Eating-sized catfish abound in this overlooked Southcentral Louisiana waterway.
Perhaps it’s the pure enjoyment of a long boat ride. Maybe it’s the pioneering spirit to explore that drives us. Or maybe it’s trying to find a honeyhole a friend pointed out on a map.
But the fact is, when it comes to fishing for blue cats in the spring, we need to cut to the chase. Just maybe, they’re no farther than the closest highway or railroad trestle along the Calumet Cut.
Patterson resident Ackaloy Paul, an avid bass angler who enjoys fishing local club tournaments, grew up in the tri-city area. He’ll be the first to tell you, it doesn’t matter what kind of fish it is, as long as he is fishing. What’s more, fishing the Calumet Cut is something he’s been doing since his momma first took him years ago.
“She used to take us, and we’d fish off the bank,” Paul fondly recounted. “She always brought us in the evening.
“When I got older, I got a boat. And that’s when I started doing a lot of different kinds of fishing and fished a lot of other places. As it happened, one day my brother-in-law and I came out here — like back in the old days — and we loaded the boat. Ever since then, this is where I’ve been fishing catfish.”
The Calumet Cut is actually better known as the Wax Lake Outlet. Where the Atchafalaya River drains roughly 30 percent of the Mississippi River and much of the Red River from the Old River Control Structure, the Wax Lake outlet drains 38 percent of the Atchafalaya.
In short, a tremendous amount of water passes through the Cut, straight as an arrow, on its way out into Atchafalaya Bay.
Though blue catfish can be caught in most bayous and canals along the coastline, some of the better catches using a rod and reel are generally had in bigger bodies of moving deep water, like the Atchafalaya River. In these streams, most catfish are caught in or near backwater eddies, washouts, pipeline crossings and drains. Coastline bayous are also tidal, where baitfish and other invertebrate drift through the water and are ultimately ambushed by blue cats.
Cutting to the chase, there aren’t many of these locations along the Cut from Grand Lake to the Intracoastal. In spite of that fact, there’s plenty of catfish that make their way down the outlet to catch.
The Cut is also deep, and therefore requires big weights for tight-line bottom fishing that’s typically done when going after blue cats. Don’t be surprised when you cast out toward the middle and your line looks like it’s coming right back to the boat.
Paul tinkers quite a bit with depths when he’s fishing the Cut.
“Depending on the current and how deep I want to go will influence what size weight I’ll use,” he said. “But I’ll use a 1-ounce, 2-ounce or even a heavy 4-ounce weight if I want to fish right on the bottom. And I like braided line — 30-pound test Power Pro is what I use. I do use monofilament too, but I get a better feel using braided line.”
Paul will sometimes fish weightless and let his bait drift in the current. He will also fish with his hook suspended several inches under a float at certain times during the spring. The reason being, during the spring it’s not uncommon to see fishermen dipping shad along the banks on either side of the Cut in sight of the bridges.
Paul one day noticed blue cats popping and hitting the top of the water along the edges of the spillway.
“Shad typically swim in the shallows close to the bank,” he said. “And I’m a big shad person — I look for shad. I like to fish anywhere there’s shad around because I find the target fish I’m after are more active. I’ll fish here often when I see the guys are dipping shad along the bank — that’s when you know the catfish are really running good.
“In the springtime, you can come here and sit and see them popping and fanning their tails. They’ll come up on the surface and feed on shad and river shrimp. That’s when I won’t use a weight, and I’ll just let it rise and float to the surface with the current.”
What Paul has caught along this stretch of the Wax Lake Outlet typically isn’t big catfish. The angler points out that the closer to the coast you get, where grids of canals cut between the larger main bayous, is where the bigger fish are found.
That said, Paul also notes what is caught along the Cut is nice.
“Along here we don’t catch the great, great big ones,” he said. “Every now and then, you’ll catch one that’s 5 or 6 pounds, but most of them are in that good frying range.
“They catch the big ones farther down toward the coast, where it’s more open. Down there, people will find deeper holes and more often than not, in those deeper holes is where the big ones will be. Up here, close to the highway, there are times where you’ll find a deep hole that will have a big catfish in it, but not like down below the Intracoastal.”
Ask anyone who fishes catfish in this region, and the bait of choice more often than not is river shrimp. But catfish are known to prefer bloody or stinky baits simply because they are bottom feeders, where they use their sense of smell to find lunch and dinner.
In this part of the country, unlike our northern counterparts who use dough balls with a garlic and cheese smell, bait for catfish runs the gamut. Beef melt, chicken liver, nutria liver, rabbit liver and cut bait such as shad or mullet, just to name a few, are popular.
Paul is a meat cutter by trade, who works for Rouses Supermarket in Morgan City. Being a meat cutter, he has his favorite baits to fish catfish too.
“My secret weapon is beef heart,” he said. “But at work I’ll sell a lot of 5-pound boxes of chicken hearts too. A lot of fishermen fish choupique with them. But it’s real good bait for catfish too.”
When you cut to the chase, blue cats will eat just about anything that smells or feels like food. But anglers should never ever forget, probably more catfish have been caught using good-ol’ worms than any bait out there. What’s more, with the Calumet Cut so close to town, there’s always a box of worms in some small refrigerator at a local store somewhere within a few minutes’ travel.
It’s good to have a few choices with you.
On my recent catfishing trip with Paul along the Cut, we used both saltwater shrimp and beef heart. When fishing catfish with my spouse, she prefers worms and I prefer river shrimp.
There are also a variety of Berkley Power Bait products designed to entice catfish to bite that come in pre-packaged soft balls. Flavors include blood, garlic and liver. Results can be mixed when using these packaged baits, but under the right conditions they can be effective.
Paul points out that, though there are a number of trotlines along this stretch of the Wax Lake Outlet, indicating how good the fishing is, few stop and fish it much.
“I’ll fish wherever there’s water,” he said. “I love it so much. I love all of it — bass fishing, red fishing and catfishing. There’s nothing better than sitting with a friend, talking and having a good time. But people don’t think to fish here. They pass it up.
“I’ll watch people come out of the landing and never stop along the spillway or even think about fishing here. They’ll run the entire Cut all the way to Bell Isle and never stop. But they’ve got fish here, and close to home too.”
A few locations anglers should try out when fishing the Calumet Cut are north of the highway. When the Bayou Teche locks are open, the stretch from the locks to the Cut can be productive.
Further north near West Grand Lake, on the west side of the outlet, is what Paul refers to as Pop’s Canal, a popular bass fishing location. But, along the spillway at the mouth of this canal, fishermen who are looking to catch a few blue cats should try this location.
When you cut to the chase, the Calumet Cut isn’t a renowned catfish location, nor known to produce huge blue cats, but it is too close to pass up when you’re looking to put a few fillets in the deep fryer.
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