Kayaker regularly battles Mississippi River cats
Katniss Everdeen is a fictional character in the popular Hunger Games trilogy. The Everdeen character is a self-sufficient woman who uses her outdoors skills to survive and triumph.
Although catfishing is not a matter of life and death, Robyn Bordelon has been dubbed “Catfish Everdeen” by several of her friends in the paddle craft community. She earned that monicker for her ability to find and capture big Mississippi River catfish from her kayak.
When the spring snow melt starts the river rising, many communities to the south go on alert. The levees are inspected and the river gauges are checked daily. They’re cautious about the possibility of flooding.
Bordelon goes on alert, too. However, her’s is out of excitement rather than caution.
Bordelon knows that when the river water floods the batture, she will be able to once again launch her kayak and chase big catfish in areas that were hard, brushy land a couple of months earlier.
This is no haphazard operation, as she plans well in advance for the areas she chooses to fish. While she does fish cats with a rod and reel, the flooded areas also offer the opportunity to set jug lines from the kayak.
Early last year, while the water was down, Bordelon walked out to an area she planned to fish that didn’t have trees or brush tall enough to stick above the water once the river rose. She placed several PVC poles firmly into the ground to act as tie-off spots for the jugs.
Her catfish jug setup is simple and inexpensive. Empty plastic 2-liter soda bottles are spray painted fluorescent orange to make them easy to see from a distance. A length of heavy, green nylon twine is tied around the cap end of the bottle. An 8/0 circle hook is tied about 4 feet down on one end of the twine.
“I was using smaller hooks, but they were getting straightened by big fish,” she said.
No weight is used on the line.
An additional length of the twine on the other end is used to anchor the jug to a tree branch or a PVC pipe.
The jugs are tied on and simply cut off when she takes them in after a day’s fishing.
Another trick is to put a few inches of water into the bottle. Once baited, the bottle floats horizontally and doesn’t bob around as much due to the weight of the water.
However, when a fish bites or is hooked, the water moves to the cap end and causes the bottle to stand vertically to give a visual clue that there’s a fish on or at least that you’ve had a good bite.
Bordelon also regularly catches her own bait. “Shad is catfish crack, and I use a cast net to catch them,” she explained. “I tried crawfish and didn’t have much luck. I prefer to use natural baits, and the shad can’t be beat.”
Her preferred baits in order are shad, mullet and pogie.
I heard about the success of Catfish Everdeen and made an appointment to accompany her on an adventure. To make things easier, she baited and set out four jugs the evening before our trip.
No stranger to solo trips, safety is top priority to Bordelon when dealing with swift river currents and sharing the water with ocean-going ships; a quality PFD is worn at all times.
We met mid-morning near the Bonnet Carre Spillway. She had her yak in the bed of her truck and was ready to go catch some cats. With a rolled-up cowboy hat and a “Catfish College” sticker inside her ’yak, there was no doubt I was about to do some learning about river catfishing.
I followed her to where we could launch across the levee to access the flooded batture. Before we launched, Bordelon looked through a small pair of binoculars to preview the jugs.
“We definitely have a fish on one of them, maybe two,” she said with excitement.
The ’yaks were launched, and we paddled towards the jugs. It’s a pretty humbling experience to be only a few hundred yards from giant steel ships and hearing the rhythmic hum of tugs using multi-thousand-horsepower diesel motors to push barges along the river. In contrast, we were in 12-foot plastic boats using paddles and pedals for propulsion.
The battle begins
As we neared the first jug, it bobbed and bounced with the obvious signs of a hooked cat. Catfish Everdeen donned a pair of gloves and prepared for battle.
A 12-pound catfish on the end of a 4-foot line makes quite a commotion. Bordelon hung on as the big fish splashed and twirled to try and escape the hook.
The circle hook did its job, and she was able get it into the front of her kayak.
Having forgotten her bat in the truck, the requisite “attitude adjustment” had to be applied with the small kayak anchor.
“I really hate this part, but it keeps them from jumping out of the kayak,” she said.
The fish are put on a stringer for insurance, but are placed into the rear tankwell instead of in the water.
“They get too heavy and cause too much drag to paddle around with,” Bordelon said.
Two of the next three jugs also had nice cats.
Each jug was rebaited, and we anchored up to try for a little rod-and-reel action while the jugs soaked. With only a few nibbles and no hook-ups, it was time to hit the jugs again as two of them started bobbing under the weight of hooked fish.
The battle scene was repeated several more times. Before we knew it, another jug went down. This one was really going crazy, and by the time Bordelon successfully netted the big cat, she was soaked from cowboy hat to toe.
With six nice fish in the kayak, we either had to paddle back to the trucks to put them on ice or call it a day. It was barely after noon, and we already had a nice bunch of cats.
We decided to head in. The jugs were cut from their moorings and taken in to fish another day.
Catfish Everdeen proved that she has the skills to navigate the mighty Mississippi, find big catfish and provide a bounty of delicious filets to her family.
Definitely no Hunger Games here.