Editor’s Note: The sixth stop on our year-long Catfish Hotspots tour takes us to the heart of the state and Barnett Reservoir, where one family has found juggin’ as the best way to catch fish.
Catfish anglers come in all shapes and sizes, though none are any cuter than Madelyn Ready. Madelyn is a catfish princess and during the summer, she and her dad Corey Ready catch plenty of the whiskered fish from Barnett Reservoir, a.k.a. “The Rez.”
No rod and reels are needed. The Readys prefer to catch their catfish by running jug lines. Jug fishing — juggin’ — is great fun and a productive way to catch catfish.
The anticipation of what might be lurking on the next line is as exciting as watching a rod tip bend over and jug fishing offers a camaraderie that is seldom matched in other outdoor pursuits.
“I got into jug fishing probably about eight years ago,” said Corey Ready. “Fell in love with it ever since. There is really no trick or trade to it. You can make it as complicated as you want or as simple as you want.
“Basically, all you need to have fun with your family is something that floats, a hook, line and some bait. It don’t matter what kind of bait, they’ll bite anything at different times of the day.”
Ready was more than happy to share some of his favorite hotspots for readers of Mississippi Sportsman. He encourages anglers to share their catfishing experiences with friends and family, enjoying the resource that is The Rez.
It should be noted up front that Barnett Reservoir has rules and regulations regarding fishing with free-floating fishing devices (FFFD), including many areas of the 33,000-acre lake that are closed to any kind of fishing with either set trotlines or FFFDs. You can find a copy of the regulation with this story.
1. Pelahatchie Shore Park
GPS: N 32 23.610 / W 90 01.616
Like any of the access points on Barnett Reservoir, Ready picks Pelahatchie Shore Park because it’s close and convenient. Although the launch is within a large area — that part of Pelahatchie Bay south of the navigation channel — that is closed to juggin’, Ready said it is a good ramp to access his list of hotspots and serves as a base to his circuit all over the lake. From there, he can make adjustments.
“You’ll know if they’re biting or not pretty quick,” said Ready. “If they’re not, don’t be scared to pick them up and move. Change your depth, change your bait.
“We’re going to put in here at the Pelahatchie Bay, we’re going to go across and fish the big water over towards the Natchez Trace. That way it forces us come back through here. We’ll have a few in the bay, a few in the big water and we can start to see a pattern.”
The frequency of checking your jugs is determined by the time of year and the bait you’re using.
“If you put them out and they’re biting, don’t leave them,” he said. “You’ll have smaller catfish that will rob your bait. I’ve seen people put them out overnight, usually with live bait just wanting to catch a couple big fish. If you’re fishing with worms or little cut bait, something that will come off the hook easy, you probably shouldn’t leave them long because they’re just going to be sitting out there with a hook in the water and no bait.”
2. Found Rabbit
GPS: N 32 27.776/ W 90 02.708
Hotspot No. 2 features a little deeper water and a lot more structure for catfish to hold around. The coordinates mark a section of an old roadbed. Ready prefers to fish the deeper water in the daylight but may move in closer at night when catfish of all three available species will move in closer to feed.
“What we’re fishing over here is where the natural river used to run through,” he said. “This is where the original Natchez Trace bed used to run, so you have a rock gravel bed that gives the fish structure to hide behind current, things like that.”
Ready prefers to fish closer to the shoreline at or after dark, when catfish will move out of the structure to shallower feeding spots along the bank.
“Along the natural bank is just good natural habitat for the fish,” said Ready. “It falls off and gets deep quick. You have deep shafts up against the bank, but probably about 100 yards out, you get up to 4 or 5 feet. It gives the fish, flatheads, blues, and channel catfish, a place to come out and feed when they’re not actually in the river channel.”
Note: Know your exact location when fishing this area. There is a cove — known locally as Twin Harbors — between Found Rabbit (north) and the developed Lost Rabbit (south) that has a marked boat channel. South of a line between the last channel marker on that channel across the lake to Fannin Landing, no jugging is allowed all the way to the dam.
