Red-hot river cats — Mississippi River catfishing tips

Manmade structures, such as grain bins, produce action all year, but are best right after grain has been loaded.

Having the right bait — skipjack herring — and finding deep holes are the keys to unlocking the Big Muddy at Mayersville

Editor’s Note: The eighth stop on our year-long Catfish Hotspots tour takes us back to the Mississippi River, where despite the sweltering summertime heat, fishermen can go deep and find the big ones.

Pat and Jay Pickle of Rolling Fork are a father-son fishing team that has been running the Mississippi River together for trophy catfish for most of their lives.

The elder Pickle, Pat, has been at it so long that he said he can remember the days when access to the Big Muddy was easier, before much of the land bordering the river between Greenville and Vicksburg was bought up by private owners and developers.

Fortunately, Mayersville still has a public place to launch, giving the Pickles access to their favorite part of the river for summertime catfish. With a Mississippi license and reciprocal agreements, they can fish both sides of the river, so fishing holes abound.

The Pickles know that hot August temperatures can make the fishing topside challenging, but the catfish far below don’t seem to mind as long as they find the right bait to tempt them with.

Like most hardcore catters on the river, the availability of skipjack herring is a deal breaker.

“If I can’t get skipjack, I’d just as soon not fish,” said Pat Pickle. “You can try live bream or pond perch or goldfish and you’ll catch a fish or two but nothing like the skipjacks.”

In the following 10 hotspots, the father and son team will tell Mississippi Sportsman readers both where and how to catch catfish, from big Arkansas blues to humpback whites to big yellow tabby cats, a.k.a. flatheads.

1. Mayersville Landing

GPS: N 32 53.928 / W 91 03.752

The public access area at Mayersville is pretty typical of several “undeveloped” ramps along the Mississippi. The Mississippi’s frequent water level fluctuations deposit silt, sand and debris and there is little or no regular maintenance to the area. For what the access lacks in amenities, it makes up for in availability.

“This is about the only public launch you can get to between Greenville and Vicksburg,” said Pat Pickle. “It’s 35 to 40 miles in either direction before you’ll see another one.”

Pickle said they may run that distance at times but the same features on the Mississippi tend to repeat themselves, so for the most part, he can stay in the vicinity of Mayersville and catch catfish.

“We go almost to Greenville sometimes, which is 40 miles, and probably 30 miles south,” he said. “The features in the river are pretty much all the same. You’ve got rock dikes, wing dikes, all up and down the river and they’ve got blown holes. Any place you’ve got a good hole, with current and all, is good.”

Caution is urged when using this location. The roads are dirt and there is no established pavement ramp. It’s best to do a visual check for firm ground and any debris before backing out into the water.

2. 1st Rock Dike

GPS: N 32 56.684 / W 91 05.314

The first fishing hole on Pickle’s list is a rock dike that’s shares attributes with many dikes you’ll find up and down the river. When the water is up, the rocks will be covered. When the water is down, the rocks will be exposed and the best fishing is on the river end.

“When the river goes down about 10 feet, the rocks will be out all the way,” said Pickle. “You come in on the end of the rocks and anchor your boat off and let the current just back you up. You’ll be in about 35 to 40 foot of water then. Just throw out behind the boat. Usually, in 15 minutes, if you don’t have a bite, you can drag up and go somewhere else.”

Pickle’s typical pattern is to anchor where he can reach the deeper spots while trying to afford the boat some protection from boat traffic and river current. They will use up to four rods with pretty substantial weight – 6 ounces in most cases – to keep the lines separated.

“We try to fish two rods out the back of the boat and maybe one or two straight down off the sides. If you try to get three rods out the back, you’re going to have a mess,” he said. “Like I said, in 15 or 20 minutes, if nobody’s home, you need to drag up and go somewhere else.”

3. 2nd Rock Dike

GPS: N 32 56.746 / W 91 05.907

Hotspot No. 2 features deep water, a characteristic that can pay big dividends when the temperature is pushing the high 90s. Unlike the first stop, Pickle will fish both ends of this dike as it has a hole in the front between the dike and the shoreline and the deep hole that extends into the river.

