And to hear him tell it, his happiest months of the year are April, May and June because that's when the channel cats start backing up into the myriad cracks and crevices along Pickwick's multitude of craggy rock banks.
"Catfish are crevice spawners," said the renowned catfish guide (662-286-8644). "They've got to back up in a hole to deposit their eggs. And there's usually only one way in and one way out.
"That's why noodling is so popular. Once they get back in those holes and cracks, they're trapped."
What happens at Pickwick Lake is that channel cats start staging along the channel drops from 8 to 10 feet of water once the water hits 65 degrees. From there, they quickly move onto drop offs along all those crags anywhere from 0 to 15 feet of water, where the females will back up into any little crack or crevice they can find.
All the smaller males fight for breeding rights and to help protect the fry for a number of days after the hatch. Then they go off to find other females in other holes.
"And they just keep doing that for three months," King said. "They're kind of like a buck deer because they'll lose 30 to 40 percent of their body weight, and get all bruised and cut up during this time.
"It's a pretty ferocious cycle for the male fish."
But after the female lays her eggs, she's done until the next full moon. She may drop two or three rounds of eggs to make sure Mother Nature gets at least one good hatch out of the bunch. And, according to King, she's not going to have any trouble finding another crack in which to spawn at Pickwick Lake.
Starting at the dam, there is craggy rock bank all up and down Pickwick Lake. But the best areas for catching catfish are those spots that have something different that stands out. King says catfish could spawn in any of the cracks and crevices, but that they could also spawn behind boulders under the water and points that stick out from a rock bank.
"But the ones that are the absolute best are the banks that have shelves on them," King commented. "You can't see them when the water level is up, but when they pull the pool down say 6 feet or so, you can see those shelves under washed-out rocks. They get under those, too."
Even to untrained eyes, finding the cracks and crevices along a rock wall is pretty easy because the bank below the water generally looks exactly like the bank above it. Therefore, interested anglers searching for spots where catfish might spawn only need to look for rock banks with cracks and crevices above the water.
Those little spots above the water soon turn into bigger spots under the water. According to King, most of these cracks and crevices are only 4 to 6 inches wide; however, they can be as deep as 4 feet. And, generally speaking, these cracks and crevices get wider as they go deeper into the water.
"Those cracks are really good, but also pay attention to spots above the water where you see a big chunk missing out of the bank," King suggested. "Those spots indicate where a big boulder has fallen over the years, so you know there's a boulder that you can't see lying somewhere under the water."
King pointed out the Yellow Creek area as having a lot of these kinds of spots where catfish can spawn. Also, out on the main lake from Yellow Creek to the Pickwick Dam there are lots of craggy rock banks to the left and the right.
Since catfish will also spawn along the manmade revetment walls right below the Pickwick Dam, anglers could spend just about all their time within about a five- or six-mile zone below the dam and expect to find good craggy rock banks where catfish can spawn.
Fishing for spawning catfish in the cracks and crevices along the craggy rock banks is as simple as pulling up to a likely spot, dropping in a bait for a minute or two, and then getting on the trolling motor to head to the next likely spot.
King feels like catfish backed into their spawning holes bite both out of protection and hunger. Spawning males, especially that are sitting in the hole protecting fry, don't generally go out searching for something to eat, and the only way they're going to bite anything is if it comes directly in front of their faces.
"They're not going to leave those fry after they hatch," King said. "So I imagine a lot of it has to do with them not wanting to pass up an easy meal. That's why you really don't need anything other than night crawlers for fishing this way."
King typically gears up with a Cabela's Fish Eagle spinning rod and reel combo with a slip bobber so he can adjust the depth from a foot down to 10 or 12 feet, depending on whether they're still staging or actually locked into the middle of their spawn.
"All I do is thread about half a night crawler on a No. 1 Daiichi circle hook and pitch it right up there to the crevice in the rocks," King went on. "I let it sit there maybe 30 seconds before I pull it out, because if he's in there he's going to grab it.
"Sometimes you can see waves coming out from the bank, and you know he's coming after that night crawler to nail it."
One trick that King frequently uses is to tie about a 1-foot leader below a 1/4-ounce sinker. When he pitches this rig out, the weight forces his cork to stand straight up. Then the worm just kind of lazily flutters down and falls that extra 12 inches really naturally.
"A lot of times they'll hit it before the worm ever settles down below the weight," King noted. "This way, you're just kind of teasing them with the worm in their faces because you know they're in that crevice, and this will make them bite."
It's not unusual for King to catch four or five catfish out of the same crack or crevice, and he generally catches males and females as long as they are both still in there.
King went on to say that this bite is typically best from daylight to about 10 a.m. and again from 3 p.m. until dark. Action between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. is slow, and the fish are few and far between.
"I think they shut down in the middle of the day just because they don't like that light in their eyes," King said. "During these hours, they must go way back up in those cracks where the best shade is - kind of like a bass does when he's in your livewell."
Although he has used his big-fish knowledge to win national catfish championships, King pointed out that these spawning channel catfish are more about the action they provide and the fillets they put on the table than their size.
"I generally catch them anywhere from a pound to 7 or 8 pounds," he finished. "Occasionally, we'll get a 10- or 12-pound fish, and the river below the dam has more 10-, 12- and 14-pound channel cats than we've ever seen here the last few years.
"And it seems like I catch better fish in April when they first move to the edge of the drops - a lot of 4- to 6-pound fish. But as we move on into May and June they get quite a bit smaller."
There's no doubt, though, that May is the peak month for catching spawning channel cats from the craggy rock bank cracks and crevices. They may not be giants, but if it's fast action and a fish fry you're looking for, Pickwick Lake is the place to get it done during May.
And when a 6-pound channel cat works your spinning rod over double, you'll learn why May is King's happiest time of the year as you laugh your way down the lake.
Contact Phil King at www.h2ow.com/catfish/ or call (662) 286-8644.