Big cats can be caught all year on the Big Muddy, if you know the techniques. And this professional guide doesn’t mind sharing his secrets.
Capt. Bob Crosby motored out to the Mississippi River and we were greeted with beautiful marmalade-colored skies and crisp, cold weather as a cold front of passed through.
Crosby slowed just to the north of the I-20 Bridge at Vicksburg, staring intently at the Hummingbird fish finder searching for just the right spot.
“Okay drop your lines right now, guys,” Crosby said.
Thus our search for giant catfish began on the Big Muddy, within casting distance of the bridge.
“Keep a tight line and just bounce that rig along the bottom and hold on,” said Crosby. “This has been one of my hotspots lately.”
A big cat struck hard and tore toward deeper water, shaking his head violently from side to side. The irate fish was strong and fought hard but it didn’t stand a chance and I quickly landed my first blue catfish of the day. We took a few pictures of the 20-pounder cat and released it to catch another day.
Ken Covington and grandson Noah Covington joined Capt. Bob and me for the trip to sample Crosby’s Blue Cat Guide Service. Crosby specializes in trophy-sized blue catfish exclusively on the Mississippi River.
“We’re just bottom bumping the flats along the deep channel and we’ve had real good luck catching blues on this stretch of river lately,” said Crosby. “We’ll make a couple passes and then head to another honey hole downriver.”
After a couple more passes Crosby cranked up the big motor and headed south, stopping within sight of the bridge again. On the cool morning, the action was about to heat up big time.
Noah Covington where to cast and we were searching for the big one again.
Suddenly Noah Covington’s rod bowed up and jerked violently as a monster blue catfish struck hard. The big bruiser fought hard and almost got the best of the young angler but Crosby was able to net the catfish and bring him into the boat after a tense battle. It pays to have good equipment in top-notch order and Crosby came prepared. His B’n’M Catfish rods were just the ticket.
After a brief celebration with Covington’s big catfish, we took a few pictures and it was time to head upriver to try another hole.
“We’re going to try a few dikes upriver and see if we can find a few fish,” Crosby said. “You never know which spot will be the hotspot any day and sometimes they’ll all have a few fish and other times you just have to hunt for them. But when you find them, there’s usually plenty of action.”
We went past another wing dam and the captain ran over the spot with his sonar and spotted a good hole with a few fish on it. The anglers quickly cast out and sent our succulent skipjack offering deep into the depths.
“Fish on!” Crosby said.
Noah Covington was back in action, holding on with all of his might and the big blue was putting up quite a fight. Alas the catfish was no match for this young angler and it lost the battle.
The youngster got only a brief break.
A few minutes later another cat thumped Noah’s bait again and he quickly tightened up on the line, set the hook and began another battle. This fish fought a bit differently, battling the young angler all the way to the boat. To our surprise this one was a flathead catfish, much better table fare. We put this one in the livewell for Jack Davis to fry for supper and went back to fishing again.
Our day was filled with fast and furious fishing action and that fact wasn’t lost on young Noah Covington.
“Are we having fun yet?” said Captain Bob.
“I’m having a lot of fun catching fish and beating Pawpaw,” said Covington. “This is the first time I’ve caught more fish and beat him.”
That’s a tall order indeed to beat Ken Covington, who has made a living in the outdoors, raising minnows, timber, catching fish and hunting wildlife. Passing on his outdoors heritage is what he aspires to do with his grandson Noah and fishing is his passion.
Crosby has been fishing the river the past 20 years and has caught more than his fair share of monster catfish. He’s willing to share the knowledge gained over that span of time spent on the Big Muddy.
“My biggest catfish caught to date is a 75-pound blue cat,” Crosby said. “Bill Conlee, a friend of mine caught a 90-pounder while fishing with me.”
Catching a 90 pound catfish on the swift Mississippi River on a rod and reel is about as good as it gets.
On a good day you might just have the trip of a lifetime while fishing with Capt. Bob. When they’re biting you can expect to catch several catfish in the 15- to 30-pound range and maybe a 40- to 50-pound lunker, as well. While you may not catch that big one every time, you’ll more than likely have an opportunity if you put in a little time on the water with Crosby during the winter.
“We practice safety on every trip and we want to have fun and enjoy fishing,” Crosby said. “But we take our fishing seriously and we fish hard because we want you to catch fish.”
Johnny Cumberland and I joined Captain Bob on a late fall trip and had the trip of a lifetime. Crosby graphed a ledge with his Hummingbird LCR and spotted a bunch of big fish between 40 to 47 feet. A few minutes later we were sitting on a 40-foot ledge and casting into 70 feet of water.
We hadn’t even gotten all of our rods out when the fish started biting. I caught the first blue cat, a 17-pound bruiser that really fought hard. Cumberland followed that with another one about the same size. A few minutes later I nailed another one and the bite was on big time.
“Fish on!” said Cumberland.
Before I could land my fish Cumberland reared back and drove the steel home. As soon as the fish felt the sting of the hook he dove towards the bottom like a torpedo and Cumberland held on with all the strength he could muster. His rod bent to the point of breaking and his line sung like a guitar string.
The monster swam straight to the bottom of the river and moved deliberately at its own pace. All Cumberland could do was hold on. It was tough going but he worked the fish back and forth, taking in some line and giving ground when the fish made a run. After 35 minutes he finally got the cat’s head turned and brought him towards the boat, at least for a while.