“This spot has the deepest water I know of,” said Pickle. “It’s probably over 120 feet right now. It’s got another hole on the back ide that’s blown out. The river blew it out and they haven’t fixed that yet. You could possibly fish either end of it and catch fish. We normally fish out on the river side of it.”

While listed as only one spot, Pickle said it’s actually four spots in one. With holes on both ends and a current and ebb side, he may adjust boat positioning without ever cranking the big motor.

“You can also fish on the north side,” Pickle said. “Go in with your boat and depth finder and when you get to 30 foot of water or so, you can anchor off and let your boat swing back in there. Four spots right here. You might move 50 yards on the dike and catch fish again, but don’t give any spot more than 20 to 30 minutes before moving to the next one unless you’re catching fish.”

4. Old River Run

GPS: N 32 57.269 / W 91 08.259

Blue catfish tend to favor the deep holes in the Mississippi River. Piles of wooden debris in shallow nooks and crannies of the river are favorite haunts of yellow cats. Hotspot No. 4 is neither. This particular spot is the home of what the locals call white cats or humpbacks. The given name is channel catfish.

“There is a big hole right in here below the rock pile where you can get right against the bank and throw in the hole,” he said. “We catch good 15 to 20 pound white cats in there a lot of times.”

Baits for whites and blue are interchangeable. Pickle said this spot is even a favorite of his for catching skipjack herring if the water levels and water clarity are appropriate. He often catches the herring on small flies or a multi-hook Sabiki rig with light tackle.

“When the water’s running out of the old lake, there will be clear water running around the rock piles,” said Pickle. “You can catch a lot of skipjack, if they happen to be there, but the river needs to be down about 8 to 10 feet before the conditions will be right.”

5. Rock Pile

GPS: N 32 57.293 / W 91 08.957

Pickle doesn’t look to hotspot No. 5 for producing big catfish, but it is one of his most dependable locations for consistently catching 10- to 12-pound catfish. It’s a numbers hole versus a trophy sized fish hole.

“The Rock Pile is just a drain coming out of the old lake, Bunch’s Chute,” he said. “Water’s not but about 20 foot deep, but a lot of bait goes in and out through here. You can catch a lot of 10- to 12-pound catfish in here; they’re not as big as what you’ll catch in the holes out on the river, but, if they’re here, you’ll catch of lot of them.”

In the attached photograph, you can see a boat nosed in to the shoreline. Pickle suggested where the boat was positioned would be the same spot where he would put his boat to fish this spot.

“The guy in the boat is in the right spot,” he said. “Right now the water is flowing from the river into Bunch’s Cutoff. You really need it to be going the other way, pulling clear water out of the lake.”

Pickle said local anglers will run trotlines for smaller cats in the cutoff and the area is a popular crappie fishing spot in the spring during May and June when the water levels are at 25 feet.

6. River Chute

GPS: N 32 56.947 / W 91 04.936

Like spot No. 5, hotspot No. 6 is an old chute that drains an oxbow. It’s also a good place to catch both white and yellow cats. Pickle said it fishes better when the river is down.

“This chute drains another old oxbow,” he said. “The river needs to be down around 20 feet on the Vicksburg gauge to do good here. The current eddies in here so, if you’re on the right bank, your bait will be pulling south. If you’re on the left bank, your bait will go back north. We catch a lot of white cat and yellow cat right here.”

Anglers who find the river higher can still fish this spot. The key to fishing it when the water is high is concentrating on seams where the two currents collide.

“Right now, the river’s only like 27 feet (at Vicksburg),” he said. “You see where the clear water is mixing in that eddy? You want to go right there and anchor and fish in there. You’d catch fish right now if you had bait.”

Pickle said seams are important because they mark the edge of a change in the bottom of the river. He does better fishing on the drops than down in the holes and that’s a year-round fact.

“You want your bait to be on the drop itself,” he said. “You just have to look at your depth finder. Trial and error, you know, is the best way to fish over here. Once you find a hole and learn how to fish it, it’ll fish basically the same all year.”

7. Cottonwood Point

GPS: N 32 55.892 / W 91 03.842

When catfishing in the Mississippi River, boat positioning plays an important role in catching fish. Getting baits to land on the drop where catfish are holding is critical, but can’t be done unless the boat is in the right spot.

