Fishing for catfish in the winter on the Mississippi River? OK, nobody in their right minds would go after trophy-class record-book blue catfish on the Mississippi River, especially in the winter.


Well, you obviously have not been introduced to Bob Crosby of Madison and his catfishing buddy Bill Conlee of Pocahontas. And we're not just talking about catching big catfish here either. These guys want the state-record catfish in the boat and in the record book. That's a tall order indeed.

"Yep, if you want to catch the big ones which we do, you'll be out on the big river when the ice is on. We're after the state-record catfish on rod and reel. The state record is 95 pounds caught by Dakota Hinson in March of 2009. So far, we have landed a 90-pounder caught by Bill," said Bob Crosby.

These guys are slowly creeping up on the record.

"2006 was a good year," Crosby said. "I caught a 58-pound flathead. The state record for that catfish is 65 pounds on a rod and reel.

"We catch and release all the big fish we land. It would be a crime to kill anything that old. If we put back a really big fish, it should continue to grow and gain even more weight. That way then we could have the chance to catch it again on another fishing trip.

"Heck, in theory any fish we return to the dark waters of the Big Muddy could turn out to be the next state record."

The duo hasn't always fished the mother of all rivers, according to Conlee.

"We started out on this journey by first jug fishing the Barnett Reservoir," he said. "We caught lots of fish, but we came to be interested in catching bigger and bigger fish via rod and reel. Other methods never really interested us. We wanted to catch the really big ones using classic fishing tackle more or less the hard way."

Both anglers came to the realization that it was a whole lot more fun and productive on the really big fish to fish the deep holes with rod and reel. This has taken plenty of time and effort along with tons of trial and error.

They are beginning to nail down some patterns, but don't even bother asking where they fish on the Big Muddy exactly. Their favorite locations to drop a bait in some of the regular cat-holding holes are held tight to the vest. It's a competitive thing. After all, these guys have their goals set on the state record. They are not about to give out too many details on their quest.

"We fish from a 19-foot center-console Nordic fishing boat with a 150-horsepower Yamaha engine," Conlee said. "Years ago we started out with a much smaller outfit, but quickly learned a bigger boat with plenty of power was needed to combat the currents on the Mississippi River."

Certain sections of the river seem more productive than others, Crosby said.

"Bill and I fish different stretches of the Mississippi including Tunica, Greenville and the Vicksburg area," he said. "Probably our favorite areas to fish are in the Port Gibson part of the river. We do use a GPS to mark locations sometimes, but over time we have learned to catalog the land features on shore. So long as they don't change, we know right where to go to find our best holes.

"We like the river conditions in the winter months, because the river is usually lower and the water clarity is greater. Deep-water catfishing is best when the river water level has stabilized. We rarely go if there is a pending fast rise or fall of the river stage. We monitor the Vicksburg gauge regularly to know what is going on. The best river level for our type of fishing is when the gauge hits the 25-foot mark."

When fishing, these guys rely heavily on their depth finder to keep up with how deep the holes are. They typically fish holes that are 60 to 80 feet deep. They consistently let out 70 to 100 feet of line in water depths ranging from 40 to 100 feet.

The anglers use two different methods on the big river including trolling along at the speed of the river current or anchoring in a safe spot lining up the boat so they can fish off the back end. Having tried both styles at different times on the river, they have come to learn that anchor fishing has consistently been the more productive method to use.

When they rig out the boat for fishing, they use up to four rods deployed at one time. More than that gets a bit testy, especially if more than one fish gets hooked at a time. Having two or three catfish of 20-plus pounds on multiple hooks at one time is definitely a handful of action.

But there's never a guarantee that the fish will bite.

"Even when we think we've done everything right, there are still days we fish most of an entire day and still never catch anything," Conlee said. "Some days these big cats just simply do not bite anything we throw at them."

Still, these two guys would much rather be out on the river chasing down record-book blue cats than just about anything else. Even in the cold, dead of winter.