Catching Big River Blues

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 29, 2010

hooks because they eliminate the need for “setting the hook.” When a blue cat grabs a circle hook, all the angler has to do is pick up the rod and start fighting. Rod holders are highly recommended in a boat or from the bank because a huge blue catfish can easily pull an expensive rig into the water before an angler has time to react.

Most big river “catters,” as they are sometimes called, agree that the best baits for large blues are gizzard shad, goldeye, or best of all, skipjack herring. They typically use a throw net to catch gizzard shad in the mouth of a tributary or in shallow backwaters that are protected from the current.

Some anglers prefer catching goldeye or skipjack herring on small jigs similar to those used to catch crappie. Skipjack herring are more widely used on the Mississippi River due to their better availability. Missouri River anglers typically fish with gizzard shad, which can only be taken by net.

Shad and other baits are typically cut into pieces depending on the size of the bait. Carl feels that the bigger the bait the better. He likes to describe bait in monetary terms, comparing a large hunk of bait to a quarter and a small piece to a penny. Would you bend down to pick up a penny?” he asks, “A mungo blue might swim right by that penny, but it rarely ignores a quarter.”

Most blue cat anglers consider the head of the shad or skipjack the best bait of all. According to a recent article in Outdoor Life, the Illinois state record blue cat, which was taken last year on the Mississippi River near St. Louis, was caught with the front half of a skipjack herring—including the head, of course.

Virtually all serious blue cat anglers are sensitive about bait and they shun the frozen sort. They prefer to catch their bait fresh, but if that isn’t possible, they vacuum seal the bait before they freeze it so that it will appear fresh when thawed. Chris has been known to go out of state, if necessary, to collect skipjack herring, vacuum seal it, and freeze it for the next fishing season.

Although many catfish anglers practice catch and release on trophy-sized blues, it is worth mentioning that the blue catfish makes fine table fare. Their meat is firm and delicious, and when deep fried in oil with a

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