When the big bruiser spotted the boat it surged and went back down. The fish’s repeated surges and disappearances continued until Cumberland wore him down. The fish was too long to fit in Crosby’s net so Cumberland coaxed the fish into the net and held him tight while Captain Bob put his fish grips on the cat’s massive jaw.
It took all the strength the three of us could muster to hoist the monster cat into the boat but we got it done. The massive catfish bottomed the scales out at 70 pounds. The fish was the biggest freshwater fish I’ve ever seen caught on a rod and reel. It was over 5 feet long and its massive head was a foot wide.
Incredulously Capt. Bob released the monster cat back into the muddy Mississippi River after we took a few pictures. If you release them to grow some more you can catch them another day and feel the thrill again and again.
With the catch of the monster blue cat another lifetime memory was made and Capt. Bob had fulfilled another dream.
Where to fish
The Mississippi River rages deep and wide and is muddy as chocolate milk most of the year so it’s a challenge to locate and catch fish, much less finding and catching monster catfish. But that’s just what Capt. Bob does, and he does it very well.
“Catching big catfish on the Mississippi River is a lot like bass fishing, we’re looking for offshore drop-offs, ledges, dikes, wing dams and areas where the current has switchbacks and eddies,” said Crosby. “We find some of those honey holes in scour holes along the dams or rock jetties where the water current has washed out the bottom and the big catfish like to congregate and feed.”
When the water is really low, as in typical low water winter patterns, most of the wing dams will be out of the water. When that occurs it’s pretty easy for Capt. Bob to find the scour hole just off the tips and directly downstream of the visible dam.
“Sometimes we catch them on the upriver side of the dams where the current swirls back and forms eddies,” Crosby said. “But, more often than not we’ll catch them on the downriver side of the dam where the scour hole is. The catfish will concentrate in the deep hole where the bottom is blown out much deeper due to the massive amount of water pressure and current.”
When the water is covering the dams, Crosby runs over and alongside the dams with his Hummingbird unit and looks for scour holes.
“If we find a scour hole along a dam and it shows fish on it we’ll pin point that location and try it there a little bit,” said Crosby. “We’ll continue searching alongside the dams until we find where they’re at.”
When to go
“If you’re looking for the monster blue cats, December through March is the best time to go fishing on the Mississippi River,” Crosby said. “The best time to catch big fish is after the water temperature gets below 50 degrees. October and November are always pretty good too, but the fish will also bite pretty good right up until the spawn in June and July.”
Once the river rises and the fish began their annual spawning ritual they’ll spread out and head for shallower water and they’re not quite as easy to locate and catch with rod and reels.
“Since the river is colder these catfish don’t spawn until June and July so that gives us more time to fish for the blue cats in the holes,” said Crosby. “If the river stays low we can find them and catch them right up until the spawn.”
Capt. Bob’s techniques
“I basically use three techniques to catch the big blue cats,” Crosby said. “I fish for them by bottom bouncing, vertical drifting and anchor fishing holes, depending upon the weather, where they’re at and what they’re doing at the time.”
And the only way to know what the fish are doing at any given time is to go fishing and Capt. Bob does that regularly and stays on top of it, tracking their weekly and seasonal movements.
“When the fish are scattered we drift fish and bottom bounce,” Crosby said. “When we drift fish we’ll use 10-foot heavy duty B’n’M Rods and put them in special rod holders on the sides of the boat, and use two 8-ounce weights to keep the line straight down just off of the bottom.”
Crosby uses an I-Pilot trolling motor to slow down the drift as the river current is very swift.
“We like to use skipjack herring that we catch right here on the river and we’ll bait our lines up and drift down the river until we catch one, and then concentrate on that area,” said Crosby.
Another effective technique is Crosby uses is bottom bouncing. As with the vertical drift fishing, Crosby will slow the boat down trolling upstream against the current and the line goes down behind the boat at a 45 degree angle.
“You can cover a lot of water bottom bouncing and sometimes you have to do that to find them,” said Crosby. “As soon as you feel it hit the bottom you can ease it up and keep it bouncing along. If you do it correctly you can walk over logs and rocks. After we catch one in an area we’ll usually make a few passes over the same area and catch multiple fish.
“I believe in keeping that bait in the prime strike zones so if we catch a fish I want to work the area thoroughly because there will usually be more down there. If we don’t catch any we’ll just keep trolling and bottom bouncing until we find some.”
After the temperature drops down to 50 degrees, the fish stack up in the deep holes and they’re much easier to find. Once that happens it’s remarkably like summertime hole fishing for bass but the fish are much bigger.
“After the fish move into the holes we strictly anchor fish,” Crosby said. “We’ll go over a hole with my Hummingbird to locate fish. If we spot some on the screen we’ll anchor and fish a while and see if they’re biting. They might not always bite but we’re going to give them about 30 minutes to see if they will. If they bite we’ll stay there as long as they’re biting, but if not we’ll move on to the next spot.”
If Crosby doesn’t spot any fish on the Hummingbird screen he simply moves to the next hole and graphs it too. Much like bass fishing, you have to hunt the fish and then catch them where you find them.
“Some people anchor down and fish a spot all day,” said Crosby. “But I like to cover a lot of water and fish the prime spots. Some days they’ll be concentrated in a few holes and we’ll catch a few every place we stop. But the key is to keep your bait in the optimum spot for a bite, and the only way to do that is to locate some of those holes that have fish in them that day.”
If you’re looking to catch a monster catfish, then give Capt. Bob a call at 601-953-5767 or check him out online at www.bluecatguideservice.com.