The Daily Review Outdoor Writer John K. Flores's grandson, Zachery Coak, with a good mess of channel and blue catfish. (Submitted Photo/John K. Flores)
Local waters produce good catfish catches during winter months
This past weekend during the Christmas week hubbub, my daughter and son-in-law, with two grandkids in tow, came down from Oklahoma to visit. Per usual, when they come down, I try to include at least one day of fishing.
During the late fall and winter months, cold weather northers along the coastline seem to blow in weekly. However, when the water is low and murky from the cold front winds, there may be no better time to drop a tight line and do a little catfishing.
January is typically the month Berwick fisherman Harris Dehart says he likes to toss out a few jug lines for catfish that he can run between rod and reel sessions. Dehart works as a welder and sub-arc operator at New Industries in Morgan City and is someone who looks forward to the holidays. Around Christmas and New Year, he takes a little time off to fish the Wax Lake, Belle Isle and Atchafalaya Bay areas for catfish.
In the winter months, the right bait often comes into play when fishing coastal waters for catfish.
“I’ll fish with beef melt in the winter,” Dehart said. “I’ve used shrimp, deer liver and worms, but I find beef melt works better than other baits I’ve tried when the water is so dirty.”
My son-in-law, grandson and I used some leftover shrimp I bought at the dock in Morgan City this past fall. It wasn’t the best bait, but it’s all I had. The containers I kept the shrimp in had been thawed, opened, closed and refrozen from a couple of previous trips I’d been on.
In short, the shrimp were pretty stinky, but both channel and blue catfish seemed to like it as we wound up catching a nice mess of fish in the canals and drainages along East Cote Blanche Bay.
East Cote Blanche Bay is influenced by several things during the winter months. Freshwater when the Atchafalaya River rises, wind from cold fronts and tides are a few of those elements that impact fishing conditions in this region at this time of year.
Freshwater was the thing we noticed immediately after my son-in-law and grandson caught a freshwater drum (gaspargou) and a channel catfish. In fact, the majority of fish we caught were channel catfish, which is a species that prefers freshwater more than its cousin, the blue catfish.
Essentially, blue catfish (Ictalurus Furcatus) tolerate water that has slightly higher salinity. It’s also a species that prefers deeper water than channel catfish. However, we did catch both species in one of the canals.
Morgan City resident Joey Ratcliff has a camp below the Intracoastal Canal down the Atchafalaya River. The local angler fishes blue catfish in a variety of conditions during the winter months.
“I’ve caught blue catfish in several different scenarios from mud flats in the bays to deep holes in smaller bayous to the sand bars in the river in 6 to 8 feet of water,” Ratcliff said. “Wind direction sometimes plays a role in the coastal bays. Also, it’s always better when there is a falling tide, but a hard-south wind will sometimes push the water and stall the normal dropping tide along the coast, slowing the bite.”
Ratcliff says he uses and recommends 20-pound test monofilament with a 2/0 Kahle hook attached for coastal blue catfish. According to Ratcliff, he has thrown into eddies and come away with numerous blue cats weighing 10-plus pounds.
“Typically, when fishing deeper bayous, particularly those with big curves or bends, there will be a backwater eddy cat fishermen should look for,” Ratcliff said.
Drop rigs for tight lines will require an assortment of weights along the coast, depending on depth and size of the bayou. A good selection of bank or pyramid sinkers, ranging from ¾ an ounce to up to 4 ounces in the deeper Atchafalaya River waters, is recommended. We happened to fish a slow falling tide and used lightweight sinkers.
The winter locally is extremely mild compared to the rest of the United States, and the later it gets, the better the catfishing. Essentially, late February and early March, you might as well call spring around these parts. And, anglers can load an ice chest with catfish while sitting on anchor during these months.
However, don’t wait for February and March to go catfishing. January is pretty dang good, too. There’s nothing like starting the year off with a mess of fried catfish and white beans and rice. Happy New Year!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Flores is The Daily Review’s Outdoor Writer.