Phil King of Corinth, one of the nation's leading catfishermen, has proved his prowess in national, regional and state catfishing tournaments, winning four National Catfish Derby Championships and the Bass Pro Shop Big Cat Quest on the Mississippi River.

A catfishing guide below Pickwick Dam, King has learned to fish in any type of weather.

"Catfish tend to congregate below dams where they'll often find a fresh hatch of shad minnows and the shad that get ground-up as they come through the turbines," he said. "Also, anglers can locate mussel beds downriver from the dam where the catfish will feed. The really big cats will hold in deep holes on the bottom of the river."

In extremely hot and very cold temperatures, the big cats will move into these holes to find more-comfortable water temperature, where they can live and ambush bait as it moves along the bottom. Unlike most cat fishermen, King trolls for cats.

"When I'm trolling, I strictly fish for big cats," he said.

 

King's equipment

King uses a variable-speed trolling motor and his depth finder to search for humps, rocks and any type of bottom break where a cat can lay in slack water out of the current and then move into the current to feed. He uses 60- to 65-pound-test braided line, like Spiderwire and Cabela's Ripcord Si Metered Trolling line. He wants a small-diameter, strong line that gets down to the bottom quickly.

King prefers to fish hickory shad as well as fresh chicken livers, gizzard shad guts, pieces of gizzard shad or gizzard shad minnows for big catfish.

"My biggest catch was a 64-pound blue cat," King said. "I've had customers who've caught blue cats weighing over 70 pounds. Occasionally we'll catch a big flathead cat. The channel cats we catch are around 10 pounds.

"I'm convinced that Pickwick eventually will yield blue cats that weigh over 100 pounds, and channel cats that will reach 20 to 25 pounds each."

On a trophy-catfishing trip, King expects to catch from two to five big cats that will weigh about 50 pounds each in a day.

To rig for big cats, King starts with a main line of 60- to 65-pound-test braided line and ties on a heavy three-way swivel. Coming off the second eye of the swivel, he ties 2 feet of 60-pound-test Berkley Big Game monofilament. At the end of the line, he ties either a No. 5/0 or 8/0 Daiichi Octopus Hook. On the bend of the hook, he'll tie 2 to 4 inches of 60-pound-test Berkley Big Game Line and a second hook.

"I prefer to fish with two hooks for big cats because I'm generally fishing with really big bait and need two hooks to hold that large bait," he said. "Also, I've learned that I'll catch 20 to 30 percent more cats by having that second hook."

Coming off the third eye of the three-way swivel, King ties 2 feet of 60-pound-test monofilament and a barrel swivel.

"I'll rig it the same way as the drop hook on the first three-way swivel," he said. "On the last eye of the swivel, I'll tie 2 feet of 60-pound-test line with a 1- to 4-ounce sinker. The size of my sinker is determined by the depth of the water and the amount of current running, as well as the size of my bait."

King trolls above the holes he pinpoints in the bottom of the river. He's learned that the smaller cats lay closer to the bottom than the big cats, except in a strong current.

"Even the deep flathead cats usually will hold well up off the bottom," he said.

King generally will use three custom rods from the Rod Shop (www.therodshop.com) for varying fishing situations.

"For low current, I'll use the No. 1 rod with a light or a fast tip; for heavier current flow up to 2.5 mph, I'll fish with the No. 2 rod and anchor with up to a 10-ounce weight; and for anchoring or drifting in current over 2.5 mph, I'll use the No. 3 rod and anchor with lead from a 24- to a 26-ounce weight.

"I like the 6500 ABU Garcia Ambassadeur Line Counter or the Shimano Tekota 500 LC (Line Counter) Series reels for fishing heavy current like the Mississippi River."

 

Eaters for Stegall

Iuka's Roger Stegall has fished Pickwick Lake for 35 years and guided on the lake for 23 years. Although he primarily guides for smallmouth and largemouth bass, he also guides for catfish, and prefers catching eating-sized fish.

"Many of my customers who come up to Pickwick to fish with me want to fill up their coolers to take home for their Friday-night fish fries," he said. "I generally put out three trotlines the night before my customers arrive. Catfishing with trotlines and jugs provides plenty of action and numbers of catfish. We're bream fishing at the same time."

Stegall considers June through August the best months for catching catfish at Pickwick. If the water's still cool early, he baits his trotlines and jugs with cheap miniature marshmallows.

"Buy the cheapest marshmallows you can find, because they're tougher and stay on the hooks longer," he said. "In really warm water, I like Strike King Catfish Dynamite and the Strike King Dyna-Bites Catfish Links because they come in different flavors. I'll put out different flavors on my lines until I can determine which flavor the catfish like best that day."

During the summertime, Stegall fishes his trotlines close to the river channel, and looks for mussel beds close to the edge of the old underwater river channel.

"The baits I use start off looking pink or red, but after they've been in the water a little while, they turn a lighter shade of pink or white," Stegall said. "I believe the catfish think these are mussels that have died and are floating to the surface, so they'll come in and feed heavily on them."

Throughout the summer, Stegall puts a weight on one end of his line, adds a float, places a weight on the line and adds another float and weight. While underwater, these lines will fish at various depths from the bottom to about 6-8 feet below the surface, back to the bottom and then back near the surface.

"So if the fish are biting shallow, I'll catch them on the shallow ends of the lines, and if the catfish are biting deep, I'll catch them on the deep ends of the lines" he said. "During the summer, I usually like to fish 20- to 25-feet deep. I put my lines across the current but not in the old river channel. I catch the most cats when current's running."

When Stegall has clients who want to catch eaters, he'll put out three trotlines with 75 to 100 hooks on each of them.

"On a good night, I'll catch 150 to 200 pounds of cats on one line or perhaps only 50 to 200 pounds off all three lines," he said.

Stegall prefers the No. 1 stainless-steel hook on his trotlines.

"Then I catch little cats as well as big cats on them, sometimes up to 30 pounders," he said.

Above the hook, Stegall usually has a snap-barrel swivel to allow the catfish to twist and roll when it's hooked.

"I always want to have a swivel tied either above the hook or on the main line so that the catfish can't twist itself up in the line and get free," Stegall said.

In July, Stegall catches primarily blue and white cats at Pickwick, usually 2-to 6-pounders on trotlines.

"When people fish with me to catch eaters, the first thing we do in the morning is go out and run the trotlines that I've put out and baited the night before," Stegall said. "We then pick up the lines, re-bait them and put them out again. I fish jump boxes because they're easier to take the lines up, bait them and put them back out, rather than bait the lines as I'm running them and taking catfish off of them."

Once Stegall re-baits and sets out his three trotlines, he takes his customers bream fishing.

"We'll catch bluegills and shellcrackers throughout most of the rest of the day," he said. "Just before I take my customers in, we'll run the trotlines again, put the cats in the cooler and take the lines up. Then I'll be ready to fish the next day."

 

Phil King can be reached at pking@tsixroads.com or 662-286-8664. To contact Roger Stegall, call (662) 423-3869 or email rogstegall@fishpickwick.com.