Cat-fishing on the Mississippi River for Channel cats
Mac asked me to write an article on this subject and I don't know why.
The first topic we will cover is safety. " Safety First ".! I'm not kidding, because when it goes bad on the river it's just like driving on the four lane in heavy traffic; it happens in the blink of an eye. Wear your PFD. When it's hot and we are anchored up I sit on mine. When it's cold I oversize my outer layers and wear it right over my shirt which helps to stay warm. No matter what time of the year it is or what the river level is there is always floating debris, so you have to watch behind you and pay attention to what is going on around you. A case in point. This summer a couple was in a boat with a dead battery so the boat was dead in the water with no lights and was struck by another boat. The wife survived her injuries but the husband has not been found to date.
If I'm scaring you that is my point.
Now to the fishing. We only fish for eater size channels. The river is full of hoop nets and trammel nets and the minimum size they can keep is 15" which is perfect size to eat. We like one to three pounds to eat and we throw all the fiddlers and bigger ones back.
We will start with late winter and early spring when it rains and warms up enough to bust the ice which is called ice out. Cut shad and night crawlers work good and after the ice is gone you could use live minnows and or small sunfish and catch the biggest channel you will catch all year. They tend to stack up in the mouth of feeder creeks and smaller rivers this time of the year and on sand bars just below the mouth of said creeks and rivers. If you can run up these rivers with them you can catch more channels than you would ever need. Just take what you can use please.
Now it is still warming up but not pre spawn and they will move out away from the man channel to square banks with wood and water depth to as little as 5', also chutes and the bottom end of islands called points. This is the time we start using dip bait along with the shad, cut bait , and crawlers. You will lose some hooks in the hair roots on those banks but that's where the fish are.
Now it's warming up to what we call pre spawn. Come back across the river to the high banks on the outside bends next to the main channel and start fishing right along the bank. They dig holes or use old holes in the bank to spawn in. Here again you could catch a trophy cat fish with live or cut bait if your a mind to.
Spawn: Fish for carp or stay home. Hee hee
Post spawn it's hot now and it never gets too hot for dip bait so don't get hung up on one brand of bait, we usually carry three brands and if they like one over another that's what we use. When it gets real hot they scatter and maybe in the middle of the river in the barge channel. Some people drift fish when it's like this but we anchor at the edge of the barge channel and if a barge gets in trouble and honks at us we GONE! They do have problems just like everybody else.
This time of the year you will need to run around and watch your fish finder and you may have to move several times. This is a good time of year to night fish also.
Which brings us to fall when the air temperature is starting to drop and they are feeding up for winter. After labor day the party people should be off the river which helps. You need to use your locater (fish finder/sonar) as they may be in wood on flats next to the barge channel or on big sand flats or the tops of wing dams. Late fall is time to begin checking below dams. They will still take dip bait or half a dip tube with a crawler below.
Just before ice up you can find them in deep holes where they winter but it is a light bite and can be too many fiddlers to fool with.
Tackle: You don't need a pool cue for channels and too stiff a tip will spook them. You won't need a 10/0 hook, just match the hook to the size fish your after and match the bait to the hook accordingly. Twenty pound test line is all you need for channels and when the water temp. drops you can down size the line. You don't have to use treble hooks on dip bait you can cut one barb off or use a straight hook. I always use an offset long shank hook on dip tubes or dip worms.
One more thing: We have extra anchors on the boat with lots of rope and when the anchors in use we have a knife in a sheath laying by them. These knives NEVER leave the boat.
Whee my finger hurts.
Good Luck, Stay SAFE and good fishing.
The reason I asked Keith Mette to write this article is because he is a sportsman and does not over fish his fisheries. In order words, he appreciates what Mother Nature has provided us and does not waste those resources, same as the Indians did, way back when they freely roamed this country. Thanks Keith for doing this for the USCA membership. Mac