Great catfishing and summer are pretty much uttered in the same breath in Mississippi and Louisiana, especially since there are so many great locations in our states to pursue these tasty fish.
By Cliff Covington
While catfish might not be the most popular fish pursued in Mississippi and Louisiana, it is certainly up in rank, as catfish are fun to catch and great to eat.
Even better, great catfishing opportunities abound in every corner of both states.
Regardless of whether anglers prefer rivers or streams, lakes or ponds, reservoirs or ancient oxbows, both states offer an endless supply of opportunities to get hooked on catfishing.
The Mississippi River is as legendary as its name for the excellent catfishing it provides. The Father of Waters flows 410 miles along the Mississippi border with another 400 miles through the heart of Louisiana, and catfishing prospects are superb from one end to the other.
The muddy waters of the Mississippi River offer up a smorgasbord of sizes and kinds of catfish. However, the most pursued on Old Man River are the big three — blues, flatheads and channels. While blues and channels are tasty in their own right, flatheads are considered the culinary kings of the catfish world.
Although 100-plus-pound catfish are possible in the deep waters of the Mississippi River, a typical blue cat or flathead catch will include fish in the 15- to 20-pound range, with channel cats running closer to 5 to 10 pounds.
Most anglers on the Big River use either trotlines or rod and reels, but there are some juggers and grabblers that pursue cats in streams, lakes and backwater areas where to water is shallower.
The main thing to remember when selecting baits for river catfish is that fresher is usually the better way to go. Popular baits are fresh shad, skipjack herring, shiners and goldfish.
Jimmy Cassell of Port Gibson believes in the old saying that "the deeper the hole, the bigger the fish." And with a seemingly infinite supply of deep-water holes along the 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 big river hotspots for catfish. These long, narrow, rock structures built by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers are numerous along the entire length of the river, with an intended function to divert the strong current into the main channel to prevent shoreline erosion.
Catfish seek out the deep holes on the downstream side of the dikes 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 find the really big blues and flatheads. By casting into the center of the swirl, baits are pulled quickly to the bottom to remain stationary.
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 a nice stringer of catfish.
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 opportunities for channel cats, flatheads and blues.
The tailrace water below the spillway is one of the most popular catfishing locations on the "Rez." Pan-sized 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 baits include goldfish, bream, shiners, stinkbait, liver and earthworms.
Catfishing methods in the main lake vary widely, with hand grabbers running boxes in the shallows and tightliners dropping baits in the main channel above the Highway 43 Bridge. However, some of the most productive catfishing 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 an annual youth fishing program, better known as "Katfishin' Kids."
This year's event will be held from 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. on June 3, 2017, at the Turcotte Education Center located off Highway 43 on the Madison County side of the reservoir. Rods, reels, bait, lunch and fishing instruction are furnished to the 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 Nanih Waiya and Tallahaga creeks. It flows southwesterly into the Ross Barnett Reservoir and through Mississippi's capital city of Jackson, before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico through Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound. Along its length, this scenic river offers excellent catfishing opportunities. 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 in these murky waters, trotlining remains the method of choice for catfishermen 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 just waiting for the frying pan.
Moving over into Louisiana, the quality of catfishing remains similar to that found in the Magnolia State. And one of the best catfishing spots for catching channel cats, flatheads and blues is the Ouachita River, located in the northeast part of the Bayou State. 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 "river of good hunting grounds" and "sparkling silver water."
According to Ryan Daniel, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries District 2 fisheries biologist manager, June is an ideal time for catfishing on the Ouachita River. During this time of year, the water level is normally falling following the usual 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."
Tightlining and trotlining are the two most popular catfishing methods on the Ouachita, but another option more anglers are using to their advantage is recreational hoop nets. However, a good current is needed for recreational hoop nets to be most effective. For tightliners and trotliners, the most popular baits include cutbait, live shad, goldfish, night crawlers and stinkbait.
While Daniel admits that good catfishing can be found the entire length of the Ouachita, the best opportunities can be found above and below the stretch of the river that runs through the city of Monroe. These areas of the Ouachita River are not fished as heavily and the catfish are not as likely to have encountered a bait as fish in the portion of the river that runs through Monroe. Two specific areas anglers should target include 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.
According to Daniel, population sampling shows very good flathead numbers and good populations of channel cats all along the Ouachita River. And even some good populations of blue cats were found in locations with adequate current.
During this time of year, anglers should concentrate on areas of the Ouachita with steep banks lined with fallen trees and thick brush. These banks provide structure and cover attractive to both catfish and their prey.
Located a little farther to the west and running parallel to the Ouachita River is another excellent catfish fishery in the Bayou State. Entering Louisiana near the small town of Ida, in the northwest corner of the state, the Red River 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 once swift flowing river into a series of far less turbid pools of water with the addition of five locks and dams located between Shreveport and Marksville. Despite the drastic changes in this river system, catfishing opportunities are outstanding for anglers willing to be a little unconventional.
"Our sampling revealed impressive numbers of channel, blue, and flathead catfish the entire length of the Red River," said Jeff Sibley, LDW&F District One Fisheries Biologist Manager. "However, this river is one of the most underutilized catfish fisheries in Louisiana."
According to Sibley, most catfish anglers on the Red River consist of bank anglers, along with a few tightliners and jug fishermen, using cutbait near the locks and dams. Snagging catfish is both legal and a very popular method of catching catfish, especially in the current below the locks and dams. Most tightliners focus on the deep water found behind the 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 make these catfishing methods somewhat unconventional on the Red River.
For a stringer of Red River catfish, 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 easily be located behind rock jetties or on the outside of a sharp bend in the river. If wood cover is 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 the cover where they will be prowling along the bottom in search of prey.
Regardless of where anglers call home, Mississippi and Louisiana offer excellent catfishing within a short weekend drive.