Christine Flores, The Daily Review Outdoor Writer John Flores' wife, displays a good springtime catch.
The Daily Review/John Flores
John Flores: May is a great time for catfishing
One thing about trying not to be an “old stick in the mud” is I’ve been able to enjoy some adventures in this life, where the memories to this day continue to bring me great joy. By contrast “being” an old stick in the mud has also brought some joy as well.
For example, when I start seeing those boats on anchor beneath the bridges in Berwick Bay that join Morgan City and Berwick at the hip, I know it’s time to go catfishing. It’s something I’ve seen every April and May since becoming a resident of St. Mary Parish back in 1984.
The thing about it is, I don’t even have to set the clock, mark the calendar, or do a web search for when the best time to go catfishing. Call it set in my ways, but I’ve learned those folks anchored below tell me are all I need to know when it comes time. I’ve never queried them, but I have a sneaking suspicion, like me, they’re old stick in the muds too, because they are there at the same time and same place each year.
So let’s get down to it. What’s it take to catch a few catfish? Though a boat is helpful if you happen to own one, there are quite a few places where the public can fish without one here in the parish.
The obvious locations are the river fronts on both the Morgan City and Berwick wharfs. And, though the water has been high and over the wharf on the Morgan City side of the river, you can still slip on a pair of knee boots to make a few casts until it falls later this spring.
Another location is at the Berwick boat landing just past Johnny’s Seafood off River Road. There’s plenty of space to cast into the river, where cat fishermen regularly catch themselves enough to eat during a morning outing.
However, if you do have a boat your chances of catching a good mess of catfish increase dramatically. Down river from the Berwick Boat Landing there’s Fools Point. A little further down, on the south side of Bateman Island in the deeper waters of Bayou Shaffer, catfishing can be good. And, Chicken Island Pass or pretty much the mouth of any bayou, canal, or tributary that meets the Atchafalaya River below Berwick you’ll catch catfish.
I’ve caught catfish in the Calumet Spillway from Wax Lake to the Wax Delta. You can catch Catfish in and around any of the tidal tributaries and trenasses near Belle Isle Lake that empty into the Atchafalaya Bay.
West of the Calumet Spillway catfishing can be good in Little Beach Bayou, Big Beach Bayou and the mouth of Hog Bayou as you get into East Cote Blanche Bay. North of Burns Point Landing and Campground is the British- American Canal that produces plenty of catfish. And, further west is the Humble Canal. I’ve caught nice messes of catfish in both of these long canals.
What’s interesting about our region is the amount of fresh water we get annually each spring. The past three out of five springs have seen freshwater at flood stage, lasting well into summer before it falls. That fresh water often slows the saltwater fishing along the coast, where catfishing is better generally speaking.
Catfishing is a leisurely pursuit in most cases. There is no running around chunking lures at specific targets, but there are tactics that are required even sitting on anchor. One is, catfish like moving water just like other sport fish do. So, watch your tides if you’re fishing the coastline and look for falling conditions in those aforementioned locations.
You’ll be tight-lining while sitting on anchor, so weighting your drop hook will require matching the speed of the tide (current) with the right weight. I carry a variety from ½ ounce to 4 ounce teardrop or pyramid sinkers. Four ounce may seem heavy, but drop a line in 30 to 40 feet of water along a bend in the Atchafalaya River and you’ll be surprised how much weight it takes to hold it on the bottom.
Skinnier water, like narrow no name bayous and some tranasses, may only require ¾ ounce weights. Again, it all depends on the conditions as some tides fall harder than others.
Like many anglers, I strictly use drop rigs when fishing for catfish. They’re cheap, practical, and catch fish without having to do a lot of knot tying. For hook size I like a No. 1/0 or 2/0 O’ Shaughnessy. The 1/0 is strong enough to hold big blue catfish and small enough for those 12 inch long catfish to get their mouths around. Note, most people prefer the small ones.
So, what kind of catfish in May? It all depends. Blue catfish can handle higher concentrations of salinity and are found closer to the coast. They also tend to like deeper water. Channel catfish are usually found in slightly fresher water and prefer skinny bayous. Along much of St. Mary’s coast are both species, so it’s not uncommon to mop up on both in the right hole.
In the Atchafalaya Basin, around the lakes and bayous, I have found most of the catfish are channel cats.
Everyone has their preferred baits. Probably saltwater shrimp, hands down, have caught more catfish than any other bait around these parts. But, other baits include freshwater shrimp – if you can find them – night crawler worms, and cut baits like mullet, shad, or perch. Some anglers prefer bloody baits like nutria livers and beef melt. And, still others buy commercial stink baits that I haven’t ever had good success with compared to these aforementioned others.
Catfishing doesn’t require expensive gear, although there are serious anglers in all fishing. Just keep it simple. Most any six to six and a half foot long rod and reel combination – spinning or closed face – you can catch catfish with. Try to use at least 10 pound test line; braided or monofilament. And, try not to over complicate things.
The important thing is, fishing is always an adventure, particularly when kids are involved. And, whether you’re an old stick in the mud or not, the month of May is the perfect time to get out on the water to catch some spring catfish while they’re running.