Trotlining for Big River Cats
Dr. John Woods 09.16.20
Believe it or not, rednecks make pretty good outdoorsmen. Two cases in point are my friends Kerry French and his son James of Ebenezer, Mississippi. They both grew up fishing and hunting all over the Magnolia State and elsewhere. Mostly Kerry was self-taught or learned outdoor skills by hanging out with other like-minded outdoors rednecks. James learned by going along for the ride with his dad.
It’s late summer in the south now, and with COVID-19 shutdowns still widely in place there is little else to do these days than to fish and dream of fall hunting seasons. Really it is too hot to fish, but if you love it like these guys you are going to find a way to go. Their latest passion is to run trot lines on local Central Mississippi Rivers like the Yazoo River and the Big Black River. Both produce huge catfish of different varieties. Trotline fishing is both a science and an art.
“We have been running lines on the Big Black and the Yazoo Rivers for years. These rivers are much alike and yet greatly different. When the water is low on the Big Black you cannot run a boat down the channel. It becomes choked with deadfall trees that fall into the river during spring floods. If the water is right, it is great catfishing, but if not, you have to move to the wider and deeper Yazoo,” says Kerry. “Our most recent trip was on the Yazoo.”
“Running a trotline simply (easier said than done) means to stretch a sturdy nylon line across the river tying both ends to opposite banks. Then you tie on drop lines of lengths according to the river depth to the trotline at roughly 5-6 feet intervals. The droplines carry a lead weight, and a hook of choice. We use circle hooks baited with goldfish. Goldfish will last longer in the water than most every type of bait,” notes French.
Once a trotline is “set” it is left to soak overnight. Sometimes French and his helpers will put out 2-3 lines as working a trotline is considerable back breaking work. After a 24-hour soak, the lines are “run” the following day. This amounts to boating to each dropline to see if a fish is hooked. Catfish size can vary greatly from five pounds to fifty. A good sized cat yielding good fish meat is 30-40 pounds.
After fishing the lines, then either rebaiting for another day, or pulling the lines out, the second phase is cleaning all the fish. It is not unusual to catch 5-20 fish. It takes most of a day to filet all the meat, bag, then freeze it. Some is always left for dipping in hot grease to fry. If you have a bit of redneck in you or not, you might want to gear up for some trotline fishing.