To a river trotliner, water means current and current means catfish. Right now anglers who choose to use this time-tested and highly challenging method for catching catfish have plenty of both, especially downstream from any of Mississippi’s major reservoirs.

Catfishermen who choose to fish with trotlines are a breed apart from other anglers. That’s the way Albert Fortenberry of New Hebron likes it. Fortenberry grew up fishing for catfish in the Pearl River, some 60 miles south of Ross Barnett Reservoir.

“The river has been low all summer because any water we get is dictated by the reservoir upstream,” Fortenberry said, “when they start releasing water up there, we get it down here, and that’s better for fishing.”

Fortenberry uses two basic setups for trotlining. The first is to string a line, consisting of up to 200 pound test cord with 25 – 50 droppers with 3/0 – 5/0 circle hooks, between two trees or stumps. The other setup is a drop line. He ties one end to a tree, stretches it out, puts about 10 hooks in the middle, ties it off with a heavy weight, and drops it in the middle of the river.  

Fortenberry’s style of trotlining can be fished on a standard sport license. A commercial license is not needed unless fishing more than 100 hooks in aggregate or to sell fish caught on trotlines. It’s plenty of work, and fun, only 100 hooks at a time.

“You can catch plenty enough to eat with just one line,” he said. “But, if you want to have a bigger fish fry or stock your freezer, you can fish 2 to 3 days and nights.

Fortenberry typically fishes alone, but like other anglers will sometimes get together with a group to run lines.

“A lot of times, if we want to fish hard, we’ll stay and camp and we’ll run out trotlines two or three times a night,” he said. “If you do that and keep fresh bait on your lines every 3 hours, you’ll catch a lot of fish, but it will wear you out.”

Fortenberry uses any kind of live bait he can find. His favorite is a locally caught spottail minnow. He also likes crawfish, Catawba worms and pond perch.

His prize is typically flathead catfish, locally referred to as “motleys.”

“Once they lay all their eggs and sit on them for a while, and the hot summer starts to run out, we always seem to have really good luck this time of the year in the black nights on a new moon,” he said.