The Arkansas blue cat is just at home in Mississippi as it is in it’s native state, and nowhere in the Magnolia State is that more true than at Pickwick Lake.
The huge lake on the northeast border with Alabama and Tennessee has a growing population of large trophy-sized blues and a surplus of smaller, eating-size ones.
Local fishing guide Brian Barton focuses most of his big catfish activity during the early daylight hours and the last few hours before sunset because of the heat and because of the heavy summer boat traffic.
“For big fish, I’m going to fish the area from State Line Island to the dam and I’m going to be concentrating on the bottom of the ledge that lines the main river and the river channel itself,” said Barton. “Look for wash holes. There are not that many, I think there are 2 or 3 down through there that are programmed on the Navionics chip, but anywhere you’ve got a deeper hole or a pocket, you definitely want to hit those places.”
Barton trolls for trophy blue cats and relies on his programmable trolling motor to lead the way.
“I think a lot of the tournament catfish guys call it controlled drift,” he said. “I’m going to use my iPilot trolling motor to record a trail, usually along the bottom of a ledge or channel. I always try to troll downstream because, if you’ve got current, the fish are facing upstream. Then I’ll turn around and run that recorded contour because the big cats like to hold along those edges.”
Barton’s trolling rig is a modified version of the popular Santee drift rig, except he uses 3 or 4 ounce pencil weights he pours himself and a T swivel in place of the standard 3-way. He prefers a big 7/0 Daiichi circle hook and will go as large as a 10/0 on occasion.
He temps big cats with large sections of fresh cut skipjack herring when available and cut gizzard shad or other panfish when he can’t get the river herring.
His pattern for smaller blue catfish, those destined for the frying pan, is a similar location but instead of concentrating on the bottom of the river ledge, he focuses on the top. Instead of trolling for those fish, he will solidly anchor the boat and downsize his tackle to match the quarry. He also uses smaller cuts of herring, shad or the gut wad of the bait.
“Throw the bait up on top of the ledge and drag it over to the edge of the ledge and let it fall off,” said Barton. “Those little fellows are usually on top of the ledge right on the channel or just off the edge of it where it drops. They won’t be all the way to the bottom.”
For a more thorough look at the great catfish action at Pickwick Lake, see Phillip Gentry’s feature in the July issue of Mississippi Sportsman, on newsstands now.