February is one of the toughest months of the year to be outdoors. On the hunting side, many seasons are finished, and what big and small game that is available has seen a lot of traffic in the woods.
On the water, the traffic is not as high, but neither are water levels, and most fish are pretty dormant until water temperatures come back into at least the 50s.
The one shiny exception to the winter doldrums might be catfishing. Joey Pounders, a veteran angler from Steens — not far from the Columbus Pool of the Tenn-Tom Waterway — said the best months to be on the water chasing trophy sized blue and flathead catfish lasts from the fall until March, making February a prime fishing month on the river system.
“Cold water doesn’t really hurt the catfish bite,” Pounders said. “If anything, it makes the fish concentrate more into specific areas, and that is a great thing if you can pinpoint those locations.”
Compare that to June, July, and August, and Pounders said he’ll take the colder water with its higher oxygen levels every time. What is of more importance is current, something that has been hard to come by of late.
“We just haven’t had a lot of rain, so there’s not a lot of water coming in or being moved, so there’s no current,” Pounders said. “Grenada Lake is as low as I’ve seen it in years.”
Pounders said a lack of current is often a good thing when trying to catch trophy flatheads. He said it’s a fallacy that flatheads don’t bite in the winter; he has caught flatheads in single-digit weather.
Again, knowing where to look is the key.
“My best pattern for flathead fishing in February is going to be standing timber in the 25- to 30-foot depths,” he said. “Most of that depth and structure will be in the old river runs off the main channels, whether you’re talking about Columbus, Aliceville or Pickensville. The main runs get dredged, but aren’t as deep; 15 feet is about the maximum for the main channels.”
Pounders said flatheads will bunch up during winter, but they will still feed. He has caught five to six big flatheads — even as many as 10 — from an area no bigger than 30x30 feet. The secret is to keep trying spots. Give each location no more than about 20 minutes, and then move to the next one.
“I’m going to put baits out around the bases of those trees and along any blue rock shelves in the area,” Pounders said. “Live bream and skipjack will work, but I’d much prefer to have big, live shad straight out of the lake for bait.”
As soon as seasonal rains commence, Pounders looks forward to being on the water when the current flows increases to target blue catfish. He said the best areas are flats off the main channels both above and below the dams. This target area includes 2 miles on the lower, downstream side of each lock and dam and up to 5 miles to the upstream side of each facility.
“Blue catfish will relate to the channel edges, and when current is present — particularly when they haven’t had much current in a long time — they’ll be up on the edges of those channels,” said Pounders, who lets the wind dictate which side of the dam he fish: the downstream side on windier days and the upstream side on calmer days.
“We’re looking for fish in transition, but the pattern will change daily,” he said. “Just because you caught fish on Friday doesn’t mean you’ll catch them on Saturday in the same location. You have to learn and adapt while you’re fishing.”
Pounders always has been and always will be an anchor-down-and-spot-fish angler. Other anglers have success trolling or bumping for catfish, which both cover more water than he can cover by jumping spots, but he also prefers to give the fish at least a little time to make a decision.
“I can reach a lot of water anchored in one spot,” he said. “Especially using the 10-foot catfish rods I use, I have a lot of leverage to put baits exactly where I want and then give the fish time to decide. That extra time means a lot in colder water.”
Trip info: The Tenn-Tom Waterway
WHERE TO GO — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mobile District maintains a listing of public access areas all along the Tenn-Tom Waterway from Pickwick Lake to Mobile Bay. Each of the 10 pools and lakes has at least one public access area; most have many. To view a listing of public access areas visit the Recreation page at http://tenntom.sam.usace.army.mil/Recreation.html.
BEST TACTICS — The best idea for catching catfish along the Tenn-Tom Waterway is to find current breaks that offer shelter for catfish when current is running. Expect current to change daily and even hourly with barge-traffic flow. Patterns may also change from day to day, so it’s best to be taking notice of what’s working on that day and look for other locations to apply what you’ve learned. Blue catfish favor bridge pilings, laydowns and other man-made structure, while flatheads prefer more quiet water. While not always a rule, cut shad works best for catching blue catfish, while live whole shad, and sometimes fresh-cut shad will be best to tempt flathead catfish.
MARINAS — Bay Springs Marina, Mile 412, 662-728-2449, www.bsmarina.com; Midway on the Tenn-Tom, Mile 394, 662-862-7306, www.midwayonthetenntom.com; Columbus Marina, Mile 335, 662-327-8450, www.columbusmarina.com.
MORE INFORMATION — Tenn -Tom Waterway Development Authority, P.O. Box Drawer 671, Columbus, MS 39703, 662-328-3286, www.tenntom.org.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Mississippi Division of Tourism, 1-866-SEE-MISS (733-6477), www.visitmississippi.org.