Regardless of which part of the Bayou State you target or which angling method you employ, Louisiana waters are primed for some fantastic catfishing in 2009. (May 2009)
Louisiana has many rivers and lakes in each of its regions where catfishermen are likely to tangle with healthy populations of channels, flatheads or blues.
Photo by Bruce Ingram.
Amid the recent trail camera documentation of at least one cougar prowling Louisiana's woodlands, it's easy to lose focus on our state's most popular -- and most populous -- wild "cats."
Practically all of Louisiana's waterways, lakes and ponds teem with catfish that continue to attract attention of anglers because they are fun to catch and mouth-wateringly good on the dinner table.
Louisiana catfishermen employ a variety of techniques to bring catfish to the boat -- methods as widely divergent as noodling, snagging, slat-trapping, jug-fishing and trotlining -- in addition to the traditional rod and reel method.
Let's examine these more popular methods of putting catfish in the boat, and perhaps catch a glimpse of the best areas of the state this year for catching catfish.
Noodling is a catfishing technique that is not for the weak and squeamish. Hardy souls with a taste for adventure and excitement -- tempered with a touch of insanity -- probe with their hands the murky interiors of hollow logs and stumps and holes beneath boat ramps until they feel a catfish lurking there. Slipping fingers inside the fish's mouth to secure a handhold on the lower jaw, the noodler wrestles the fish out of its hideout and into the boat.
When all goes according to plan, the noodler wins the match. However, other creatures like to hang out in underwater lairs. More than one noodler has lost a digit or two to the powerful jaws of a snapping turtle or found himself having to deal with an angry cottonmouth.
In spring, another method is employed by catfishermen who are more interested in putting fish in the freezer than in enticing a catfish to bite. Snagging is a legal method of taking catfish (no other species of fish may be taken by snagging) and usually takes place in the state's rivers around locks and dams. During this time of year, catfish move upstream on spawning runs and congregate at locks, where anglers use outsized treble hooks to snare them.
Other anglers use slat traps to take advantage of fish moving upstream in spring. These simple but effective tools, baited with an attractant such as cottonseed meal, allow a catfish to enter -- but not exit -- the trap.
As the weather warms in spring, anglers and boaters unfamiliar with jug-fishing, are likely to think that "litter bugs" are on the loose in the area, as empty milk jugs and large plastic cola bottles bob about on the lake's surface. However, these jugs are bobbing with a purpose. Stout fishing line is tied to the jugs with catfish bait skewered onto the hooks. Getting a catfish to bite using this method is simple. Chasing it down is another matter entirely.
Trotlining for catfish is one of the more popular methods of taking these tasty whiskerfish in Louisiana. Suspending lines far enough beneath floats to keep from becoming entangled in motorboat propellers and baiting with a variety of enticements is a proven method of taking catfish.
Roy Dupree, a retired educator who lives on Black Lake in Natchitoches Parish, employs a different, albeit highly successful, method of trotlining for channel catfish on the lake. Instead of suspending his baited hooks, Dupree allows the entire trotline, from the staging line to the hooks, to rest in the mud on the lake bottom, with only a couple of floats on the surface giving away the location of the trotline.
This highly successful method works because catfish are bottom feeders and have no problem locating the bait in the mud. Dupree abandons this method during summer months because oxygen levels are low in deeper water this time of year and hooked catfish can't ascend to oxygen-rich water quickly enough to avoid death.
For rod-and-reel catfishermen sitting on the bank, nothing is simpler than to bait a hook with cold worms, minnows, cut bait or chicken livers, cast it off the banks and wait for a bite, which usually won't be long in coming.
We visited with professional fisheries biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to get a better handle on where the fish will be biting this year, no matter what method an angler chooses to pursue his quarry. For purposes of identification, we've divided the state into three sections, North, Central and South Louisiana.
Jeff Sibley is a fisheries biologist with the LDWF's District One office in Minden, and his area of responsibility covers most of northwest Louisiana. This portion of Louisiana features the Red River, one of most productive catfishing waters in the state.
