Nevertheless, our three humble catfish species, with their only-a-mother-could-love-looks, are habitat generalists and are waiting in nearly all of our region’s lakes, ponds, rivers, and bayous.
Catfish themselves also have a lot to offer anglers. They get big, for one thing, so trophy-fishing for catfish is a growing trend. But of course, small blue catfish and channel cats give anglers a chance at fast action and the makings of a tasty dinner.
Because of the widespread distribution of catfish, anglers have many places in both Louisiana and Mississippi to catch these fish. Because the habitat in these two states favors catfish, going after them is sure to provide hours of enjoyment. Traditional rod-n-reel action can be supplemented with traps and slats, hand grabbing, trot lines and yo-yos as well as noodle/jug fishing. Ample catch limits and year-around action are almost as attractive as the succulent fillets that catfish provide for fish fries.
The two most popular catfish are channels and blues. The channel catfish has a wide geographic distribution and is ease to catch, making it the most commonly sought-after catfish. They live in most rivers and lakes and are widespread in their range throughout the U.S.
Blue cats are found throughout the Mississippi River drainage basin. Like channels, they have very smooth skin and spines hidden within their pectoral and dorsal fins. Blue cats prefer deep pools with structure, where they are often caught on live or dead bait fished on the bottom. Let’s take a look at some of the best places in Mississippi and Louisiana where channels and blues are ripe for the taking.
The Magnolia State shares its official name with the largest catfish-producing river in North America, but the Mississippi River represents just one of the many places anglers can land tasty cats in this state.
In the northeast region of Mississippi, Biologist Trevor Knight points to two places on the map: Pickwick Lake and the River Section of the Tennessee-Tombigbee (Tenn-Tom) waterway, which includes Aberdeen, Columbus, and Aliceville Lakes.
“Pickwick is a very popular catfish lake for [summer] channel, blue, as well as flathead catfish” said Knight. Pickwick is the reservoir created by the Pickwick Dam. “The most popular areas on the Mississippi side of Pickwick are in the fingers created by Indian Creek and Yellow Creek. Near Indian Creek, anglers have lots of luck dropping bait with rod n reel around the bluffs or jug fishing in the creek channel.”
When jug fishing, anglers tie weighted, baited lines to emptied milk jugs (or other suitable floating “jugs” with a handle) and toss the floating apparatus upstream. The armada floats downstream and is harvested later in the day, by which time, hopefully, it is loaded with cats.
According to the Mississippi Wildlife Fisheries and Parks website, anglers with a recreational fishing license are allowed up to 100 hooks, yo-yos, jugs, or trotlines. Within these lakes most anglers will fish the old channel swings in the backwaters or they will fish around the locks.
Although many channel catfish anglers have traditionally used dip baits, nightcrawlers, chicken livers and “stink” baits of various kinds, channel catfish will take fresh cutbait almost as readily as blue catfish.
The river sections of the Tenn-Tom waterway are also very popular and produce a good harvest of channels and blues. The Tenn-Tom tends to have bigger cats than Pickwick.
Biologist Keith Meals ranks Arkabutla and Grenada as the best catfish fisheries in his district. These lakes are primarily flood-control reservoirs; however, one of the by-products of their construction is the creation of prime habitat for channels and blues.
“Both lakes are relatively turbid,” said Meals, “but the catfish don’t seem to mind.”
Hand grabbing is a very popular method for catching cats during the month of June and can result in landing some big fish. “It is not uncommon for anglers using the grabbing method to land 30-pounders, at least for the select cadre of fishermen who have perfected the art,” Meals said.
Blues and channels are more commonly caught using traditional baits like liver and cut shad though less traditional fare is offered.
“We see folks use chicken marinated in cherry-flavored Koolaid. The fish seem to enjoy the break from their regular food items,” Meals said. Since catfish are not regulated as a game fish, in most waters there is no limit to the number of channels, blues, or flats you can catch in Mississippi. There is one important exception to this general rule, however: in waters that are bordered by Mississippi and another state that does impose limits on catfish, there are “shared” limits.
