June 02, 2015
By now, thoughts of fall are long gone. In fact, crisp mornings and vibrant sunrises are a thing of memory. Hot and steamy are the words that best describe the region now. Luckily, while there are few reasons to be in the woods these days, the Bayou State's catfish waters are beckoning with fat stringers of filet-baring whiskerfish.
Preeminent fisheries biologist Dr. Neil H. Douglas suggests, in "Fishes of Louisiana," that the family Ictaluridae (catfishes) is well represented in Louisiana by all three species — blue cats, channel cats and flatheads — that are considered highly desirable table fare.
Channel cats and blues are very similar in appearance, as both fish share a forked tail and are predominantly grayish-blue or silver in color. However, channel cats have dark spots on their sides and thicker whiskers (barbels). Barbels on a blue appear thinner and light. Another feature that differentiates the two species is the shape of the anal fin, the unpaired ventral fin located just posterior to the anus. In channel cats this fin is shorter (30 rays compared to 30 to 36 rays in blue cats) and more rounded.
Channel cats can grow to sizes pushing 30 pounds or so, but 10-pound channel cats are considered large by most standards. Blue cats, on the other hand come in much larger sizes with 150-pound specimens reported, and are considered North America's largest catfish.
The other recreationally important whiskerfish found in Louisiana is a squared-tailed fellow. The flathead's mottled, brown to yellowish skin and its enormous mouth (complete with underbite) does not resemble blue or channel cats, making them easy to identify.
Also known as "opelousas cats," "ops" and "spotted cats," flatheads are considered voracious, active predators known to nocturnally pursue and gulp bream, and retreat to cover during the light of day.
All three of these species can be found in Louisiana; however, some waters are better than others, and are where anglers should concentrate if they're interested in putting a mess in the boat or bucket.
Lakes in the Monroe District vary drastically, but one can expect this in a management region whose western piney woods and creeks give way to rich delta dirt toward the east.
"Most anglers will have no problem catching blues or channels in any of our lakes," said Ryan Daniels, LDWF fisheries manager. "And, you know, honestly, there is no way I could rank them in order; however, if I had to send a close friend to catch blues or channels, I'd send them to Poverty Point Reservoir."
Over the years, the Poverty Point has developed a healthy population of both channel cats and blues. And while channel cats can range in size, stocked blue cats can become quite heavy. In fact, a 30-pounder was pulled from the reservoir in 2012.
Daniels also recommends Turkey Creek Lake and Lake D'Arbonne, as both contain channel cats and flatheads. In fact, hogging (hand grabbing, noodling) is quite popular in D'Arbonne.
NEW ORLEANS AREA
The Pearl River is a good place to begin looking for cats in the extreme southeast corner of the state. The shared water body, with plenty of access points in the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, provides Louisiana anglers a shot at a freezer filled with filets.
The West Pearl River, which eventually flows into Lake Borgne, is served by no less than four public boat ramps, with three operated by the LDWF and the fourth operated by St. Tammany Parish. Similarly, the Pearl River is served by two boat launches in Washington Parish.
June anglers focusing on blue cats should pay attention to Lac des Allemands. The north end of the lake is well known for producing healthy blues. Salt can influence the south end, but the northern reaches stay fresh long enough to support good populations of cats, Lac des Allemands is likely holding a healthy catfish population.
The Mississippi River, with its brown murky and unknown depths, has long been a fabled haunt of massive, enormous catfish. Blues do well in these rich waters as do flatheads. In fact, any stretch of the river (which is legal to fish) is likely holding numbers of catfish.
According to the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association's (LOWA) "Louisiana Fresh and Saltwater, Rod & Reel" records, five of the state's top blue cats (including the top four fish) were pulled from the river between East Carroll Parish and Baton Rouge. Due to its size, complexity and relative stability, it is likely that the river will continue to produce big cats for ages to come.
In the Alexandria area, like in most parts of the state, catfisheries come in the form of rivers and lakes. Historically, what is now termed the Larto-Saline Complex was a natural body of water.
In the late 1950s, the Larto Lake Dam was constructed, forming a large natural backwater complex. Portions of the complex are located in Catahoula, LaSalle, Avoyelles and Rapides parishes. Larto, Saline, and Shad lakes, along with numerous interconnecting bayous and ponds, anchor the Complex.
The complex also receives backwater flooding from the Red River, the Black River and the Little River. All three species of catfish are found in the complex, including healthy populations of channel and blue cats.
Like his northern counterpart, who manages the natural resources in the Red River, Biologist Ricky Moses has nothing but good things to say.
"All reaches of the Red River here in our district will produce good stringers of each species of cat," said Moses.
Record Red River catfish include a documented 95-pound blue cat pulled to the bank in 2004 and the No. 3 (66 pounds) and No. 4 (52 pounds) flatheads were pulled out of the Red River in 1998 and 2002, respectively. There is no shortage of fat cats in the Red.
Another public catfish hole includes Indian Creek Reservoir, which has two boat ramps for easy access and is located within Alexander State Forest.
In the Shreveport area, the fisheries are managed out of the Minden Office of the LDWF. In this region of the state, anglers should focus on the Red River, according to Fisheries Biologist Jeff Sibley, as the Red is home to all three of the prized catfish species.
"Historically, we see solid numbers of cats coming from the Red River," said Sibley. "In the summer months, cats will be spending a chunk of time in the main channel of the River thriving in the cooler waters."
Anglers do not have to travel to wilder reaches of the river either. In fact, Sibley insists that good catfish populations are found in the stretch of the river in and around Shreveport/Bossier. The area just south of the metro area is also historically productive.
"Jug fishing or noodle fishing — the use of pool noodles as floats — is popular during the summer months," said Sibley. "Boat-bound anglers can drop off several floats, complete with hooks and bait, upstream and fetch them after the float-bait combo floats downstream."
If the river is too much, Cross Lake is also haunted by cats, at least the blue and channel varieties.
"In Cross Lake, anglers can find solid numbers of filet-sized fish," said Sibley. "Most anglers simply drift fish with multiple rods. Also, bank fishermen can catch cats using the public fishing area on the south bank. If you must fish from a boat, be sure to obtain a boating permit from the City of Shreveport. We (LDWF) manage the resources, but the city owns the lake."
In June, Caddo Lake produces blues and channels for anglers, and trotlining is legal and can be productive. Trotlining in the evening, after the summer sun has dropped, is a great way to spend a Friday or Saturday night.
Lake Bistineau is a popular spot for flatheads. Here, anglers commonly use limblines with live bait, which is both legal and productive for anglers. Of course, having more than one line in the water is always helpful.
The complete compendium of Louisiana catfish waters would be the longest book ever written, if it could even be started. In our watery state, we are lucky to be able to find fun and outdoor adventure at every turn.
Catfish are fun, simple to catch and are plentiful in nearly all of the freshwater in our state. Now, go out and find the next record book fish.