May 16, 2018
According to the freshwater fisheries biologists in Mississippi and Louisiana, the catfish forecast couldn't be much brighter. Understandably, most whiskerfish anglers consider catfish and Mississippi/Louisiana to be virtually synonymous.
From the Tenn-Tom Waterway on the Alabama border to the Sabine River on the Texas state line, both states boast great catfishing year 'round. And even though whiskerfish are not considered game fish in either state, catfishing remains one of the most popular outdoor activities. Whether folks prefer rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, or reservoirs and ancient oxbows, anglers can find an endless supply of possibilities for catfishing.
No other body of water is better known for monster catfish than the Big Muddy, as outstanding catfishing can be found from both side of the Mighty Mississippi.
When it comes to size, channel cats cannot compete with monster blues or flatheads. While channel cats can grow upwards of 60 pounds, flathead catfish can exceed 120 pounds. Blue cats can also reach the triple digit mark. Records dating back to the 1800s indicate that gigantic blues weighing nearly 400 pounds were pulled from the river.
Most anglers on the Mississippi River are die-hard trotline fisherman. While there are some jug anglers and even an occasional hand grabber, nothing beats tightlining for fun.
Click the video link above to get great catfishing tips for your future trip.
When selecting baits for river catfish, the main thing to remember is that fresher is better. While there is no "best" catfish bait, favorites include fresh shad, skipjack herring, shiners and goldfish.
Blue cats and channel cats will eat almost anything but prefer dead animal matter. Although they mostly prowl through the water scouring the bottom for morsels, they will also prey on live fish. Flatheads are less opportunistic feeders, preying mostly upon live fish, such as bream, shad, skipjack, minnows and other catfish.
Don Hynum of Port Gibson, a veteran Mississippi River catfisherman, believes in targeting the deeper holes for bigger catfish. The only problem is choosing from the abundance of deep holes along the Mississippi.
"I focus mainly on holes that are 60-feet deep or deeper," Hynum said. "I won't waste my time on shallow holes that are less than 50 feet deep."
Wing dikes, also called rock dikes, are some of the best big river hotspots for catfish. These long, narrow rock structures are numerous all along the entire length of the River. Their intended function is to divert the strong current into the main channel to prevent shoreline erosion.
Catfish seek out the deep holes on the downstream side created by the water swirling back on itself. The center of these giant eddies is where really cats can be found. By casting into the center of the swirl, baits are pulled quickly to the bottom where it will remain stationary. Then, just sit back and wait for that rod-bending strike that will follow if a catfish is nearby.
Still, there is no single best place to catch catfish on the Mississippi River. As any veteran catfisherman will say, almost any location along the Big River has the potential to produce an abundance of both monster and eating size catfish.
One of the top catfishing rivers in the Bayou State is the Red River. The Red River enters Louisiana near the small town of Ida in the northwest corner of the state then flows southeast between Shreveport and Bossier City. Further downstream, the river also splits Alexandria and Pineville before merging with the Black River and an outflow channel from the Mississippi River to flow into the Atchafalaya River near Simmesport.
Completed in 1994, the Red River Waterway Project converted the swift flowing river into a series of far less turbid pools of water with five locks and dams located between Shreveport and Marksville. Despite the changes in the system, the catfishing opportunities are outstanding for anglers willing to be a little unconventional.
"Recent sampling continues to show impressive numbers of channel, blue and flathead catfish the entire length of the Red River," said Jeff Sibley, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Region 1 fisheries biologist. "And amazingly, the Red River continues to be one of the most underutilized catfish fisheries in Louisiana."
According to Sibley, most Red River catfish anglers consist of bank anglers, along with a few tightliners and jug fishermen, using cutbait near locks and dams. Snagging catfish is both legal and a very popular method of catching catfish, especially in the current below locks and dams. Most tightliners focus on the deep water found behind rock jetties or in the outside bends of the river. Surprisingly, trotlines and hoop nets are rarely used on the Red River. The lack of a strong current, combined with very little surface structure, makes these traditional catfishing methods somewhat unconventional on the Red River.
