Article on November 2019
"Shall we gather at the river", Phillip Gentry
Mississippi catfishermen: Shall we gather at the river?
Reading and understanding river patterns are a top priority if you’re after catfish who live there.
Casual observers may look at the myriad of rivers that flow through Mississippi and simply see water moving from Point A to Point B.
Catfish anglers who ply these rivers, which include big ones like the Mississippi, Pearl, Pascagoula and Tombigbee and even smaller ones like the Tallahatchie, Yazoo, Big Black, Leaf and Chickasawhay, see ever-changing environments where fish can hold in one area one day and somewhere else the next.
Moreso than the lakes, ponds and reservoirs — and even the Magnolia State’s coastal waters — river-fishing presents an almost daily challenge for anglers. Understanding changes in patterns and how catfish relate to them is key to catching them. Why, whole volumes of books could be written about year-round changes, fall patterns tend to be a favorite among veteran catters.
Wing dikes are structures placed to control sediment and washout along the banks of the river; they are also a popular location to find catfish.
Fish falling waters
Ben Goebel, a Mississippi-based member of the B’n’M Poles pro staff, said falling water levels are a very predictable pattern for catching catfish on the Mississippi River.
“The river has been up almost all year,” Goebel said. “That gives catfish a lot of different places to go, but when the water recedes, they drop back into more predictable and dependable locations.”
Like many Mississippi River catfishermen, Goebel’s go-to tactic for 90% of his fishing is bumping. He uses a variable-speed trolling motor to keep his boat pointed upcurrent, while the river slowly moves him downstream. In this manner, he and his clients can “bump” baits along the bottom to target catfish.
“Most people think about still-fishing while anchored in deep holes on the Mississippi,” he said. “This time of year, with falling water levels, catfish are more likely to be holding on deep-water flats in 45 to 50 feet of water. They’re orienting to ledges and current seams.”
He said that with fish vacating shoreline areas in favor of the river channel, he finds that these fish out in the middle of the river are more inclined to feed.
“It’s all a big puzzle, and for me, it’s what makes catfishing interesting,” he said. “In one particular spot, I might have a run where fish are holding next to some structure at the top of the run, and then a little further back, there might be few more fish that are simply orienting to a seam in the current out on a flat. Then, toward the edge of the run, there could be some more fish holding on a ledge that drops into a deeper area of the river.”
Locate deep holes
One of the keys to catching big catfish from any river is knowing where to find them. Trophy-sized catfish will lay up in deep holes on a nearly year-round basis, and one of the easiest, most consistent places to find good catfish holes is around a wing dike.
Wing dikes are plentiful and found up and down many large rivers. A wing dike, aka wing dam, is a man-made barrier that, unlike a conventional dam, only extends partway into a river. These structures force water into a fast-moving, center channel that reduces the rate of sediment accumulation, while slowing water flow near the banks.
Guide Bob Crosby from Madison said fishing wing dikes is an obvious choice for most catfish anglers, but there more to it than meets the eye.
“The average dike is probably a couple hundred yards long,” he said. “You can anchor up on the edge of the dike, where the main current is blowing through the cutout. Catfish will hold right on the edge of the main current and the slower current. Use your graph, find the fish and anchor up on them.”
Bridge pilings are some of the more-common current breaks in any river. Debris collects both above and below the surface and naturally attracts catfish.
Steady water levels
While water levels are sometimes in a state of flux, especially on the Mississippi where Crosby fishes, the fall typically presents the most-stable water levels of the year.
“Most of the dikes come out of the water at Vicksburg at about 14 feet, but they’re all out at 12 feet,” Crosby said. “If water conditions remain steady at this level, meaning not a lot of rapid ups or downs, it’s no trouble to fish the scour holes at the ends of the dikes. That’s where I catch the majority of my big fish.
Once he is settled, Crosby will fan-cast rods around his boat in locations catfish are likely to hold. He may place a couple of baits on the downslope of a hole and a couple straight off into the depths.
“I prefer to target larger catfish, so most of my tackle is outfitted with two-hook rigs,” he said. “That’s a hook in the head and a trailer hook in the tail on a fresh, 8- to 10-inch skipjack. I use 8/0 Gamakatsu circle hooks with a slider for my sinker like a slip slider. Typically, I use 6- to 8-ounce to weights to keep the bait on the bottom in a moderate current.”
