The long, hot days of summer usually drive many fishermen away from the ponds and lakes by early or mid July.

There is, however, an alternative to fishing the still, warm farm ponds and lakes. River fishing can be a relaxing, exciting change of pace from the normal fishing routine.

One of the best waterways for summer fishing in South Mississippi is the Strong River. The Strong heads up in Scott County, and winds through the southcentral part of the state until it empties into the Pearl River near Georgetown.

This river is small compared to others in Mississippi, but it is large in terms of fishing opportunity and quality. When you catch the river at a medium to low level, the fishing can be fast and furious. It is spring-fed and always cool, sometimes cold. We never venture into those chilly waters on foot until at least mid May, when the outside temperature is warm.

Fish the favorite spots

In late June, I accompanied several friends on a wade fishing trip to the Strong in search of a cool fishing experience on a hot summer day. We had been planning this trip since late spring, and our anticipation level was high. The weather had been dry, and the river stage was perfect for wade fishing.

We parked at the iron bridge above Pinola, and walked into the river about one half mile below the bridge. As soon as we baited up and dropped our hooks into the swift current, we began to get some nibbles, but nothing serious.

We walked down through the first small rapids, heading for one of our honeyholes. It took a few minutes, but we began to pull several small channel cats out of the eddy as it swirled into the quiet water near the bank of the river.

The water in this hole is normally five to six feet deep, but with the river level being low, it was no more than 3 to 4 feet. The fish were holding in the water at about 2 feet. We picked up a few fish before moving downriver to try some of our other favorite spots.

About a hundred yards downstream, we began picking up fish again before they seemed to scatter. My buddies moved downstream, but I was still getting a little action, so I stayed put. After a few minutes, I started getting lots of hits, and over the next half hour, I was able to land a dozen small to medium catfish and one large bluegill.

The action cooled, and I too moved downstream. My partners had also hit on a couple of good spots, and the morning was beginning to develop nicely. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, and that is the way it should be. A good day on a quiet river is to be enjoyed; any fish caught are icing on the cake.

After moving down another hundred yards or so, we began to connect on some larger fish. Buck Robinson was fishing around some cypress roots that jutted out from the river bank. The water moved by swiftly, and the roots broke the current into quiet spots between the roots. He was able to land one fish that was over a pound and several more that were close to a pound.

We decided to move back upstream and revisit the spots where we had caught fish earlier.

The wade back upstream is always harder, and we took our time working all the places we connected on earlier. At the same spot where Robinson caught the largest fish, he picked up two more that were at least 2 pounds each. As we continued our wade upstream, our fish baskets got heavier.

After a quick shore lunch, we cleaned the fish, changed our wet clothes and got ready for the trip back home. By 6:00 that evening, we were enjoying a good meal of fresh river catfish and bream, thanks to a very successful and enjoyable trip to a cool river in the middle of a hot summer.

The right equipment

It takes a few trips to the river before a person develops a river-fishing mentality. It also takes some time before one acquires the right equipment to have an efficient yet enjoyable venture in the swift current of the river.

The most important piece of equipment to have is a life jacket rated for your size. No matter how young and strong a person may feel, it is foolish to be on the water without a personal flotation device. There should be no compromising; everyone in your party should be required to put on a life jacket before they leave the bank.

Another important item for river fishing is a flexible pole or light spinning rod and reel. We prefer fiberglass bream poles from 10 to 14 feet in length. I like the 14-foot pole since it allows you to reach into quiet spots without wading too close and spooking the fish.

The poles are rigged with 6- to 8-pound line, a No. 6 or 8 hook, one BB split shot and a small cigar-type float. This rig works fine for most fish that will be encountered on the river.

For a long time, our favorite bait was catalpa worms. However, my brother now has a source for nightcrawlers, and they have replaced the catalpa worm as bait of choice. Our catch rate has improved quite a bit since we began to use nightcrawlers exclusively. Another advantage is that nightcrawlers are always available. It's not necessary to wait for them to mature as it is with catalpa worms.

Other baits like crickets and the new scented artificial panfish baits are adequate.

A good floating fish basket is also a valuable accessory for any fishing trip. All you do is unhook the fish, push the lid down and drop it in. A stringer is too much trouble to deal with while holding a pole in one hand and a slippery catfish in the other.

Extra line, hooks, sinkers and floats may be carried in life-jacket pockets or fanny packs especially made for fishing. Another factor is portability; go light since it is a long walk down and back. If luck holds, you will be loaded with fish on the return trip as you wade against the current.

Endless possibilities

Once you get all of the equipment, the next thing you need is the time and a place to go. There are many large creeks and small rivers throughout Mississippi that are loaded with fish. Catfish, bass, bream and even crappie can be found in most of these streams.

Our main target is catfish, but some folks float or wade, and cast for bass with a spinning reel. Many of the fish caught may be considered small by some standards, but they are perfect for us. A 1/2- to 3/4-pound channel cat on a bream buster pole with 8-pound-test line is a good fish to try to land. When you have a 1- or 2-pound fish, you really have your hands full. We have caught catfish that weighed 3 or 4 pounds, but most will be smaller. Smaller size does not mean less taste. These are some of the best-tasting fish you will ever eat.

I realize we are into August, but the days are still hot. If you are tired of fishing the same old ponds and lakes, try fishing running water like the Strong River. Whether you float or wade, a trip to the creek or river will be well worth it. Invite your friends, pack a lunch and make a day of it.

On most trips you won't run into many people. If you do, they will be just like you, enjoying a nice day away from the rush of life, and catching a few fish as a reward. The next time we're on the Strong, we'll be looking for you.