Catching really big fish — in a really small boat
Catfish are available in almost all freshwater areas of the state. Regularly caught in lakes, bayous and rivers, these fish provide great food and sport. However, they also provide an opportunity for kayak anglers to catch some true giants. The three species available in Louisiana are blue, channel and flathead catfish. The current No. 1 state record blue cat is 114 pounds, while the top channel cat is 30.31 pounds and the best flathead went 95 pounds. (The top three blue cats all weighed more than 100 pounds.)
While officially classified as freshwater fish, changes in hydrology across coastal Louisiana have many areas much more brackish — and these big cats are regularly being caught in areas that now support a mixed variety of species. While many of these catches are coming accidentally while fishing for speckled trout and redfish, some kayak anglers are catching on to the opportunity and honing their skills to specifically target these delicious brutes.
Joshua Bourg lives in Larose, and is an avid kayak fisherman. On the water every chance he gets, it’s not uncommon to see weekly social media posts of the fish he catches while on his lunch break: big reds, big drum and big catfish. I recently took a trip with Bourg down the bayou to get a glimpse into his catfishing routine. After throwing a cast net to get some fresh mullet for bait, we launched at a private launch and headed into the Intracoastal Canal.
How to catch ‘em
“We use various techniques like trolling, sliding corks and straight bottom rigs depending on the conditions and what the fish want on a particular day,” Bourg said.
On this day, the wind and current were moving pretty hard so Bourg suggested tucking into the bank and fishing near rock piles, a bridge and anchored vessels. The first stop was a little slow with only a couple of missed fish. We then moved down current about a half-mile and posted up out of the wind near some large vessels that appear to have been anchored for quite a while. Casting right up to the bow, Bourg set the hook on a giant blue that put up a great fight before being wrestled into the ‘yak. Several more were caught, including a big flathead. Different cut baits were tried as well as live minnows, but the fresh cut mullet proved to be what they wanted.
Rigging up for cats
Make no mistake that these fish can be heavy and are tough fighters. You definitely don’t want to be tangling with them on your trout rod. Bourg’s recommendation for gear is a stout rod and reel with minimum line size of 30 pounds for blues, or at least 40 pounds if you’re looking for flatheads.
“The blues will usually run straight out, but the flatheads nearly always head for rocks and cover,” he said. “You need strong line to handle them and keep them from breaking you off.”
Circle hooks in the 8/0 to 10/0 size work well on these big fish. Just be sure to not to fill the hook with bait, or it won’t be able turn and anchor as it is designed to do. When using a large chunk of cut bait, put the hook through near the top and just under the fin root to hold it on the hook, but leave the inner circle of the hook clear.
Bourg fishes big cats year-round, but prefers the cooler months because it’s always a fight to keep the crabs from eating your bait in the summertime.
“That’s where the balloons or sliding corks work well,” Bourg said. “They keep the bait suspended off the bottom and make it more difficult for the crabs to feed on it.”
Catfish are true predators and not simply scavenger fish as many people think.
“I’ve seen blue cats that were probably 100 pounds schooling up bait and aggressively feeding,” he said. “There’s nothing like seeing those big fish roll and slap the water with their tails.”
Bourg is hooked on catching big fish — and there’s no better way than doing it in a kayak.
“Every time you put your line out, you never know how big the fish will be,” he said.
Bourg’s personal best is a blue about 65 pounds, but he says he knows he’s lost a 100-pounder.