Mad as a Hatter

This lifelong Cross Lake fisherman has a different twist that keeps his freezer stuffed with catfish.

Some people think Charles Citrano is just a little bit crazy. But the way he sees it, he’s just somebody who always has catfish fillets in his freezer.

You see, Citrano isn’t your typical Cross Lake catfish angler. Oh, he’ll get out there and drift-fish Hicks Pocket all day long when the weather is nice and sunny, but the crazy part comes into play when Shreveport is the recipient of extremely heavy rain.

“I’m not talking about little sprinkles here,” Citrano said. “I’m talking about at least an inch and a half to 3 inches. The worse the weather is the better the catfish bite.

“Well, it’s like Hurricane Katrina. I sat there during all that rain, and in a four-hour period, I caught more fish than you and your whole family could eat in a month.”

Citrano’s wife has come to accept his idiosyncrasy to the point that she doesn’t even question his sanity anymore. She knows him enough by now to not even ask him to get back into bed when a storm rumbles through at 1 or 2 in the morning.

“If it comes a storm, I’m out of here,” Citrano vowed. “I’m getting on that lake somewhere — in the boat, on the bank, I don’t care. Lightening, thunder, storming, whatever.

“I get my shad, grab me four rods and reels, my tackle box and take off. Give me something to sit on, and I’m good.”

Citrano doesn’t even let work get in the way of catching Cross Lake catfish during a storm. While working the night shift as a security guard at Shreveport Tractor not too long ago, it started raining in sheets.

“I mean it was raining buckets,” Citrano recollected. “At 2 in the morning, I called my buddy who owns the place and asked him if he wanted to catch some catfish. He asked me if I knew what time it was, but I told him I didn’t give a damn.”

Citrano insisted that he was going with or without him and that he surely wasn’t going to catch anything if he kept his backside in bed. The two met, and the end result proved to his friend once and for all that Citrano wasn’t crazy.

“‘Mister,’ he told me, ‘this ought to be against the law. This ain’t fishing. This is catching.’” Citrano said.

If you don’t know much about Cross Lake, it is an approximately 8,500-acre lake that provides the water supply for the city of Shreveport. Because of this responsibility, it is owned by the city, and users of the lake are subject to many city ordinances and regulations to protect the water and the environment around the lake.

The lake has been described as a bowl-shaped reservoir without many exciting bottom structures or features. The average depth is only about 10 feet, and it stays that way just about all the way across the lake until you reach the shoreline.

Because of its location and water-supply function, much of the surrounding area was developed in such a way to send all the runoff from heavy rains directly into Cross Lake.

According to Citrano, this is what makes bad-weather catfishing so great at his home lake.

“We had one hell of a rain during (Hurricane) Katrina,” Citrano remembered. “When you get that kind of rain, I don’t care who you are, what you are, what you use for bait — it makes no difference. When you get where water is going through a bridge, tunnel, whatever, you will catch a lot of catfish.”

During that hurricane-induced rain, Citrano started out fishing with four rods, but wound up with only two because he frequently had on four fish at a time.

By the end of his Katrina trip, he had well over 100 pounds of catfish that filled up a 7-foot rope mouth-to-mouth.

When the water starts collecting in drains and making its way into the lake at places like Bickham Bayou, Page Bayou, Fourtney Bayou and Cross Bayou, the catfish come a running, and Citrano isn’t very far behind.

“Bass and white perch are good right before this kind of weather, but a storm pretty much shuts them and everything else but the catfish down,” he explained. “With catfish, it’s a God-given thing.

“When the water comes blowing in from any tributary, bringing water in, that’s where your catfish will be looking upstream, feeding on bugs, worms, crickets, grasshoppers, whatever.

“When it comes a bad-ass storm, you don’t have to beg them to bite, I guarantee you.”

But the fast catfish bite lasts only as long as the water is pouring into Cross Lake: Once it stops flowing, then the gou, gar and such move back in.

In fact, you can come back the next day right to where you tore up the catfish just hours before, and you might as well throw your baits in your living room floor because you aren’t going to catch anything.

“They feed up all through the storm, and they’re not going to bite the next day,” Citrano said. “They’ve gone back out to deep water at that point.

“But when it’s on, you better not put your rods down while they’re baited up and go get you a cigarette or a beer up at the truck. You can forget that because you ain’t going to have any rods and reels when you come back.”

Citrano likes to bait up with shad when he’s fishing in foul weather. He catches his own with a cast net, releasing anything else like bass or white perch that come up with the net.

All he’s looking for is shad, and he generally keeps maybe 30 that are anywhere from 2 ½ to 4 inches long, freezing them in bread bags.

“Put some water in it, put a twist tie on it and freeze it,” he said. “Then when it comes a rain, get a bag out and take one out while the other ones stay frozen. I keep it in a little Playmate cooler with some ice in there.

“Then if I need another one, I go ahead and put the whole thing in a little net to let it thaw out a little bit — just enough to get another one or two shad out.

“Then if I don’t use them all, I can put them back in the freezer when I get home.”

When he gets catfish on all of his poles at the same time, Citrano believes it’s just about worthless to try to separate them when they get all tangled up as he’s reeling them in.

“Just cut your damn line, put your hook and bait back on, tie the lead on there and throw it back out,” he instructed. “Because if you try to untangle all those lines, you’ll spend forever trying to get them undone.

“Fish that size, you don’t lead them. Sometimes they lead you.”

Citrano finished up with his advice by insisting that he has been telling people this same thing for years, but that they all think he’s mad as a hatter.

According to him, all they’ve got to do to see the truth is to look in his freezer.

“I’ve got plenty of fish, constantly,” he said. “I’ve got freezers full of nothing but fish fillets right now. All those people that think I’m nuts, they want to go fishing when it’s pretty, sunny and nice.

“And that’s fine, but me — I’m going fishing in the rain.”

Cross Lake regulations

Cross Lake requires a $20 annual permit for launching all boats. Permit sales are from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. You can contact the Cross Lake Patrol at 318-673-7245.

Cross Lake is owned and operated by the City of Shreveport, and is under the jurisdiction of the Shreveport Police Department, which monitors the lake and its activities by boat.

About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at

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