The surface was still on Ross Barnett Reservoir. I wondered how the view of the boat's wake appeared to the passengers of an airliner as it banked for the final approach into Jackson-Evers International.

The plane was still descending when James Cushman throttled back and made a sharp right turn out of the main channel into an open area where orange jugs dotted the water.

One of the jugs was bobbing up and down at a steady rate, indicating a good catfish had taken the bait and was still quite lively.

"Cold is a matter of perspective," said Cushman as he peeled off the lightweight cotton gloves that protected his hands on this 50-degree morning. "The water cools much slower than the air or the land; then in the spring it takes longer to warm up.

"People don't think a thing about coming out in the spring when the water is 55 degrees but the air temperature is in the high 60s. So why don't they come when the water is the same temperature or warmer and the air is a little cooler? The fish are in the water - they only care what the water (temperature) is."

Using a hook made for catching chickens in the poultry industry, Cushman snags the line below the jug and begins to fight an 18-pound blue cat into the boat. He hoists the cat and grins broadly.

"That's what it's all about isn't it," he said.

As the sun set the night before, we had baited and cast 50 floating jugs - 25 for each of us. In legal fishing vernacular, they are called free-floating fishing devices, or FFFDs.

Each had a hunk of cut shad saved from summer outings and frozen for use at times such as these. Anglers are restricted to 25 jugs, each of which can have no more than two hooks.

State lakes and state park lakes do not allow jug fishing, trotlines. Consult the 2012-2013 Mississippi Outdoor Digest for a list of those areas where FFFDs are not allowed.

As the morning warmed under bluebird skies, the chill diminished and shirtsleeves felt more comfortable than the mid-weight jackets we had started the morning wearing.

It was a good morning; we found every jug and boated a mixed bag of 26 blue and channel cats. The largest was a solid 22-pound blue, the smallest a 3-pound channel.

It would make a lot of people happy to have fresh catfish fillets.

"The secret is to cast the jugs away from the main channel, but where wind and current will carry them across the pits and ditches that cover the bottom here." Cushman said. "I've been fishing this area for the past 15 years and have never been skunked."

But that might be because he picks his fishing days carefully.

"I believe the best time to winter fish here is about two to three days after a cold front has passed through," Cushman said. "The wind usually switches to light and southerly, and the air warms up a little. That makes one or two days out of a week as ideal times."

Past the autumn equinox, fewer multi-functional sportsmen are on the water. Most opt to be in a tree or a shoot-house or perhaps a duck blind. Cushman is no different, opting to hunt whitetails during the peak of the rut in central Mississippi.

When he's catfishing, the jugs Cushman uses are made from plastic motor-oil bottles painted bright orange with a strip of reflective red tape attached so they can be seen more easily at night. My FFFDs were crafted of swimming noodles and PVC pipe. All carried single hooks set at depths of 8 to 12 feet.

Cushman uses a 4/0 stainless steel J hook, while mine looked like an assortment from the bottom of a flea market tackle box.

I can see a remake in my future, as Cushman's simplistic approach out caught fish 2-1 over mine.

"Every year we try to use a cast net and catch as many shad as we can when they are thick below the spillway," Cushman said. "When we have a good number left over, they go into a freezer bag and into the freezer. Then at those times when the shad are difficult to find, we have a backup supply

"I've used chicken liver, beef liver, deer liver, even big live shiners and goldfish. They all catch fish, and the live shiners will get a flathead for you. A good sized bluegill makes a good flathead bait, as well."

By noon the fish were on ice, the boat was loaded and lunch at Tommy's Trading Post was being enjoyed. There was still time to get a shower, dress in camo and spend a few hours in a little hardwood flat near home.

State lakes and state park lakes across Mississippi are stocked with channel catfish. As fishing pressure goes, these fish probably see the least pressure in the lake.

That being said, the month of November is a perfect time to grab a rod and reel, and ply the lake waters for cats.

Donnie Stuart of Pelahatchie is pastor of Rock Bluff Baptist Church and takes the charge to feed his flock very seriously. Every year he buys a pickup load of sweet potatoes to give to church members. He does the same with 5-gallon containers of ice cream, boiled peanuts - and when the catfish are biting, the members are treated to heaps of fried catfish filets.

Some of the ladies are more than happy to augment the meal with slaw and baked beans.

"The secret to catching winter catfish is to find the depth where Mr. Whiskers is the happiest," Stuart explained. "I can tell you that in early November he is starting to get into deeper water.

"The good thing is where you find one, you're likely going to find a whole flock."

Stuart is a fan of tight-lining, fishing right on the bottom. He starts on ledges and steps adjacent to deeper water.

Having fished Shadow Lake at Roosevelt State Park all his life, and more recently Prentiss Walker Lake near Mize, Stuart has a good idea where to start looking.

At both lakes, he will start near the swimming areas and work toward deeper water. Then, if these options don't produce, he moves to the fish attractors placed in each lake and fishes the water column from the bottom up.

From here he moves to the coves and works shallow to deep, before trolling along the dams, using the same technique.

"A lot of things like a big glob of earthworms, and I've caught every kind of fish these lakes have on worms," said Stuart. "Stink baits or cut bait will cut down on the game fish caught, but my folks like fish, no matter what it is or how it's caught."

Stuart said he makes a catfish bait of hotdogs cut in sections and soaked in cod liver oil and garlic. He buys whatever hotdogs are on sale -usually the cheaper red ones - cuts the dogs into four equal parts and places them in a kitchen storage bag. He then adds the garlic juice or garlic salt, or garlic powder and cod liver oil.

For each package of hot dogs he adds two tablespoons of the garlic and a cup of cod liver oil.

Unused bait can be frozen for future use.

"Catfish do start to slow down a little as the water gets colder," said Jerry Brown, a fisheries biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. "And just like other big fish, a big catfish wants a big meal. If it is going to expend energy to eat, it wants the most bang for the buck, so to speak."

Brown said a catfish is a living, swimming tongue, with all sorts of food receptors. That means the more the bait stinks, the more they like it.

Being able to match natural food in the size they want and favor may be a little tricky.

State lakes usually only have channel cats, which will take stink baits quickly. The popular flathead is found in rivers and favors deeper holes and live bait. Remember, the bigger the bait - be it a shad, a shiner or a sunfish - the bigger the catfish that will eat it.

Brown recommended finding the natural creeks or ditches near structure in the smaller lakes because that is where the baitfish will be, which means the predator fish will not be far away.

He also agreed with Stuart's technique of tight-lining.

Both men said a 20- to 30-pound-test monofilament line matched to a medium-heavy rod is the best choice.

Brown stressed one very important point: As water cools the danger of hypothermia becomes very real. There also are fewer boaters are on the water, so help may not be very close or quick in responding if an angler ends up in the water.

"Wear an approved life jacket, and let someone know where you are and what time to expect you home," Brown said. "But more especially, use common sense, don't take risks and live to fish another day."

The weather of November can be like a fickle lover - warm and gentle one minute, cold and cruel the next. So you might need shorts sleeves and sunscreen, or parkas and wool flannel.

But the fish will be there.