Man-made current breaks
Angler Joey Pounders of Caledonia said a lot of anglers target blue catfish in deep holes, but he has found that whether he is fishing deep or shallow, the key element is moving water with structure that provides a current break.
Joey Pounders has learned that current breaks, whether man-made or natural, provide a great place for catfish to hide out of the current to ambush prey. “You’re going to get more action when the current is going than when not,” he said. “If the water’s dead that day in that area, don’t even worry about fishing that spot. If the water’s blowing, it’s more likely to be a great spot to fish, especially if you can find a current break like a bridge piling or laydown tree, because the fish are going to huddle around the back side of these things.”
Pounders will anchor his boat, rigged with sturdy rod holders around the stern and cast to several spots in that area.
“My bait of choice is live shad, cast-netted directly from the lake at the start of the trip or the night before. Sizes will range anywhere from 5 to 8 inches in length and possibly a filleted shad for blue cats. I’ll fan-cast six rods, I use the B’n’M Silver Cats Magnum rods, evenly distributing baits in various water depths and structure,” he said.
Kayaking for catfish
Mike Curtis and his family discovered the fun of paddling and catching catfish from small- to medium-sized rivers several years ago. Unlike most die-hard kayak anglers, the Curtis family forgoes all the gear and tackle normally associated with kayak fishing, and especially catfishing, and opts for a more simple approach.
This fact is best illustrated in their bait choices, which more readily found in the grocery store than the local bait shop.
“My favorite bait for catfishing in the river is fresh, raw chicken breast,” Curtis said. “We cut it into racquetball-sized chunks and let it float in the current.”
Mike Curtis displays a nice catfish he caught while river fishing from his kayak.
The Curtis family also fishes from a fleet of varied cockpit-style touring kayaks, without the myriad of rod holders normally associated with catfish. One paddler, one rod is the favored approach. Curtis explains how the family catfishing pattern came into existence.
“For the most part, we just float the river and cast the bait either out front or to the side,” he said. “I rig the baits on an 8/0 circle hook and float it under a large slip cork. I just let the current carry the bait in front of me, and we cover water. Every so often, I’ll cast along the bank, just like I was bream fishing with bait under a cork.”
Unlike bream fishing, Curtis’ standard gear is a Shakespeare Catfish Ugly Stik and a Penn 4500 reel spooled with 55 pound braided line.
Curtis said the fishing is either float down and paddle back or, if there are two cars available for a longer float, they will park one downstream at the next take-out and float a stretch.
Article on October 2019
"October Blues" by Mike Giles
The Mississippi River is big, wide and full of big, wide blue catfish, there for the taking. Here are some tips for seining Big Muddy with your rod and reel.
Fishing the mighty Mississippi River for catfish is a shaky proposition any time, but a 125-year historic flood makes the task even harder. That’s just what we faced on a recent trip to the river near Vicksburg.
Capt. Bob Crosby noted landmarks and studied his Humminbird Helix unit intently until he spotted some big fish along the outside edge of a deep eddy. He quickly set a waypoint and put down his trolling motor, which held the boat in place against a current too swift and deep to anchor. As soon as we got into position, we cast towards the area where the big fish were and let the bait go to the bottom.
It didn’t take long before the action heated up.
“Ka-thump!” A hungry blue took the bait and slammed my rod down to the water’s surface. I grabbed it and reared back with all my might.
Wham! I drove the steel hook deep into the jaws of a monster cat, and my rod felt like it had hit a steel beam. When the monster felt the sting of the hook, it dove deep into the murky depths of the river, and it was all I could do to hang on. At one point, I thought he was going to pull me overboard.
“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ,” the reel sizzled as the blue submarine stripped line off of the reel. As soon as the cat let up a bit, I got my bearings and a better hold on the rod and secured my feet for the next run. This was the monster catfish that I’d been looking for, and he bit right off the bat and tried to take my whole rig with him.
We had a fierce tug of war for the next 30 minutes as the fish made run after run, burning line off the reel and making the drag sing. I finally wore him down enough to get him to the top, but the current was really swift, making it hard to maneuver him.
