To begin, think big catfish don't taste good? Then think again. It's all about the way you cook 'em up. Even at most restaurants when you think you're eating small catfish, its usually big ones sliced thin. The most important factor is to cut out all the red meat.
After filleting I like to soak them in a half vinegar, half ice-water solution, and then rinse thoroughly with water before packing.
For pan frying in olive oil or deep frying, slice them really thin and marinate them with olive oil and seasonings. Baking them in the oven coated with Panko bread crumb crust works well, too.
My favorite way to eat them is in a good, spicy, slow-cooked catfish courtbouillon along with a few pounds of crabmeat and other seafood thrown in as well. If cooked down, the catfish will fall apart and blend perfectly with the crabmeat.
So try these methods before throwing that tasty fish back in the water.
The first step for a trotline is cutting your pickets. I like to have one around 10 to 12 feet and another around 15 to 18 feet depending on the depth of the water. The best way to position your pickets is to find the back of a bend in a bayou where the current cuts the bottom deep within just a few feet of the bank. The catfish are usually on these hard drop-offs.
Don't waste your time putting the line across the canal, because as soon as a big log drifts with the current your line will break, plus you won't have as many hooks in the prime spot.
Put the short pole close to the bank and put the longer one about a third of the way out toward the middle, stretching the line up and down the canal bank. A benefit of some of the shallower hooks is that you can catch choupic, garfish and softshell turtles, as well.
After the first few runs you'll see if you're catching near the deeper or shallow end of the line, and then you can reposition a picket so the majority of the line is in the most-productive area.
You may be pleasantly surprised when nearly all your hooks have a catfish on them just because of proper depth placement of the line.
I like to keep the line around 20 to 40 yards long so you keep a good, solid tension. Longer lines tend to lose their hook-setting power.
I also like to keep hooks about 3 to 4 feet from one another. I don't like to space them too far apart in case a fish steals one bait; another bait will be close, and you'll probably have many hooks in the best drop-off position instead of only a couple.
Tie the main line about halfway down the picket before setting it in the mud so that the line is suspended instead of too high or on the bottom. I find a bait on the bottom will be less productive because the fish won't pull downward like with a suspended hook. When a fish takes the bait on a suspended hook and flees downward, it becomes hooked.
Next, a pull string makes checking the line a breeze. Since the main line is tied down the picket, forget trying to reach under the water with a paddle, just tie a line to the top the picket and connect it a few feet down the main line before or to the swivel leaving some slack. This quick tip will save tons of time reaching for the main line.
Always remember to set the main line before putting the hooks on.
I use a 5/0 trotline hook, which is strong enough to hold a monster fish if my pickets have enough give. But it still can straighten if I pull on a main line that is caught on a log; that way, I don't have to cut the line.
Forget using too much terminal tackle and swivels on every hook. I use heavy rope for the main line, using a quick loop knot. For the hook line, I use a smaller nylon rope with a loop knot on the end. You quickly put the hook-line loop through the main-line loop and pull the hook through the hook-line loop, and the hook is on in a second and can be taken off just as quickly.
To keep the fish from twisting themselves on the line, I tie a big heavy-duty swivel to the main line about 3 to 4 feet away from each picket. Nothing can get twisted this way, and it makes removing the main line a breeze. I use a floating noodle to put all of my hooks on so nothing ever gets tangled.
Everyone knows catfish eat just about any bait, but what is the best? In my experience, cut mullet and perch catches big ones but not as many, while small poggies and other oily shad catch the most.
The problem is that these poggies fall off too easy, so I use the best of both worlds. I hook a small piece of cut fish, making sure to go through the tough skin, and then I take a small poggies and bury the point of the hook in it. Even if the poggie gets nibbled off that chunk of fish will remain until one bites.
Two or three throws with the cast net will usually land me several hundred small poggies. I precut the fish chunk and poggies, and freeze them in Ziplocs so my bait is always ready to go. If catching perch or mullets is a problem, I recommend cutting belly meat into 1-inch chunks, leaving the skin on, while cleaning fish. This normally wasted portion of the carcass can help you catch many catfish.
Try setting out a few trotlines this way, and your freezer can stay full of catfish filets all year long. And don't forget to bring the landing net with you!