Mississippi River, Memphis
James âBig Catâ Patterson of Bartlett, Tennessee, has been fishing for blue catfish for almost 30 years, guiding professionally for the past decade on the Mississippi River in the vicinity of Memphis, Tennessee. Most of his days are spent pursuing trophy blues, although heâs also wise to the ways of the riverâs channel and flathead catfish. Heâs an accomplished tournament angler, too, with big finishes at a variety of events.
Revetment banksâPatterson is familiar with the numerous wing dams jettying from shore into the Mississippi, and has caught many notable blues from the scour holes around these structures. âWing dams can be good any time of the year, but theyâre also feast or famine,â he says. âThe best ones have well-defined holes, but those are becoming scarce because many of the older dams have filled in with sediment, and the remaining good ones get fished so heavily that itâs sometimes hard to get on a good spot.â So Patterson often focuses on alternative locations that might hold blue cats.
âSome of my favorite spots to fish in summer and early fall are faster current areas adjacent to revetment banks,â he says. Expansive revetment blankets, consisting of concrete slabs tied together with cable, are laid along the shoreline and often covered with riprip for added stability. Revetment is installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stabilize and protect highly erodable riverbanks where the force of the current is greatest.
âThese banks provide structure and cover attractive to big blue cats and their prey, especially where older sections of revetment are falling apart,â he notes. âOver time, riprap is redistributed, cables break, and the water washes out holes between and under the slabs where theyâve broken apart. In other places slabs have buckled, creating areas of current protection near bottom that hold big blues.
âI avoid fishing revetment banks when the currentâs so fast that I canât use any sinker weighing less than a pound,â he says. âIn summer and early fall, I prefer fishing a lower water stage, bringing the bank closer to the channel edge in about 35 to 40 feet of water. At lower river stages, the current is still swift along revetment banks and the blues like the current, but I can fish them with sinkers of 12 ounces or less.â
Patterson uses primarily skipjack herring for bait, either freshly caught or previously vacuum-sealed and frozen for later use. He baits with the head, chunks or steaks from the larger back portion, or with fillets. Before steaking, the entire belly-meat section, including entrails, is cut out and wrapped together with rubber bands, creating another dandy bait. At times, he also uses whole gizzard shad.
Baits are delivered on three-way rigs with a 7/0 to 10/0 Kahle or wide-gap hook, tied to an 18- to 24-inch section of 60-pound-mono leader, and a 3-ounce or heavier casting or cannonball sinker tied to a 20- to 30-pound-test dropper, with current speed dictating sinker weight. While fishing from an anchored position and for weights up to about 4 ounces, he uses 7-foot heavy-power Quantum Cabo PT rods. In faster currents requiring heavier sinkers, he switches to 71â2-foot medium-heavy to heavy-power Quantum Big Cat rods. He prefers using stiffer rods for feel and hook-setting power. Quantum Cabo PT level-wind trolling reels spooled with 65-pound Stren Super Braid complete the setup.
Due to the light weight of this rig, itâs usually fished in water shallower than about 20 feet, and most often shallower than 8 feet, with a 6- to 7- foot slow to medium action, medium-light power spinning rod with 4- to 8-pound-test monofilament line. The split-shot rig can be gently cast and slowly retrieved, fished stationary, or allowed to drift. Follow the drift with your rod tip to be sure it drifts naturally and doesnât snag.
The slipsinker rig can be cast and slowly retrieved, slowly trolled, or used as a stationary presentation, so the depth of the water, bottom terrain, and how fast the bait is being moved by the boat, current, or during retrieval, all play a part in determining the weight of the sinker. The sinker usually is a boot-shaped walking sinker or egg- or bell-shaped sinker for gravel and sandy bottoms, or a bullet sinker in weeds and wood. Beads or blades are sometimes added to the leader in front of the hook as an attractant.
Because the mainline slips through the sinker, anglers often find it to their advantage to let a fish ârunâ with the bait, fishing the presentation with an open spool and letting the fish pull line off the spool with the least resistance possible. This gives the fish more time to get the bait further in its mouth or throat, which can cause moreâoften lethalâinjury to fish. If you can set the hook quickly, or fish on a tight line, itâs often better to do so, especially if you intend to release your catch.
There are two primary types of float rigsâfixed-float and slipfloat. The fixed float is just that, when the float is fixed to a certain point on the line, and is best fished in situations where the fish are feeding shallow, say four feet or less. The slipfloat rig allows the float to slide up and down the line so you can fish in deeper water. A small bobber stop is fastened on the line somewhere above the bobber to limit how far up the line the bobber can slide, determining how deep the bait is fished. When the rig is reeled in, the stop goes through the rod guides and onto the spool of the reel to allow for casting and retrieving.
While the fixed-float rig is a good way to target shallow fish like crappies, bass, sunfish, catfish, and trout, the slipfloat rigâs ability to go deep broadens the potential species list to include pike, walleye, muskie, striper, and more. A longer light-to-medium action spinning rod, about 7 feet long, with a slow to moderate action, spooled with 4- to 8-pound monofilament, is a good choice for a float rig. Hooks should be matched to the bait, such as a #4 to #8 baitholder hook for angleworms and nightcrawlers, for example, although a jig also can be used.
Fishing a float rig often is a case of not doing anything at all, letting the bait do the fish-attracting work, as the float is slowly moved by wave action on the surface. Both rigs should be cast by gently swinging the rig sideways and behind you, then thrusting the rod toward the target with a slight upward motion as you release the line. You want to lob the rig to a specific spot as gently as possible. If the wind is blowing, or youâre fishing in current, target your cast so that the wind or current moves the rig into your target zone. In other instances, a little bit of action added by quick twitches of the rod tip or even substantial pulls that move the bait up in the water column and then let it settle, induces strikes. The float signals when a fish is on the line, a visual experience that remains exciting to anglers no matter their age or fishing experience.
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