I kept his head up as long as I could and worked him towards the boat. Time after time, he dove, and I’d have to gain back the ground I’d lost. After I finally wore him down and brought him near the boat, Crosby got his head in the net, and it took every ounce of strength, we had to lift him into the boat.
The Mississippi River blue catfish tipped the scales at 50 pounds and was the biggest I’d ever caught on rod and reel on the river. I was fishing for a trophy cat, and Crosby made that a reality, and it became a lifetime memory for me.
Dan Shelton caught this 65-pound Mississippi River blue catfish fishing with Bob Crosby.
Best time for monster cats
As soon as the leaves start falling and the temperatures start dropping in October the blue cats start heading to their deep honey holes, and the fall and winter bite begins.
“The water usually starts cooling in October, but when it gets below 50 degrees, the big cats move to the deep holes,” Crosby said. “We typically bottom-bounce in October and November and catch good numbers of catfish — with an occasional monster cat. I’ll set my I-Pilot trolling motor on .3 mph, and we’ll slowly drift downriver, bouncing our bait just off the bottom.”
Drifting and bottom-bouncing is a fun technique, and you can drift for miles without a bite and then load the boat in one place. The fish move from day to day; you might catch them 20 to 30 feet deep one day and 70 to 80 feet deep the next day, depending upon the current.
“We’ll catch a bunch bottom-bouncing in the early fall, but we’ll hit those deep holes, too, so we can keep tabs on the big cats,” Crosby said. “After they start moving into the holes, the fun begins, and (it) usually runs through the winter until the spring floods begin.
“The colder, the better as far as catching monster blues. Most people are deer hunting and duck hunting, and we have the river to ourselves. That’s when it gets crazy and big cats are caught often.”
Heavy duty gear a must
“There’s no place comparable to the Mississippi River when it comes to catching a monster cat,” Crosby said. “The Mississippi River is so big that there are areas that never get fished, and we release the ones we catch, so there’s a big supply of catfish to be caught. But the most-important factor after learning where to fish is to have the proper equipment.”
Crosby’s two most-important pieces of equipment are his depth finder and his i-Pilot, which interface and allow him to stay on a spot or keep the boat in line.
“We’ll graph a good fish, and then we’ll anchor and start fishing for him,” he said. “And we’ll usually get bit pretty quickly if they’re feeding, but locating them with the graph is the most important part of the equation on a river this big.”
Most people are not outfitted to handle catfish ranging from 18 to 70 pounds in deep, swift water, so Crosby supplies all of equipment, tackle, and bait.
“We have tough reels filed with 60- to 80-pound braided line on heavy B’n’M catfish rods,” he said. “We’ll use a 50-pound mono leader with a 30-pound leader and a 6- to 8-ounce bell sinker to hold it down. The braided line is imperative, but you must have lighter leaders for the weight, so you won’t lose the fish or the whole rig if the weight hangs on trash.”
“When we’re bottom-bouncing, we’ll use a lighter rod and quality reel with lighter weights.”
This Mississippi River blue, caught by Jere Smith, weighed 62 pounds. There are bigger fish out there.
Where to find huge blues
“My personal best is a 75-pound blue cat, but we’ve caught several 80-pounders and 90-pounders,” Crosby said. “The Mississippi state record is 95 pounds; it’s just begging to be broken, and you can be sure there’s more than one swimming around in there.”
The lower Mississippi River has a great reputation for big fish, and there’s less fishing pressure from Greenville south to Vicksburg and Port Gibson. Crosby is very familiar with that portion of the river.
“You need to go with somebody who knows the river and who can show you where they are and how to catch them,” he said. “Otherwise, it will take years to learn the river and how to find them.
“When we’re bottom-bouncing, we look for certain types of banks, and we fish like we do when bass fishing,” Crosby said. “We’ll bump, bump, bump that weight just off the bottom, and the big cats will strike, and you have to set the hook just like you do when you’re ledge-fishing for bass. If you don’t have your timing down, you’ll miss them.”
“On a great day, we’ll catch 20 to 25 blues in the 15- to 25-pound range, with one or two big fish in the 30- to 50-pound range,” said Crosby. “Just last week, I took a couple of guys bottom-bouncing, and they caught a 31-pounder doing that and earlier, we caught a 60 pounder.”
