Mississippi fishermen are blessed with a system of state lakes and state park lakes managed by the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks that, while popular with some locals, remain some of our most underutilized recreational resources.

From Tippah County Lake near Ripley just south of the Tennessee line, they dot the map all the way to Lake Perry near Beaumont. There are 18 state lakes, just as many state parks with fishable waters, and all of them are managed to produce quality-fishing experiences, especially for channel catfish.

That seems odd when you think about it. In these oft-overlooked lakes, there is an oft-underutilized species, strange for a state where fried catfish is practically a food staple. 

Fried catfish, whole or filleted, served with slaw or greens with hushpuppies is a Mississippi go-to meal, so much so that catfish farming became a boom in the delta and remains a viable aquaculture practice. Not every community has a Chevy dealer, but just about all have a fish house. 

If you are one of the many who prefers to catch his own meals, then the state lake system is an ideal way to put catfish on the table.

Regulations prohibit free-floating fishing devices (a.k.a. jugs), trotlines and any other unattended lines on these MDWFP waters, but don’t fret. With a simple setup, some good bait and a little time, cane poles and basic rods and reels can produce a stringer of fat cats headed to your own personal fryer.

Sounds simple, right? Bait a hook, throw it in the water, make yourself comfortable and wait for the bite.

Three mid-Mississippi lakes hold promise for the angler wishing for a catfish supper. Shadow Lake at Roosevelt State Park, while not technically a state lake, is managed in a very similar fashion. Park manager Andre Hollis said the better fishing was along the dam.

“Each year we host a fishing rodeo, and they (MDWFP) bring in 500-600 catfish,” Hollis said. “Those fish not caught during the rodeo are released into the lake. So each year there is a good infusion of good-sized fish.”

Hollis said most fishermen he had observed were using stink baits and chicken livers. Some put the bait on the bottom as a tight line, but a few he has seen use a float, to keep the bait just off the bottom.

That same scenario also seems to play out at Neshoba County Lake, where manager Chuck Hazelwood says that, while his lake is getting a reputation as a big bass lake, he gets good reports of catfish.

“While I can’t recommend it as a proven catfish bait, we have reports every year of good-sized catfish being caught on plastic baits, such as worms and lizards,” Hazelwood said. “Some of the bank fishermen use red worms or stink baits here with good success, usually fishing on the bottom.”

MDWFP biologist Tom Holman said all state lakes and state park lakes are stocked with channel catfish. Those with youth rodeos get an infusion of a few hundred after the tournament, but none of the lakes stock is removed for the rodeo.

“We sometimes get a report of a blue cat being caught at a state lake,” Holman said. “But I can say that fish was not intentionally stocked there. It might have been a blue cat someone caught elsewhere and relocated to that lake, or one of the hybrid catfish released at a rodeo being misidentified.”

Whatever the case, whatever the bait, or whatever the time year, catfish are biting at a state lake or state park lake near you. Encourage your children to attend a fishing rodeo, then, after they get hooked, take them fishing. 

For more information on lakes and rodeo dates, visit www.mdwfp.com.