The Catfish nobility or mediocrity
By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
May 31, 2002
Folks have more opinions on catfish than most any other creature we seek out for sport and food. The differences stem from such factors as whether we are concerned with catching them or eating them, how we fish for them and our preferences regarding the best morsel with which to bait a hook to catch them.
And there seems to be more interest in these whiskered creatures today than any period I can recall. For one thing, we flock like gulls to a shrimp boat to "fish camps," a woodsy term for remote restaurants on dirt roads, to eat them by the ton – both whole and filleted – but always deep fried.
Even to these hungry throngs, a catfish can be either kingly table fare or just ordinary Deep South fixings. Some proclaim it to be the finest dish that our waters can provide and others consider it a required but commonplace food, like cornbread for example its wonderful, but so are butterbeans, purple hull peas and fresh tomatoes.
Today catfish exist in most of our waters in catchable numbers and we find them hungry often. Anyone can catch a catfish. Kids catch them regularly with cheap rods and reels and experts bring in impressive numbers of giant catfish some in fishing competitions, some for commercial sale and others by grabbling, using only ones bare hands.
Why go for an ugly bottom-feeder like the catfish? The challenge of the fight for one reason. Consider that nowhere will one find the experienced catfish angler who has not had tackle broken and the catfish escape. You rarely know what size fish is going to bite next, and an iron-mouthed brute will often come along and tear up your equipment and swim away with part of it.
And nearly every common species of catfish is not simply edible, but stomp down delicious. Catfish farming for human consumption is a major industry because the fish can be grown efficiently, and provide fillets that are appetizingly snow-white in color and as tasty as fish get.
How do you catch yourself a catfish? Therein lies another of its pluses. Trotlines, single rods and reels, bank hooks, limb lines, jug fishing, drift fishing, grabbling – just about any way one can seek a catfish will work. And they take bait with gusto. What bait you ask? Ah Ha! Now you are opening a can of worms! (Pun intended.) If catfish could be regularly fooled by artificial casting plugs like bass lures, there would be no fish on earth with as many bait options. Catfish may hold that distinction already.
I hesitate to mention types of bait for catfish for fear of leaving out the very one that old Rusty Stringer or some other river rat has used exclusively for 68 years to catch more yellow cat than any other two human beings, living or dead. Suffice it to say that writer Keith Sutton devoted 10 pages of his fine book, "Fishing for Catfish," to baits. Besides all the baits that the ordinary iron-stomached citizen can readily imagine that a catfish will bite, they will take even some beyond the imagination.
Chicken guts are preferred in some locations and the anglers would as soon go onto the water at dusk minus his hooks as get caught without a bucket of guts. Bars of soap are cut into chunks and impaled onto catfish hooks by many successful catfishers.
Wieners, cubed dried blood, oatmeal doughballs and sponges soaked in disgusting liquids drained from dead animal parts are some of the more potent and popular baits used by serious catfish fans. They all catch fish, as do shiny bare hooks at times. I'm not kidding. Many a catfisher will recount stories of catches made on bare hooks. These are catfish that want to keep up their reputation for biting anything.
So if you want to do battle with the baddest fish in the land, take your hook and line to catfish waters. Take along the toughest tackle you've got and be prepared to get it broken. Whether you consider the catfish royalty or just another couple of fillets, you will get your money's worth in fight and your rods, reels, lines and hooks will be put to the test.