Catching Big River Blues
We motored up the Mississippi just after dark to a fleet of moored barges. A few miles upstream from the mouth of the Missouri River, we anchored next to the rusty leviathans. I mentioned to Carl that it seemed like a peculiar place to catch catfish.
He baited my line without asking me if I needed help and showed me where to cast. Ten minutes later, I was reeling in a huge mass of flesh and whiskers under the industrial lights of the barge repair depot.
As Carl netted the blue catfish, he guessed the weight at 35 pounds. “Nice fish,” he said, not overly impressed. A quick check on the digital scale put the fish at 38 pounds, by far the biggest catfish I had ever caught on pole and line. As he cut off another skipjack’s head and slid it onto my hook, he added, “Lets see if you can do a little better; the night’s still young.”
St. Louis is home to the confluence of our nation’s two greatest rivers, the Mississippi and the Missouri. As a fisheries management biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, I have promoted fishing big rivers through seminars, hands-on fishing workshops, and brochures. Occasionally, people also approach me on their own (usually by phone) to ask how to safely navigate and fish the Missouri or Mississippi rivers. That’s how I met Carl Roberts, a 51-yearold electrician.
Carl had been bank fishing on the Mississippi River with night crawlers and stink bait for a couple of years, but he rarely caught a catfish over 5 pounds. After watching anglers come in from the river in fishing boats with blue cats up to 50 pounds and larger, he decided it was time for a new challenge. A few months later, Carl was plying the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in a 17-foot, deep-V aluminum boat. His quarry was blue catfish—or more specifically, big blue catfish.
During that period, beginning about five years ago, I heard from Carl often. He asked about everything from river hazards to bait and catfish habitat. I helped him to the best of my ability, but I eventually steered him toward popular fishing magazines, including In-Fisherman’s Catfish Insider, to get the latest information on catching big blues. It took a few years, but Carl’s efforts paid off. Now, he routinely catches blue cats in the 30- to 40-pound range and caught 65- and 72-pounders last year.