Mike Giles shows off a 50-pounder blue catfish he caught fishing the Mississippi River with Bob Crosby earlier this year.
Deep scour holes, eddies
My favorite technique is hole-fishing, although I enjoy catching them bottom-bouncing as well. As in most types of fishing, 80% of the fish are in 20% of the water, and that’s where a guide like Crosby comes into play. He knows where to look, and by being on the water regularly, he can keep up with their whereabouts on a weekly basis. That’s invaluable.
“You’ve got to know when to stop, how long to fish and when to leave a hole,” Crosby said. “We’ll hit a series of holes sometimes 4 to 5 miles apart and fish them until we find them. Sometimes, we’ll give them 20 to 30 minutes and then head to the next hole. If they are there and ready to eat, they bit quick.”
Crosby knows where the deep scour holes are, and big cats will usually hit pretty quickly after he get’s set up and puts the lines out. Scour holes are places where the swift water scours the bottom and washes out deep holes below rock dikes, jetties and along deep banks. Crosby keeps up with the changing river levels and constantly checks his holes.
“Sometimes, we’ll hit a couple holes and not catch a thing, and then on the next hole catch four or five as fast as you can get your bait in the water,” he said.
On another trip to the river with Crosby, we caught five cats in the 17- to 20-pound range on one hole, with the biggest being an 80-pounder that bottomed out the scales — the largest freshwater fish I’d ever seen caught on a rod and reel.
For more information on catching monster catfish, contact Bob Crosby at 601-953-5767, or check out his website online at https://www.bluecatguideservice.com.
Article on www.ms-sportsman.com, October, 2013
“Fall catfish bite has finally arrived” by Phillip Gentry
Fall catfish bite has finally arrived
Mississippi River at Vicksburg producing good catches of blue catfish
Bob Crosby of Blue Cat Guide Service said the fall bite, wheretrophy-sized blue catfish will readily take fresh skipjack herring around the scour holes on the end of wing dikes in the Mississippi River, is on now and should last through the winter.
Moderating water levels and falling water temperatures have provided the combination of conditions that Bob Crosby of Blue Cat
Guide Service (601-953-5767) loves to see on the Mississippi River. For most of the summer, high water and high water temperatures
made fishing the Mississippi near Vicksburg tough, but Crosby said it looks like the fall blue catfish bite has now arrived.
“We have been smoking the big catfish on the Mississippi River,” said Crosby, who guides on the Mississippi around the historic Vicksburg area. “The water is low, stable and clear. The water temps have dropped from 85 down to 75 real quick and that always cuts the blue cat bite on.”
Crosby indicated that by targeting drop-offs, ledges and scour holes in the 30 – 60 foot depth range, he has landed a 67-pounder, a 44-pounder and numerous blue catfish in the 20-pound range in the last week. Crosby said having fresh bait is the key and he has been able to round up plenty of skipjack herring for his guide trips of late.
“I prefer to target trophy catfish, so most of my tackle is outfitted with two hook rigs,” he said. “That’s a hook in the head and a trailer hook in the tail on a fresh 8 – 10 inch skipjack. I use 8/0 Gamakatsu circle hooks with a slider for my sinker like a slip slider. Typically, I use 6- to 8-ounce weights to keep the bait on the bottom in a moderate current.”
Crosby keeps a yearly log of his cat fishing trips and looks forward to the coming of the fall bite, which typically provides the best water, and the best weather for catching good catfish.
“Most of the dikes come out of the water at Vicksburg at about 14 feet, but they’re all out at 12 feet,” said Crosby. “Right now, we’re about 6 feet with almost steady water so it’s no trouble to fish the scour holes at the end of the dikes and that’s where we catch the big, big fish. We catch big fish all the time but it seems like those scour holes at the end of the dikes is where we catch those 40, 50+ pound fish.”
Looking forward, Crosby predicts the bite will only get better from now until big blue cats start getting finicky as the spawn approaches in the spring.
“They’ll bite all through the fall and even during the cold of winter,” he said. “We might have to bundle up, but you warm up pretty quick fighting big catfish.”
Article on www.meridianstar.com, November 15, 2013
“Cumberland lands monster blue catfish” by Michael O. Giles
Photo by Mike O. Giles
Cumberland lands monster blue catfish
Blue catfish bite should be hot all winter
Johnny Cumberland landed this shark-size blue catfish on the Mississippi River while fishing with Capt. Bob Crosby and Mike Giles on a recent trip near Vicksburg.