Two different types of anchors are used for proper boat positioning, depending on the terrain beneath the hull. Pickle points to Hot Spot No. 7 as an excellent example of where a sand anchor, the Danforth style model with flukes that will dig into the bottom, is used to hold the boat.

“You’ve got an eddy like a point comes in,” he said. “You’ve got 90 or 95 feet of water on the left and toward the bank, you go to 60 real quick. If you can anchor right, you want to fish straight down here because if you throw out, you’ll get hung. Fish straight down here and when you get on them, sometimes you’ll catch 10- or 12-, 15-, 25-pounders, or even bigger fish right here.”

Pickle indicated that the bottom fluctuates greatly and he’ll reel up and let the bait down frequently to keep it in contact with the bottom.

8. Bunge Grain Elevator

GPS: N 32 55.038 / W 91 03.751

If you have followed the Mississippi Catfish Hotspot series throughout the year, you start to see some common themes in what makes for good catfish holes, especially in the major rivers. Wing dikes, rock piles and scour holes are well represented, and so are grain elevators. Hotspot No. 8 is the grain elevator at Bunge.

“There’s not a lot of barge activity here most of the time,” said Pickle. “You can tie right up to the pilings. We try to fish the piling on the south end. They load grain here and that’s the reason you fish here.”

Pickle prefers to fish straight down while tied up to the pilings.

“Don’t try to throw out here,” he said. “There’s a lot of trash on the bottom to hang on. It’s a place for numbers. A 20-pound fish here is about the biggest that you’re going to catch, but you’ll catch at lot of 10-pounders here.”

Most all grain elevators are seasonal attractions. During seasons when grain is being loaded — and subsequently portions are spilled in the water — catfish will flock to the area. Even in non-loading times, catfish still tend to favor the area.

“You’ll still catch fish,” said Pickle. “There’s a lot of structure down there for them to be around and, even the banks 200 yards south will hold fish. You can anchor and fish right off the bank, catch a lot of fish because catfish tend to hold here year round.”

9. Lake Providence Chute

GPS: N 32 49.251 / W 91 09.080

Pickle says hotspot No. 9 will fish like the other chutes on the list. Look for the deepest hole in the immediate area and take advantage of any structure of drop off adjacent to the hole. In this case, Pickle said the hole is back in the curve of the chute.

“This one you’d fish the same as the river chute,” he said. “Get on the point of rock and fish as the cut goes in and fish the deep areas. Take your depth finder and find where the hole is going into the bend on the right. Sometimes you can go in there and catch fish on up in the chute, too.”

Pickle said it’s a little confusing for those wanting to get into Lake Providence. A levee blocks direct access from the river but there’s still some good structure to fish.

“You can get to the Lake Providence grain bin down here, but it’s just the old Lake Providence chute,” Pickle said. “They put a levee across here and Lake Providence is on the other side. We fish up in the chute and catch fish, mostly 10-to 15-pound fish, but on occasion we’ll catch a 30- or 40-pounder.

10. Oil Dock

GPS: N 32 52.592 / W 91 04.772

The last spot on Pickle’s list is a bit unusual from the typical locations you’ll find on the Mississippi River. Up close to the dock, the current tends to run in the opposite direction from the main river.

“Once you get to the dock, the water is running north,” he said. “You need to tie up on the north side of the pilings and just fish right out the back of the boat. The water’s 40 to 50 feet deep right here and you can catch some good fish here at times.”

Like the other man-made structures on the list, Pickle advises catfish anglers to tie up and fish straight up and down. The bottom is littered with debris from the commercial traffic and it will wreck havoc on fishing line.

“Anywhere in this river where they’re loading or unloading cables off of barges, you’ll have ropes and stuff on bottom,” he said. “You’re going to lose some tackle.

“Like all of these holes you want to be right on the edge of the eddy. That just tells you there’s a big hole right in here. That’s the reason that river is sucking, going back around. You’ve got a rock point that comes out there and you’ve got rocks sticking out, but fish it the same way you would the rock dikes. In 15 minutes, if you haven’t caught one, move on, they’re not here.”

About Phillip Gentry 403 Articles
Phillip Gentry is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer who says that if it swims, walks, hops, flies or crawls he’s usually not too far behind.

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