Ouachita River catfish offer anglers a good summer alternative

Kade Thomas of West Monroe shows how productive Ouachita River catfishing can be this time of the year.

Josh Thomas lives in the middle of some great bass and crappie fishing territory and he loves the challenge of chasing both those species in his home waters.

But he has also discovered something else that is fun to do with his 16-year-old son, Kade, that “puts a little more tug on your line.”

“Fishing is kind of slow in the summer and honestly, I just wanted to try something different with Kade, something that puts a little more tug on the line,” Thomas said.

That tug comes from catching big old Ouachita River catfish.

“There aren’t a lot of people that fish for big catfish on the river, but it has good catfishing all up and down the river,” he said.

The hardest part is trying to figure out where to fish in the long winding river that runs from the Arkansas line all the way south of Columbia.

“You just have to cover a lot of water and spend time finding them, then figure out how they set up and how you can fish them,” he said. “I look for key stretches of the river that have a lot of laydowns, specifically in the outside bends of the river with deep water nearby. The bigger catfish will get there for the structure and food is always nearby.”

Thomas just runs the river and finds some key spots that look good, something that “pops out at you,” meaning something different like a big bend, an area near a runout or river lake or spot with lots of laydowns, usually in a curve of the river.

“From there, I’ll run my side scan and check out the brush and baitfish, then use Livescope to see if we can spot different types of fish,” he said. “When we find the catfish, we’ll drop the trolling motor and get into position.”

Josh and Kade Thomas like shad best for catching catfish, and they cut the side of the bait to add more to the “scent profile” of the bait.

Sometimes he uses an anchor upstream of the fish so he can let the boat drift back down close to the catfish and sometimes he just noses the boat in on the bank where they can cast their baits out of the back of the boat. He even has a homemade rod holder for four rods that they bait up and toss out.

“You have to be patient,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll catch a fish right off, but other times you have to wait 15-20 minutes. There are usually one of two things that happen. You can get the bait right where the fish are and get bit, or sometimes, more often than not, you’ll have the bait upstream of the fish and the scent will get to them. Then they’ll swim up there and get the bait.  If all the baits sit there for 30 minutes with no action, we try another spot.”

Thomas’ day catfishing starts out with a key activity. He takes a cast net in a river lake or slough and catches 20-30 shad. His favorite are 2-5 inches long. That’s his favorite length. And to increase the “scent profile” of the shad, he always cuts a couple of slits down both sides of the bait to put more scent in the water. There are other baits, but he loves the shad.

They use heavy rods and line and he likes flat 2-3 ounce sinkers and No. 5 or 6 circle hooks. They tie the lead on the bottom of the line and then the hook about a foot and a half up the line.

This type of fishing is good now on up through the late fall when the weather changes and the water starts to cool off. You can also do this at night, but take plenty of precautions and bug spray.

“These things are fun to catch and they also provide some good eating,” Thomas said, “And I have to admit, Kade has really gotten into this, too. And as usual, he puts it on his old Dad pretty bad.”

About Kinny Haddox 574 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.

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