3. Treetop Field
GPS: N 32 29.174 / W 89 59.860
The next stop on the jug circuit is outside the marked channel in the mid-lake section of The Rez. In this area, Ready mainly targets flathead catfish. Live bait is best for flatheads and shad or bream make the best baits. He’ll go in right before dark, put out his jugs, then collect them early the next morning. Other times, he may spend all night fishing the trees. Navigation at night is a safety concern, so caution should be used running in the trees.
“The water gets deep here out in the trees,” said Ready. “The river channel runs through this particular area so you have all the natural habitat to draw fish. When you’re going through your stump fields, it’s the same as crappie fishing. Where you see crappie, you’re going to see catfish.”
Unlike the first few spots, wind is not as much a concern in spot No. 4. Ready’s probably not going to stay with them on a windy night, preferring to check his lines the next morning.
“You don’t necessarily have to worry about the wind if it picks up on the big reservoir,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about the wind blowing the jugs into the bank, just let them fish all night here. You can set your jugs out, come back and get them early in the morning. You will harvest a big fish when you’re fishing like this in these river areas.”
4. Brown’s Landing
GPS: N 32 31.164 / W 89 57.801
Ready describes Hotspot No. 4, which is along Mississippi Highway 43 not far from Brown’s Landing, as a no-brainer. It’s the main channel that feeds into the waterfowl refuge area of the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area. Waterfowl managers use pumps to move water in and out of the refuge.
That’s like ringing the dinner bell for catfish.
“When they pump that water out, it brings out the bugs,” Ready said. “It’s bringing out the different natural bait that bait fish will eat and, in turn, catfish eat the bait.”
Throwing out jugs from the shoreline is an option with a northerly wind. The jugs push down the lake straight across a flat and the channel coming out of the refuge.
“If you ever have a north wind coming out, this is an excellent spot to put jugs in, right off the side of this bridge because it’s just a natural feeding place for them,” Ready said. “They’ll start crossing the river bed, so it just gives you way more travel time for your fishing. You generally will catch a large volume of fish in this vicinity. It starts out in this particular area. It’s about 5 foot deep but if you let the jugs go several hundred yards, it drops off deeper.”
Pumping schedules vary with the water levels in the refuge. In rainy times, the refuge fills up and they pump it out.
“It just depends on the rain,” Ready said. “ If you travel around this area, you cross over the bridge, you’ll see when it starts flooding their fields and they’ll cut the pumps on. Then it’s time to go fishing.”
5. Marker No. 35
GPS: N 32 29.514 / W 89 57.657
Heading due south from Turcotte, the next Hotspot on the list is the edge of the main Pearl River channel that winds through Ross Barnett. In this location it gets curvy, and that’s an ideal place for catfish to congregate.
“The edge of the channel is about 10 feet on the flats and inside the channel itself the depth goes down to 20 or 22 feet,” he said. “Blue cats will hang on the edge of that drop.”
The GPS mark will put you centrally within the area. The channel itself is easy to find and follow due to its proximity to channel markers in the area along the curves. Your jugs must not cross into the marked channel, however.
Mississippi and Barnett Reservoir laws prohibit juggin’ in marked boat channels.
“Depending on if and how much current is flowing through the lake, catfish will hold tight to the edge or move out over the channel,” Ready said. “The more current, the tighter to the curves they’ll hold.”
6. Four Trees
GPS: N 32 27.300 / W 90 00.362
Working back towards Pelahatchie Bay, Hotspot No. 6 is a shallow water, natural habitat area. It is easy to spot from the boat channel because four small cypress trees stand out in the open water. It is north of but very close to a stumpy area that local fishermen refer to as “the saw dust pile” where an old saw mill existed.
Most of the cover is on the bank, with a gentle slope out into the lake.
“This is an excellent place to fish simply because you start off the bank,” said Ready. “The water levels taper out from basically no water depth and it gives you a long range, almost a mile, of gentle slope —1 foot, 2 feet, 3 feet, 4 feet, 5 feet, all the way up to 12 feet of water before you get into the channel. The key is finding what depth the catfish are in.”