Sibley recommends anglers use a rod-and-reel with cutbait, nightcrawlers or live shad in the deeper holes in the river. These deep holes can be located behind rock jetties or on the outside of a sharp bend in the river. In areas with wood cover present, fish the upstream side for blues and channel cats. Flatheads, on the other hand, should be targeted in the scour holes on the downstream side of cover where they will be prowling along the bottom in search of prey.
Located a little farther to the east and running parallel to the Red River is another excellent catfish fishery in Louisiana. The Ouachita River, located in the northeast part of the state is one of the best hotspots for channel cats, flatheads and blues. The river is named for the Ouachita tribe, one of several historic tribes who lived along its banks. Ouachita (Washita) is an Indian word meaning "good hunting grounds" and "sparkling silver water."
According to Ryan Daniel, LDWF Region 2 fisheries biologist, June is an ideal time for catfishing on the Ouachita River. At this time of year, the water level is normally falling following the spring floods.
"The Ouachita River is one of the most popular rivers for catfishing in Northeast Louisiana," said Daniel. "Excellent catfishing can be found from the Arkansas state line all the way down to where the Ouachita joins the Tensas River to form the Black River near Jonesville."
The two most popular catfishing methods on the Ouachita are tightlining and trotlining, but another option anglers are using to their advantage is recreational hoop nets. However, a good current is needed for hoop nets to be effective. For the tightliners and trotliners, the most popular baits include cutbait, live shad, goldfish, nightcrawlers and stink bait.
While Daniel acknowledges that good catfishing can be found the entire length of the Ouachita, the best opportunities are above and below the stretch of the river that runs through Monroe. These areas of the Ouachita River are not fished as heavily and catfish are not as likely to have encountered a bait as those in the portion that runs through the city. The downriver side of the Felsenthal lock and dam near the Arkansas state line and just below the Columbia lock and dam off U.S 165 near Columbia are two areas anglers will want to target.
According to Daniel, population sampling continues to show good flathead numbers and good populations of channel cats. And in locations with adequate current, they even found some populations of blue cats.
During this time of year, anglers should concentrate on areas with steep banks lined with fallen trees and thick brush. These banks provide structure attractive to both catfish and prey.
One of the top catfishing hotspots is the Tenn-Tom Waterway, located on the Mississippi-Alabama boundary. 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 numerous locks and dams, which serve the purpose of maintaining a somewhat predictable pool level along its length. The top two tailrace spots on this waterway are found below the Aberdeen and Columbus dams located near the Alabama state line in northeast Mississippi.
Bank anglers have the upper hand, since boats are restricted in the tailrace areas. A fenced concrete pier offers plenty of room for anglers to spread out along the structure. These fishing piers are an easy walk from a convenient public parking area.
Trotlining and jugfishing are also not allowed in the tailrace areas, making rod and reel the method of choice for anglers. And since there is no limit on catfish on this waterway, anglers can keep all the fresh filets freezers will hold.
Although flatheads and channel cats are plentiful behind these dams, blue cats are the bread and butter of the tailrace areas. Big blues and flatheads congregate in large numbers behind the dam to gorge 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.
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 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 gains size and strength from numerous tributaries until it converges with the Mississippi River north of Vicksburg.
This massive system of rivers and streams feeding the Yazoo River means that the Yazoo River offers some of the best catfishing to be found anywhere in Mississippi.
Evidence of the Yazoo River's productivity can be seen in the 81-pound, 2-ounce State Record Flathead Catfish pulled from the Coldwater River by Toby Lawrence of Oxford in July 2012.
Even though tightlining, trotlining, and jug fishing are all very popular catfishing methods on the Yazoo River, hand grabbing is quickly gaining notoriety on this 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 waters of the Yazoo River.