By John E. Phillips
Almost anyone can catch catfish May through October. Few anglers can take monster-sized cats throughout the winter months like Tennessee River guide Phil “Catfish” King of Corinth, Mississippi. I fished with King below Pickwick Dam one week and learned his secret strategies for catching big cats year-round.
King says, “I’m convinced that cats eat something every day. I’ve learned where big cats live through studying their habits. If I put bait up-off the bottom that catfish will eat, I can catch them – no matter what the time of year.”
However, King has learned that catfish take their time biting during the winter months – far longer than they do in the summer. “Many times, even a big catfish will hit a bait for 10 minutes during the winter, before finally taking it in and swallowing it,” King notes.
“Some of the places I like to fish are deep holes down in the river below Pickwick Dam,” King confides. “Almost every major river system in the nation will have drop-offs, holes and underwater ledges downstream from hydroelectric plants.” If you plan to catch big wintertime cats, you must first survey the river bottoms below dams and look for drop-offs, holes and ledges downriver. Catfish like to hold in these areas, where baitfish congregate and other food washes into the holes.
Once King locates the holes he uses his trolling motor to hold his boat steady against the current. Then he lets his line fall-down to the bottom and slowly allows the current to move his boat downriver. King raises his rod tip and lifts the lead up off the bottom. Controlling the drift of his boat with his trolling motor, King lets the boat move-back 3 to 6 inches before he sets his lead down again.
“I want the nose of the boat pointed into the current and my line running at about a 30-degree angle toward the back of the boat,” King explains. “I start bumping my bait along the bottom above the holes, let the bait drop-down into the holes and then bounce the bait along the bottom out the back side of the hole. Since the catfish are often on top of, in or behind the hole, you want to work that entire stretch of the bottom.”
King prefers fishing the deeper drop-offs and holes in the river during the summer and winter months, because during those two times of the year, the bigger cats tend to hold where depths reach 30 to 40 and even 60 feet.
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