Anglers in the middle of the State should focus their efforts on Ross Barnett Reservoir as well as the Pearl River and the Black River, according to Ryan Jones. “There are lots of catfish in Ross Barnett. Most anglers are able to land a stringer of channel cats using tried-and-true baits.”
There are also good numbers of cats in the spillway, though the rules and regulations are a bit different in that section. There are bank fishing options around the lake in the form of piers and parks.
Anglers can launch boats from a number of public launches as well. Some of the most popular are launches on the south end of the lake include Rankin landing and Main Harbor Landing. The MDWFP maintains an interactive map of launch location.
Because they are ready to be caught and they are plentiful in water bodies north to south, catfish provide Bayou state anglers with a bunch of ptions for catching catfish. The secret is out on most of the popular catfish lakes and rivers. Louisiana catfish have an extended spawning season that runs into July.
The Red River is prime cat country. The Red River runs a south-easterly course from the northwestern corner of the state towards swampy lowlands in Concordia and Avoyelles Parishes after passing through Alexandria and Pineville. Here the Red merges with the Black River as well as outflow from the Mississippi River.
This mixed water flows into the Atchafalaya River near Simmesport. Five locks and dams located between Shreveport and Marksville have tamed the once quickly flowing river, to the benefit of anglers and other recreational users.
Along the Red, bank angling is very common among fishermen. In addition to traditional rod-n-reel efforts, methods such as jug fishing and tightlining are common. Cutbait, liver, and nightcrawlers are commonly used in the deeper holes in the river, which are often located behind jetties or on the outside of the bends.
Although catfish are far more active predators than many anglers give them credit for, like all predator fish in moving water, blues and channel catfish tend to position themselves in a current break near a seam with faster water. They expend as little energy as possible while getting the best look at baitfish being swept along in the current.
Multiple boat launches are found along the river and are mapped on the LDWF website. All outdoor enthusiasts in Louisiana should become familiar with the LDWF website’s Outdoor Explorer tool. This interactive map shows boat launches among other important geospatial data.
On the east side of the state, the Ouachita River is another excellent catfish fishery. 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. Falling water concentrates bait and that concentrates the catfish. Local anglers know this, and Ouachita River has become one of the most popular rivers for catfishing in Northeast Louisiana.
Prime catfishing can be found along the river anywhere from its origins at the Arkansas line to its confluence with the Tensas River. Popular catfishing methods on the Ouachita include rod-n-reel, though other methods include tightlining and trotlining provide the main ingredients for many a fish fry. Noodling is also common. This technique utilizes pool noodles as floats (similar to jug fishing). Baited floats are released then picked up later downstream. Areas along the river that see less fishing pressure have been known to provide nearly non-stop bites from blues and channels.
Lac des Allemands is considered by many the premier catfish destination in the southern part of the state. The lake is home to blues and channels and the small community of Des Allemands along the west bank. The lake is relatively shallow, with its deepest point being roughly 10 feet. The 12,000-acre lake is popular among the local fishermen. All methods of angling, including trotlines and yo-yos, are legal on the lake. Cutbait and worms are common bait for catfish. Anglers are wise to keep a bass pole rigged and ready to grab.
Poverty Point Lake is the centerpiece of Poverty Point State Park. This new impoundment found in the fertile delta has been growing huge crappie and bass over its young life (it was impounded back in 2001 and opened to the public in 2003). The catfish are growing too. Anglers looking for numbers and 2-pound fillet-sized cats should consider dropping a line in Poverty Point. The lake can be only be fished with rod and reel. Some fish are still spawning which is good news for bank anglers. At Poverty Point, fisherman have access to a fishing pier located at the north State Park facility, adjacent to boat ramp and marina. In addition, bank is fishing allowed at both the north and south state park facilities.