"There is a very high catfish population in the Red River, with all three popular species -- channels, blues and flatheads -- living there," said Sibley. "The Red has a very high population of blue catfish.
"Just about every legal method you can think of is used here on the river to catch catfish. In April and May, when the spawning run takes place, lots of catfish are taken by fishermen using snag hooks at the locks and dams.
"Some anglers set out trotlines and jugs back in the oxbows, and they can catch plenty of catfish.
"Bank-fishing using rods and reels is quite popular (here), and the area known as Lock and Dam No. 5, located off U.S. Route 71 north of Coushatta, is a good spot for bank-fishermen to take a seat, cast out several rods and watch for a bite. These fishermen use a variety of baits, from commercial blood and cheese baits to earthworms to cut bait."
As productive as is the Red River, there are other water bodies around northwest Louisiana where catfishing is outstanding. One such area, Cross Lake, is on the outskirts of the city of Shreveport.
"Cross Lake is one of the best lakes I know of where you can sit in a boat on a day with a slight breeze, bait several rods with your choice of baits, sit back and let the breeze drift you along. There is no better place to catch lots of channel catfish (by) drift-fishing than Cross Lake," said Sibley.
Another northwest Louisiana lake with good catfish numbers is Caddo Lake on the Louisiana-Texas border, where giant flathead catfish are taken annually on set lines baited with live bait.
Lake Bistineau, southeast of Shreveport, also features outstanding flathead fishing during warm weather, according to Sibley.
"The lake is currently undergoing a drawdown to try to control the spread of giant Salvinia, a weed that threatens to choke off much of the lake," said Sibley. "However, water levels should be approaching normal by May 2009, and fishing should be great.
"Some really big flathead catfish can be caught by tying stout line to the tough cypress limbs along the deeper channels, securing a big hook and baiting with a live bream or goldfish," Sibley said. "If you observe closely as you motor up and down the channel, you'll see arm-sized limbs twisted off by a monster catfish."
On the opposite side of north Louisiana from the Red River, the Ouachita River flows out of Arkansas through northeast Louisiana. This river is also a prime spot to catch catfish in warmer months, said Ryan Daniel, an LDWF fisheries biologist with the Monroe District.
"You can just about depend on being able to catch catfish on the river this time of year," Daniel said. "It's a reliable spot that fishermen have come to appreciate.
"The Ouachita is a really large river system, heading up in Arkansas, flowing into Louisiana at Felsenthal, through the city of Monroe and on south to below Columbia. This river is subject to flooding from excessive rainfall, and as the river ebbs and flows, it provides some good habitat for catfish. Areas that overflow in spring are particularly good for catching catfish.
"Anglers along the Ouachita employ a variety of methods to fish for catfish, but the most popular is for bank-fishermen or boaters to tight-line cold worms, cut bait or blood and cheese baits to catch plenty of catfish."
Daniel added that while there are catfish to be caught in the stretch of the river that runs through Monroe, the best fishing is downriver from Prairieon to the locks and above Monroe from the Alabama Landing to the Felsenthal locks.
"These areas both below and above Monroe are not fished as heavily as the river around Monroe from Sterlington to Bawcomville," Daniel said. "As a result, I'd recommend the upper and lower stretches of the river where catfish are not nearly as likely to have seen a bait."
While there are plenty of big flatheads in the channels of Lake D'Arbonne, located near Farmerville in Union Parish, this lake is noted more for its teeming population of channel catfish.
My weekly writing duties include contacting area lakes for up-to-date fishing reports that I include with my weekly columns. There is one report I can practically write without having to call -- the catfishing report on Lake D'Arbonne. If the weather allows bank-fishermen to get out or boaters to sit and drift cold worms over the flats, anyone can catch channel catfish on D'Arbonne. It's that simple.
According to Daniel, the lake is full of channel catfish.
