October 16, 2020
Heading south of I-10 and following Louisiana State Road 23 into the Mississippi Delta, most anglers are dreaming of redfish and speckled trout. These saltwater faves are certainly a fair assumption, but way downriver, anglers find an incredible opportunity to lock horns with giant blue catfish—like 50-pound-plus trophy caliber monsters—that out key bottom strongholds near this famous waterway’s southern terminus.
Sure, many areas farther north along the Mighty Mississippi may be better known for whopper blues, but you’ll find some absolute slobs parking their broad backsides nexts to rocks, pier rubble, log jams, sunken barges and anything that breaks the cur-rent and allows optimal feeding opportunities. Often holding within 50 yards of Delta boat launches and seawalls these whoppers are one of the river’s most underutilized fisheries.
Capt. Ross Montet actually discovered this scenario by accident, but the Buras fishing guide has perfected a simple, yet effective method of consistently bending rods with these big blue beasts. Working out of Cajun Fishing Adventures, Montet said it all started with a trash run.
I was dumping a few baskets of fish carcasses from the cleaning table one evening and as they were drifting downriver, I started hearing something blowing up on the scraps,” Montet said. “At first, I couldn’t figure out what it was, but then I saw one come up; it was a 50-pound blue catfish."
No exaggeration, I’ve watched Montet chum monster blues up to the surface where the jumbos would suck in a whole, head-on redfish or trout carcass like a bluegill slurping a Mayfly. During a past photo shoot, he and fellow guide Cody Obiol hauled in a pair that easily broke 50 pounds and one was pushing 70.
On this evening, the anglers were targeting particular fish they had marked earlier in the day with sonar. Big cats tend to stake out their belly-down spots, so anchoring up-current of the fish and drifting baits back to them worked like a charm.
Montet said blue cats love baitfish schools, so watch your bottom machine for balls of pogies or mullet. Also, Obiol occasionally find these whiskered predators patrolling the outside edges of current seams where the river leaks into the Delta marsh. Drifting cutbait through the eddies and into the still water often produces big bites.
For the river action, Montet said he plans his catfish missions based on seasonal water dynamics. When the Mississippi River is low, saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico pushes farther upstream and the catfish retreat northward. During spring’s highwater period, the current can be too strong to properly anchor and effectively present your baits.
"You want a certain amount of current to wash food down to the,” he said. “Catfish like an easy meal and don’t want to have to work too hard for it.”
Big blues don’t play around, so Montet handles them with stout spinning or conventional outfits with 7- to 7 1/2-foot rods and 80- to 100-pound braided line. He finds that braid’s thinner diameter makes it less conspicuous, especially after sundown. A no-stretch line helps set the hook on longer presentations, while the braided line’s extreme sensitivity helps him detect light pick-ups.
Montet has caught big cats on Carolina rigs, fish-finders and knocker rigs, but he finds a modified drop-shot rig enables effective bottom presentations that keep his bait above potential entanglements. First, he secures a 6- to 8-ounce bell sinker to the line’s terminal end with a Palomar knot and then forms a dropper loop about 5 feet up the line. (Rig height depends on the type of bottom structure and where the fish are positioning.)
A 6/0-9/0 circle hook keeps the big fish latched and Montet uses a loop connection to allow himself rigging versatility. Pushing the loop through the hook eye, he’ll pass it over the entire hook, pull it snug against the line on the backside of the eye. Changing hooks is a simple matter of loosening the loop, but the pressure of a hooked fish keeps the connection secure during the fight.
Notably, those redfish and trout that attract the majority of Delta inshore attention actually play a role in the river’s blue cat fishery, as chumming with cleaning table scraps is a sure-fire way to make the jumbos show themselves. Just about any smelly morsel appeals to the cats’ nimble noses, but baiting your hook with a trout belly strip is money.
Montet prefers the belly because it’s the most substantial piece of meat left on a filleted carcass. With any piece of bait, he suggests keeping it to about 2 inches. This allows plenty of room for hook penetration, which prevents the fish from swallowing a bait and becoming gut-hooked.
Patience is key for the Delta blue cat game; you have to give the chum time to reach the fish and stimulate their feeding instinct. That being said, Montet’s not going to burn the clock waiting on a fish to make up its mind.
”If you can’t get a bite within 15 to 30 minutes, it’s time to leave,” he said. “Now, if you know there’s a fish there, maybe you saw him on you sonar, you might want to give it a little longer. They’ll likely turn on eventually.