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Think shell for big blue cats

The column I did on catfish a couple of weeks ago drew a lot of response from readers. That got me to thinking a bit about different techniques to catch catfish in local waters and while doing some research, I came across some interesting news about a strange “catfish” available for harvest for the first time in nearly two decades.

  Let’s talk technique first.

    Mark Davis of Shakespeare Fishing Tackle has fished for catfish all over, including in world famous Santee Cooper Reservoir and agrees that shell, in particular, mussel beds can lead to catching big blue cats.

    “Mussel beds are key structure that absolutely should not be overlooked. The mussels themselves are a prime food source and they are essentially structure that draw in other food sources so for catfish, it’s the best of both worlds,” Davis said.

    Many of our local shell beds cover maybe 1/3 of an acre and are broken up by other structures. Finding the break line between the mussels (or clam) and sand for example or a hump leading from bed to bed is important to consistent action. Cut mullet or perch is a good bait to drive as well as fresh, dead shrimp. It is best to drift and do so slowly enough so that the bait is exposed to the fish on the structure and make several passes at each bed for the best results.

   Along coastal areas, blue cats congregate around shell middens, which were made by Native Americans.

    Studies conducted by the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge biologists have shown that blues have a high tolerance for saltwater and areas like the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Blacks Bayou, the Cameron Prairie Refuge on the east side of Big Lake and much of the coastal marsh north of the Intracoastal holds lots of blue cats.

    Shell middens are key spots to find these fish, which by far respond best to cut mullet. I grew up fishing for catfish this way around Black’s Bayou and around Shell Cut east of Orange on the Intracoastal.

    My Dad taught me to fish these spots for 15 minutes and move to another if the fish are not biting. Any of these middens can be good for blues but the best are those near the mouth of a major drainage or near the juncture of several smaller drainages.

  Tides come into play here and the best tide is an outgoing tide where the marsh is draining its contents, which the blues feed on.

  Hit the middens ? mile into a bayou during the first hour of a falling tide and move toward the mouth after that.

  And while we are on the subject of catfish, Louisiana is legalizing the harvest of “spoonbill catfish” in some waters.

  I’m talking about the paddlefish, which is not really a catfish at all but gets that name in Louisiana and parts of Southeast Texas due to its smooth, catfish-like skin.

    Officials with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) said the paddlefish has been protected from both sport and commercial harvest since 1992 to protect it from over harvest. At that time, LDWF had little information on the population status.  Since 1992, the department has investigated its numbers and established artificial spawning techniques, they said. 

    “We feel the limited harvest of paddlefish, one that does not include the taking of mature females, will provide anglers with an opportunity to harvest a unique fish,” said LDWF Inland Fisheries Administrator Gary Tilyou. 

  Properly licensed recreational anglers using legal recreational gear may take paddlefish. (For a list of legal gear types please refer to the department’s 2007 Recreational Fishing Regulations pamphlet.) or to our Web site at www.wlf.louisinana.gov. 

  No person shall take or possess paddlefish in violation of any of the following provisions:

    #Area: The taking or possession of paddlefish is closed in all saltwater areas of the state and in border waters shared with Texas.

    #All possessed paddlefish must be dead.  The possession or transportation of live paddlefish is prohibited.

    #All paddlefish possessed on the waters of the state shall be maintained intact.

    #No persons shall possess paddlefish eggs on the waters of the state, which are not fully attached to the fish.

    #The daily take and possession limit of paddlefish is two per person.

    #Maximum size limit: All paddlefish greater than 30 inches (lower jaw fork length) must be returned to the water immediately.  Lower jaw fork length is the distance from the tip of the lower jaw to the mid-line of the caudal fin.  For a picture depicting this, please refer to the LDWF fishing pamphlet.

  “The commercial take and possession of paddlefish will remain prohibited.  No person shall purchase, sell, barter, exchange or trade or attempt to purchase, sell, barter or trade paddlefish, their eggs or parts thereof,” LDWF officials reported.

(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at saltwater@fishgame.com. You can hear him on the radio Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at www.klvi.com.)



Chester Moore, Jr. is the Port Arthur News Outdoors Editor