Have you ever caught a big fish? I mean a really big trophy. Big is sometimes relative when you’re talking about fish. A big bream might weigh a pound, a big bass may weigh eight pounds plus, and a big catfish say 20 pounds. Catching bream, bass and catfish on rod and reel combos is challenging and fun indeed. But have you ever thought about catching a catfish as big as a man? I know I haven’t, but then again, I’m not Bob Crosby.
Crosby is the King of the Blue Cat Guides on the Muddy Mississippi at Vicksburg. It’s no contest; Crosby is just that good at locating and catching monster blue cats, and with rod and reel no less. I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Big Muddy with Crosby and Johnny Cumberland in search of a monster cat.
They say the proof of the pudding is in the tasting and I wanted to sample a bit of Bob Crosby’s magic on the river, so we quickly set up a trip.
“Mike, I’ve been fishing the river about 10 years now and I’ve learned a few things about catching monster cats, as well as how and where to catch them,” Crosby said. “We have a lot of days when we’ll catch a few in the 20 to 30 pound range and occasionally a 40 pounder.”
While many people catch big cats on trotlines and jugs around the country, few do it Crosby’s way and I couldn’t wait to try my hand at catching one on a rod and reel. As Crosby launched his boat and we headed upriver towards a honey hole, the eastern sky burst out in a brilliant array of pink, orange and blue, as the morning sun rose, illuminating the shimmering water’s surface.
We weren’t in heaven, but it seemed mighty close.
Crosby graphed the bottom as we arrived at our first hole and the LCR lit up with big fish right along a 40 foot ledge. Crosby anchored in 40 feet and we prepared to catch a cat.
“Mike, we’ll anchor here and fish in 70 feet of water, that’s where the big ones live and feed,” said Crosby. A few minutes later we pitched out a few skipjacks and let them drift down to the bottom.
Wham- one of the rods almost tore out of the rod holder as a big cat took the bait. I reared back on the rod and drove the steel hook deep into the jaws of a big cat. A few minutes later, Crosby netted my first blue of the day, a nice 17 pounder.
Johnny Cumberland wasted little time as he tied into a big cat of his own, almost the size of the one I’d landed. Crosby quickly released both fish and we continued to catch and release more blues, while waiting on that big one.
Bam! Zzzzzz, zzzzzzzz screamed the casting reel as something crushed a skipjack and dove for the bottom. Cumberland set the hook and held on for dear life, as the monster cat stripped off line. Seconds, turned to minutes and it was obvious this was no ordinary cat. Could it be that a shark had come up the Mississippi from the Gulf? Probably not, but the fish was fighting like a monster shark, and Cumberland just battled with all of his might.
After what seemed like an eternity the water erupted and a massive catfish wallowed on the surface. It was still nip and tuck and Cumberland and Crosby had a big problem, the shark sized catfish was too big for the net!
Crosby finally worked the huge net under the tail of the fish and we grabbed hold and hoisted the trophy cat into the boat. The big blue weighed nearly 70 pounds and was almost too big for Crosby’s hand held digital scales.
Article in Mississippi Sportsman Magazine, February 2011
“ Big Blues on the Big Muddy” by John J. Woods
Big Blues on the Big Muddy
Fishing for catfish in the winter on the Mississippi River? OK, nobody in their right minds would go after trophy-class record-book blue catfish on the Mississippi River, especially in the winter. No?
Well, you obviously have not been introduced to Bob Crosby of Madison and his catfishing buddy Bill Conlee of Pocahontas. And we’re not just talking about catching big catfish here either. These guys want the state-record catfish in the boat and in the record book. That’s a tall order indeed.
“Yep, if you want to catch the big ones which we do, you’ll be out on the big river when the ice is on. We’re after the state record catfish rod and reel. The state record is 95 pounds caught by Dakota Hinson in March of 2009. So far, we have landed a 90-pounder caught by Bill,” said Bob Crosby.
These guys are slowly creeping up on the record.
“2006 was a good year,” Crosby said. “I caught a 58-pound flathead. The state record for that catfish is 65 pounds on a rod and reel.
