Bob Crosby of Madison has been fishing the Mississippi River along the outskirts of the town of Vicksburg for over 15 years. Crosby is a catfishing guide who realized early the potential that was sitting right under his nose.
The success Crosby found over the years created the desire to share his knowledge and the adventure of hauling in trophy-sized blue catfish with others.
“I just got to the point in my fishing career that all I wanted to do was catch big catfish,” said Crosby, who operates as Blue Cat Guide Service. “Fishing this part of the Mississippi River is like going to Kansas to kill big deer. You got to be in big deer country to do it — and this is the Kansas of catfishing right here.”
During the month of October, Crosby said that moderating water levels and falling water temperatures typically provide the combination of conditions that he loves to see on the Mississippi River. For most of the summer, high water and high water temperatures make fishing the Mississippi near Vicksburg tough, but Crosby said his expectations for the fall blue catfish bite are as good as ever
“We have been smoking the big catfish on the Mississippi River during the fall over the last several years,” said Crosby, who guides around the historic Vicksburg area. “When the water gets low, stable and clear and the water temps drop from 85 down to about 75 real quick, that always cuts on the blue cat bite.”
Crosby indicated that by targeting drop-offs, ledges, and scour holes in the 30- to 60-foot depths, his catches may range in several catfish in the 30- to 40-pound range, numerous ones in the 20s and a great possibility for a 50-pound-plus blue. The guide said having fresh bait is the key, so he spends a lot of his non-catfishing time rounding up plenty of skipjack herring for his catfishing guide trips.
“I prefer to target trophy catfish, so most of my tackle is outfitted with two hook rigs,” he said. “That’s a hook in the head and a trailer hook in the tail on a fresh 8- to 10-inch skipjack. I use 8/0 Gamakatsu circle hooks with a slider for my sinker like a slip slider. Typically, I use 6- to 8- ounce weights to keep the bait on the bottom in a moderate current.”
Crosby keeps a yearly log of his cat fishing trips which is a big reason why he looks forward to the coming of the fall bite, which typically provides the best water, the best weather, and some of his biggest catfish catches of the year.
He focuses much of his fishing efforts on deep water holes and wash-out created by structure in the river. The majority of this structure comes in the shape of rock wing dikes built into the river.
“Most of the dikes come out of the water at Vicksburg at about 14 feet but they’re all out at 12 feet,” said Crosby. “If water conditions remain steady at this level, meaning not a lot of rapid ups or downs, it’s no trouble to fish the scour holes at the end of the dikes. That’s where I catch the majority of my big fish.
He offers that there are other locations along the Mississippi River where big fish can be caught but in his experience the scour holes at the end of the dikes are where he catches most of his giant fish (40 and up).
Looking forward through the fall, Crosby predicts the bite will only get better from the first of October until the big blue cats start getting finicky as the spawn approaches in the spring.
“They’ll bite all through the fall and even during the cold of winter,” he said. “It’s pretty close to the same pattern, but again water level has a lot to do with how these fish act. We might have to bundle up, but you warm up pretty quick fighting big catfish.”
Like Crosby, David Magness of Hernando has been fishing the big river for many years, having started fishing the Mississippi River for big catfish as a teenager with his dad. His love of tournament catfishing and sharing his experiences has garnered him a spot as a catfish pro-staff angler for B’n’M poles.
Magness agreed October is a time to catch big catfish in deep water holes but also a consistent number of eating-sized cats around undercut banks or backwater areas off the main river.
Cooling water makes catfish movements and locations more predictable and the majority of anglers will use one of three major tactics/presentations to catch catfish in the river
Unlike some other locations where he simply anchors out and places his baited rods in holders, Magness said the fall pattern is a good time to fish long flat areas of the Mississippi River using a technique called “bumping.”
Bumping is a hold-and-bounce tactic that allows the bait to cover more ground than simply letting it sit on the bottom.
“Instead of just anchoring and putting rods out, actually hold the rod, let (the bait) fall to the bottom, then lift your rod tip, let the current carry it down 2 or 3 feet, then let it hit the bottom again,” said Magness. “Sometimes, you might have so much line out, you think you’re going to spool your reel before you get a hit. However, when you’re catching 10-pound plus fish in the current with 100 feet of line out, that’s a lot of fun.”
Like Crosby, Magness said wing dikes present good areas to find catfish in the Mississippi. Breaking down a dike to discover the best places to fish it is specific to each location. Magness looks for certain characteristics.
Magness likes to fish off the ends of wing dikes but near the top of his favorites list is fishing where a missing section, known as a blowout, has created a deep scour hole in the middle of the dike, which also concentrates fish on the downstream side the structure.
“The average dike is probably a couple hundred yards long,” he said. “You can anchor up on the edge of the dike, where the main current is blowing through the cut out. Catfish will hold right on the edge of the main current and the slower current. Use your graph, find the fish and anchor up on them.”