John Jamison (left) and Kevin Parks had their hands full after winning a Twisted Cat Outdoors
tournament July 22 on the Mississippi River. (courtesy of Twisted Cat Outdoors)
Tips for Catching the Catfish of a Lifetime
By Brent Frazee
Giant blue cats don’t come easily, but experts offer advice on how to increase your odds of catching one.
So, you’ve seen all those photos of anglers hoisting huge blue catfish, and you’re envious. Your personal best is only 10 pounds, and you admit that was a bit of a fluke.
How do the pros catch those monsters? you wonder.
We’re here to help. We interviewed three of catfishing’s best—John Jamison, Kevin Parks and Chad Mayfield—for some tips. Follow their advice and there’s a chance that you will soon be posing with a supercat of your own.
Go with the Flow
During the hot, sultry days of summer—at a time when many fishermen retreat to the air conditioning—John Jamison of Spring Hill, Kansas and Kevin Parks of LeRoy, Kansas head to moving water on major rivers and reel in huge cats.
Check this out: In a Twisted Catfish tournament on July 22, 2023, on the Mississippi River, this duo brought a winning weight of three blue cats weighing 146.98 pounds to the scale. And in weekly trips to the Missouri River in the Kansas City area, they have routinely caught and released cats weighing 50 pounds or more.
How do they do it? They excel at a method called bumping.
That’s another word for controlled drifting. They target river bends and current seams and use their trolling motor to slow the drift down to about half the speed of the current.
Jamison, a longtime pro staffer for Lund Boats, is known for his ability to walk his baits to the side of the boat to prime habitat he spots on his side-imaging sonar unit.
“We’ll drift the outside bends on the rocky side of the river,” said Parks, who is known for the planer boards he makes. “We try to fish right where the rock meets the sand. That’s the swiftest, deepest part of the river.”
Jamison and Parks often rely on their electronics for precision fishing. After the Twisted Cat tournament on the portion of the Mississippi River near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Jamison said the team targeted ledges in 30 feet of water.
“We had stay on those ledges,” he said. “If we got off them, we weren’t catching fish.”
The Night Bite
Chad Mayfield of Pell City, Alabama also does well fishing in the heat of summer. During one stretch in late July, he caught blue cats weighing 60 pounds or more on three consecutive trips on Lake Wheeler near his Alabama home. But his tactics were night and day different than those employed by Jamison and Parks.
He caught those big cats at night when he could escape the heavy boat traffic on Wheeler.
“On Wheeler, it feels like the big ones are hiding from all the activity,” he said. “I do best when I get away from everybody and fish spots that no one else is.”
That isn’t difficult when he fishes at night.
“Wheeler gets so much fishing pressure for catfish these days,” Mayfield said. “When I lived in Illinois and I would come down here to fish, we could catch fish everywhere we would go. Now you have to hunt for them. There are huge blue cats in here, but they’re not always easy to find.”
Mayfield likes to use Draggin’ Master inline weights so his baits drift smoothly across the bottom.
Jamison will use baits that are abundant in the body of water he fishes. On the Missouri River, that often translates to Asian carp, an invasive species that has proliferated in the moving water.
“I’ve fished the Missouri River so many years, and today we have more 50- to 100-pound fish than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I think there’s a direct correlation between the catfish and the abundance of Asian carp. Before, it was hard to get bait on this river. Now, with the Asian carp, we have a big bait supply.”
Jamison and Parks often use freshly netted Asian carp to catch their big river cats. But Jamison has devised a way for fishermen who have trouble finding fresh carp to also use the popular bait.
He has developed Dark Water Premium Baits, in which slabs of Asian carp are preserved and sold in Ziploc bags. They are advertised as shelf-stable, meaning they don’t require refrigeration.
In other situations, where Asian carp aren’t as plentiful, Jamison prefers other fresh baitfish such as gizzard shad.
Mayfield takes a different approach. He uses skipjack herring, which are common in Wheeler and other Alabama waters he fishes.
“I like to start with a big skipjack—one that is a pound to a pound and a half,” he said. “If they’re just picking at it and not taking it, I’ll drop down to a smaller bait.”
When Parks fishes reservoirs, he often uses planer boards that he designed. Those boards carry the line to the side of the boat, where fish are less likely to be spooked by the wake.
He often sets several planer boards at different distances from the boat. The tactic is especially effective when the big blues move shallow on big reservoirs.
“In late March when the water temperature is rising, we’ll drag planer boards through the shallows to get them away from the boat,” he said. “I’ve caught fish up to 65 pounds on planer boards in just a few feet of water.”
Jamison often follows a rule of thumb. When the water temperature is below 50 degrees, he will anchor. When it is above that mark, he will be on the move, often bumping the bottom to find the more-active blue cats.
And for fishermen who don’t own a boat? They, too, can catch giant blue cats.
“You have to use the wind to your advantage,” Jamison said. “You want to get on a north bank where a south wind is blowing right into you. That will push the shad into shallow water, and a lot of times the blue cats will follow them in.”
We’ve already talked about how good the fishing can be in July and August after the blue cats have spawned. But action also can be good in early spring when the water temperature rises into the 40s and the fish are just getting active.
Fishing also can be good in October and November, when the blue cats are feeding up for winter. And as long as the water temperature doesn’t get too cold, the blue cats will even bite in December and January.
Jamison recommends using the lightest weight possible—just enough to get the bait to the bottom. In a reservoir, that might be as light as 2 to 3 ounces. When anchored in a river, it might be 6 to 8 ounces.
“It depends on how much current there is,” he said.
He uses a medium-heavy to heavy rod, 80-pound-test braid for the main line and 60-pound monofilament for the drop lines, and varying hook sizes.
The last variable? Putting in the time on the water. Big fish don’t come easily for anyone, even the pros. But follow these tips, and you might be the one battling a giant blue cat on your next trip.
(Brent Frazee retired from The Kansas City Star in 2016 after 36 years as the outdoors editor. He continues to freelance for magazines, websites and newspapers. He lives in Parkville, Mo., a suburb of Kansas City, with his wife Jana and his two yellow labs Millie and Maggie.)