"They don't run all that big," he said. "It's unusual to catch one over 5 pounds. However, there are plenty of smaller ones, and all you have to do is offer them something to bite and they will. The lake also has enough submerged timber to offer ideal conditions for spawning."
One of the more popular areas for targeting channels is the area known as "the flats" located near Bear Creek and Terral Island. This region features water averaging 8 to 10 feet deep, and it is a simple matter for anglers to let the breeze move the boat along over the flats with several rods hanging off the boat, each baited with a piece of cold worm. Unless weather and water conditions dictate otherwise, it's one of the easiest ways to ensure a good mess of catfish for supper.
Poverty Point Reservoir is north Louisiana's newest lake, having filled and opened to fishing in 2002. Poverty Point quickly garnered the reputation as the place to go if you want to catch a big channel catfish.
"The channel catfish we stocked here when the lake was new have grown to impressive sizes, with some to 10 pounds and larger being caught fairly regularly on Poverty Point," said Daniel. "The best way to catch big channel catfish here is to tight-line the deeper creek and bayou channels with cut shad."
The Red River slices across this part of the state, with catfishing success rivaling that of northwest Louisiana. Richard Moses is a fisheries biologist with the LDWF District Three office in Pineville, and he echoes Jeff Sibley's words about the Red featuring an outstanding catfishery.
"Catfishermen here employ all the standard methods of taking catfish, from trotlines to limb lines to rod and reel and snagging at the locks and dams during spring," said Moses. "Both Pool Two and Pool Three feature some good catfishing.
"Another good lake for catfish is Black Lake in Natchitoches Parish, which features nearly 14,000 acres of water that has a good population of both channel cats and flatheads. Trotliners on this lake bait with everything from cut bait to chicken liver to cold worms.
"For fishermen wanting to put a big flathead in the boat, the best bet is to set limblines with live bait in the channel of the lake. The average size would be 10 to 12 pounds, but you could tie into one in the 50-pound or larger range," Moses added.
The east-central portion of Louisiana features some excellent catfishing that is largely influenced by the ebb and flow of the Mississippi River, especially in those lakes and streams that are inside the levee of the Mississippi.
Lake Yucatan is one such lake with levels that match the Mississippi when the river is high, inundating the lake and surrounding area. However, when the river falls, some of the best fishing imaginable takes place here and on other lakes inside the river levee.
"There is some excellent catfishing within our district," said Evan Thames, fisheries biologist with the Ferriday LDWF office. "Lakes such as St. John, Bruin, Black River Lake, Horseshoe and Concordia all feature some fine catfishing. We have lots of catfish in this part of the country."
Once again, the Red River, which ends its journey in south Louisiana, is mentioned as a prime catfishery in the southern reaches of the state, much as it is in central and northwest Louisiana. Other lakes and streams located in south Louisiana are also prime catfishing spots, according to Jody David, a fisheries biologist with the District Six LDWF office headquartered in Opelousas.
"In addition to the Pool One area of the Red River near Marksville, the other big river in my district creates lots of attention when it comes to catfish," said David. "The Atchafalaya River, quite frankly, is a great catfishing spot, especially from Simsport on the south. Catch the river in the right stage and fishing can be fantastic.
"When there has been a period of high water and the river starts to fall, you'll see lots of people going out to try their hand at filling a cooler with catfish. Some of the best areas on the river are around the hydroelectric plant and the Old River structure."
In the past, Lake Henderson, which is located in the Atchafalaya Basin and fed by the river waters, has been a prime catfishing spot. However, David said that Mother Nature took its toll on the lake in 2008.
"Henderson was hard hit by Hurricane Gustav," said David. "The fish kill in Henderson and other area lakes was unbelievable. It will come back, but I believe it will take several years for this area to return to what it is capable of producing."
Are you looking for "cats" other than the four-legged ones appearing on trail cameras around Louisiana? Are you searching for a patch of water to scratch your itch for channels, flatheads and blue catfish this year? Do you have a hankering for the taste of fresh catfish filets? Plan to visit these lakes and rivers dotted around the state, and your itch just might get scratched.