Since this is mostly a channel cat and small blue catfish area, numbers of fish are not hard to come by. If, for instance, catfish are holding at 5 feet, Ready will motor along that range, baiting and re-baiting jug lines. It can be some fast action chasing down bobbing jugs.
“Once you find your depth in here in the shallow flats, you’ll have a bank that teeters out about 4 feet or better. You will catch them,” said Ready. “If the wind is blowing hard out of one side, you can come over here and fish with the wind. It’s good scenery. Bring your family; they can play around — no stumps, just good fishing.”
7. Causeway (At Night)
N 32 23.696 / W 90 01.577
Back at the entrance to Pelahatchie Bay, the North Shore Parkway causeway is an obvious place to fish due to the sheer amount of riprap on the structure. This rock attracts baitfish but boating traffic during the day can make summer jug fishing difficult. It’s for this reason Ready prefers to fish here at night.
“You need to only fish this spot at night because of the daytime recreational boating,” said Ready. “Turn your lights on. Along both sides is a steep drop off so you can fish deep. During the summer catfish will be here at night eating bugs and smaller baitfish.”
Because the upper end of the causeway becomes a marked boat channel, juggin’ is only allowed on the end closest to the causeway’s bridge.
Ready advises not to make the mistake of fishing all of your jugs in one location along the causeway. This is an area where Ready and his buddies like to do a catfish “poker run” —numbering the jugs, use different colors or draw numbers to see which jug will catch the biggest catfish.
“Don’t cluster your jugs here; string they all the way down the causeway (south of the marked channel). It’s a mile stretch,” he said. “You can play poker jugs. See who can catch the biggest fish. Poker juggin’ is just like five-card draw. You basically number your jugs. Put out five. Whichever one catches the biggest fish wins. You could just play choose a number; the sky’s the limit with jug fishing. Have your buddies with you. You can enjoy the night. Listen to the radio. It’s a fun spot to fish.”
8. Eagle’s Nest
GPS: N 32 23.920 / W 89 59.568
Mississippi law protects a 100-yard courtesy zone from jug fishing around residential areas. Hotspot No. 8 would have had this protection had the residential development here come to fruition, according to Ready.
“This location was planned to be a development for a subdivision years ago, and a seawall was built in some areas, but it never was developed,” he said. “Then a bald eagle nested here and they turned it into a protected habitat (until it is developed). That in turn has made a paradise for fishing people like us. The seawall holds the embankment back.
“We still have different runoffs and drains that were originally going to be designed for the subdivision. There’s also a natural creek that runs through this entire area.”
Ready said it’s a great place to jug because it is from the wind on days when the big water is too rough. He and his family also love to get back in the area and experience the natural scenery and wildlife.
“You can come back here anytime, doesn’t matter which way the wind is blowing, north, south, east or west,” he said. “It’s like a little private creek on the main lake itself, actually in Pelahatchie Bay. String your jugs all the way down the creek. You’ve got shallow water, you’ve got deep water and you have moving water. Moving water is always good for catfishing. And, on occasion you’ll see a gator or two.”
9. North of Madelyn’s Island
GPS: N 32 23.226 / W 90 00.610
Ready said he named the last catfish hotspot on the list after his favorite jug fishing buddy, daughter Madelyn. He and Madelyn can get out to this spot quickly and catch some quality catfish in a short period of time. The spot is just across the boat channel from an island formed years ago from spoil from a dredging program.
“You have a natural creek that runs in and out of the channel markers, and you have to stay on the north side of the markers,” he said. “The depth here falls into about a 6-foot trough. You would be amazed at how many fish you will catch in between this area — mostly your blue cats and your channels.”
Ready’s final thought about jug fishing is to make it fun, whether you’re out on the water with family or enjoying an evening with friends. He said there’s no point going to a lot of expense because jugs can be made out of about anything that floats.
“Don’t overcomplicate it,” he said. “Ghe day you go out and you see that jug disappear in front of you, and your kids are jumping up and down and screaming and yelling, “we got one!” makes it all worthwhile.
“It’s absolutely good, clean family fun all the way around, plus, at the end of the day, you’ve got dinner sitting in the cooler.”