“We catch and release all the big fish we land. It would be a crime to kill anything that old. If we put back a really big fish, it should continue to grow and gain even more weight. That way then we could have the chance to catch it again on another fishing trip.
“Obviously we try to pick rough and tough fishing gear for our state-record blue cat quest,” Bob Crosby said. This means the toughest line we can get. Our choice is a braided line in the 80-to 100-pound-test range. This is awful tough line, but it is not because of the weight or pull of the fish, but due to the conditions of the Mississippi River.”
The river is brutal on fishing line, Bill Conlee said.
“When you fish on the Big Muddy, you have to recognize all the trash floating under the surface of the water and also all the treacherous structure on the bottom,” he said. “ Line can snag on a dozen different sharp surfaces that will abrade or cut a less quality fishing line in a New York minute. This is why we use such a tough line.”
Their terminal rigs are straightforward, according to Crosby.
“The rigs we use start with a 8/0 circle hook,” he said. “To that we add a 6- to 8- ounce sinker. That’s pretty heavy, but again we are fishing fast and furious river currents and trying to lay down baits into deep holes. It takes a good amount of weight to send the bait down to the bottom as quickly as possible without letting the current drift it out too far.”
The anglers use Ambassador 6000 reels and fairly stiff rods in the 71/2- to 8-foot range. They need resilient fishing gear that will hold up to river fishing.
“Heck, in theory any fish we return to the dark waters of the Big Muddy could turn out to be the next state record.
The duo hasn’t always fished the mother of all rivers, according to Conlee.
“We started out on this journey by first jug fishing the Barnett Reservoir,” he said. “We caught lots of fish, but we came to be interested in catching bigger and bigger fish via rod and reel. Other methods never really interested us. We wanted to catch the really big ones using classic fishing tackle more or less the hard way.”
Both anglers came to the realization that it was a whole lot more fun and productive on the really big fish to fish the deep holes with rod and reel. This has taken plenty of time and effort along with tons of trial and error.
They are beginning to nail down some patterns, but don’t even bother asking where they fish on the Big Muddy exactly. Their favorite locations to drop a bait in some of the regular cat holding holes are held tight to the vest. It’s a competitive thing. After all, these guys have their goals set on the state record. They are not about to give out too many details on their quest.
“We fish from a 19-foot center-console Nordic fishing boat with a 150-horsepower Yamaha engine,” Conlee said. “Years ago we started out with a much smaller outfit, but quickly learned a bigger boat with plenty of power was needed to combat the currents on the Mississippi River."
Certain sections of the river seem more productive than others, Crosby said. “Bill and I fish different stretches of the Mississippi including Tunica, Greenville, and the Vicksburg area,” he said. “Probably our favorite areas to fish are the Port Gibson part of the river. We do use a GPS to mark locations sometimes, but over time we have learned to catalog the land features on shore. So long as they don’t change, we know right where to go to find our best holes.
“We like the river conditions in the winter months, because the river is usually lower and the water clarity is greater. Deep-water catfishing is best when the river water level has stabilized. We rarely go if there is a pending fast rise or fall of the river stage. We monitor the Vicksburg gauge regularly to know what is going on. The best river level for our type of fishing is when the gauge hits the 25-foot mark.”
When fishing, these guys rely heavily on their depth finder to keep up with how deep the holes are. They typically fish holes that are 60 to 80 feet deep. They consistently let out 70 to 100 feet of line in water depths ranging from 40 to 100 feet.
The anglers use two different methods on the big river including trolling along at the speed of the river currents or anchoring in a safe spot lining up the boat so they can fish off the back end. Having tried both styles at different times on the river, they have come to learn that anchor fishing has consistently been the more productive method to use.
When they rig out the boat for fishing, they use up to four rods deployed at one time. More than that gets a bit testy, especially if more than one fish gets hooked at a time. Having two or three catfish of 20-plus pounds on multiple hooks at one time is definitely a handful of action.
But there’s never a guarantee that the fish will bite.
“Even when we think we’ve done everything right, there are still days we fish most of an entire day and still never catch anything,” Conlee said.
“Some days these big cats just simply do not bite anything we throw at them.”
Still, these two guys would rather be out on the river chasing down record-book blue cats than just about anything else. Even in the cold, dead of winter.