what does this massive system of rivers and streams feeding the Yazoo River mean for Magnolia State catfish anglers? Well, it means that the Yazoo River offers some of the best catfishing to be found anywhere in Mississippi, the Southeast or the nation for that matter.
Evidence of the Yazoo River’s productivity can be seen in the 81-pound, 2-ounce State Record (Trophy Division) Flathead Catfish that was pulled from one of its tributaries (the Coldwater River) by Toby Lawrence of Oxford in July of 2012.
Even though tightlining, trotlining and jugfishing are all very popular catfishing methods on the Yazoo River, hand grabbing is quickly gaining notoriety on this relatively narrow Delta river.
According to Woodie Reaves, who has earned the reputation of being a master catfish hand grabber, there is no better place to hand grab for giant cats than in the muddy water of the Yazoo River.
TIPPAH COUNTY LAKE
Tippah County Lake is considered a sleeper lake when it comes to quality catfish lakes in the Magnolia State. According to Larry Pugh, MDWFP fisheries bureau director, the catfishing opportunities on this particular lake are outstanding.
“Although our lakes are primarily managed as put-and-take channel catfish lakes, Tippah County Lake has produced some incredible flatheads over the past few years,” said Pugh. “In fact, the current lake record is a 42-pound flathead caught by Thomas Wilbanks on Sept. 22, 2014.”
Located just a few miles north of Ripley on Highway 15, Tippah County Lake is representative of many of the lakes managed by MDWFP across the state of Mississippi.
While these locations are the premier catfishing locations in the Mississippi, excellent catfishing opportunities can be had just about anywhere in the Magnolia State. Just pick a method and a body of water and you are certain to have the time of your life landing a Mississippi catfish.