Big river produces big catch... 11/14/04

Bonnie Oliver and the blue catfish he caught Nov. 12 from the Mississippi River at the foot of North Street in downtown Baton Rouge. He used 25-pound test line on spinning tackle and said it took him 45 minutes to land the catfish, estimated to weigh 60-70 pounds. (Advocate staff photo by JOE MACALUSO; Photo taken NOV. 12, 2004) Keyword Fishing, Record

Checked the river stages lately?

From projections, it looks like the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge will crest above 41 feet and will hit a high above 16 feet on the New Orleans gauge sometime early next week.

Wow! That’s coming close to 1973 levels.

For some folks, like speckled trout anglers around the mouth of the Mississippi River and shrimpers anywhere east of Last Island, it means another weekend of rising, muddy water and extended periods of dealing with the river’s outflow.

That’s the glass half empty: The half-full glass is the opportunity a high river affords folks living near the river.

Fishing the batture during spring floods is a long-awaited adventure. Because it lasts only a couple of months, it’s not year-round fishing, but when it happens, catfish catches rival anywhere in the country.

Here’s what happens: The batture, the area between the levee and the river, loaded up with logs and other detritus during the annual flood, then dries when the river falls to a summer low and continues to dry during the fall.

The debris left in the batture is a breeding ground for grubs, worms and all sorts of other creepy crawlers.

When the next flood comes, these area become a banquet table for the predator fish taking the opportunity to move to the warmer, shallower water along the inside of the levees to gorge on these wiggly morsels.

While there are some 100-pounders, giant blue catfish, there are flathead catfish and channel catfish chowing down, too.

And that attracts the largest predator in the area, too — fishermen.

Fishing the banks from just north of St. Francisville south into the battures near Lutcher produces catfish.

Several entries among the Louisiana Top 10 Fish Records listing for blue catfish come from the Mississippi River during spring floods. That’s because these 100-pound-plus fish become more available to fishermen.

But this kind of action comes with a warning: The Father of Waters (the translation of Native American’s Mississippi) is flowing at or near record strength. Care is needed to tread lightly when you step into the water. Tragedy awaits anyone believing they are stronger than the strength of the continent’s mightiest river.

Staying on the banks is the best bet. It’s a waiting game. Fishing with a Carolina rig-style setup is one way. It involves using a sinker on the line above a barrel swivel with a 2-3 foot leader and the hook attached to the other end of the swivel.

Bait seems to be up to the angler: Inexpensive hot dogs, cut into pieces, and soaked in anise oil is a favorite, while some prefer to use bluegill cut into pieces to fix on the hook. The folks looking for big fish will use the whole bluegill, and it’s worthy of note that big flatheads prefer live bluegill.

Cast the baited rig, then wait. Early mornings and late afternoons appear to be the best times.

There are others who drop a bateau off the levees and use jugs to catch these cats. It’s a simple method of finding a jug (usually gallon jugs and empty bleach bottles do the trick) then using monofilament or nylon line tied to the jug’s handle. Add a hook and bait, and you’re in business. Chasing down a jug with a lively catfish adds to the excitement. Again, use caution.

What’s hot

The catfish are biting in the Verret Basin, mostly in the big lakes. Verret is the prime target, but run-outs in Grassy Lake and on the north and east sides of Lake Palourde hold catfish, too.

Bluegill are still busting everything thrown their way, including poppin’ bugs, at Toledo Bend.

And for the coastal guys, it’s clear from reports that speckled trout are biting in the early morning on the east and west sides of the Mississippi River. There’s no clear-cut top producing artificial, except when you can find clear water, topwater plugs are working, and that after about 9:30 a.m. the bite falls off.

Weekend conditions

  • National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Forecasts: Find the “Coastal/Great Lakes Forecasts by Zones – Gulf – New Orleans, La.” and a map with 13 different nearshore, offshore and Lake Pontchartrain wind and waves predictions for the next five days.
  • Weather Underground: Current conditions, a 10-day forecast, and hour-by-hour predicted temperatures, winds, precipitation and barometric pressure.
  • National Weather Service’s River Forecast Center: for river stages.