The problem is, I am not accustomed to grabbing a rod in a rod holder and setting the hook. That's why I missed three really good-sized catfish just the other day. Big ones... great big ones. Well, I don't know that for sure but when you lose one, you like to think that.
I was fishing on Oklahoma's Grand Lake, in the Neosho River arm with Don and Lois Scott. Don is a taxidermist from Joplin, Mo. who has advertised in my magazine for many years, and is always telling me about catching big catfish over on the Neosho River, about 40 minutes from Joplin. He catches most of them in January and February and March, and I finally got a chance to go with him last week.
There isn't much of a secret to it. Don catches shad from the river on his throw-net, cuts off the head and cuts out the center of the shad, with all the entrails entact, then baits a big circle hook with that chunk of shad and adds the head to the hook. The hook is about 18 inches or so from a swivel up the line, and above that is a sliding egg sinker of about three-quarters of an ounce. If you want to catch catfish, that line needs to slide through the sinker so the fish doesn't feel the weight when he picks up the bait. I don't know if it is necessary to have a favorite spot, I think there are so many catfish in that muddy tributary to Grand Lake that you could catch them in a lot of places, as long as you are fishing in 15 to 20 feet of water. It seems that Don Scott just ties up along the bank and heaves that heavy sinker and bait out into the current, which isn't all that strong. That's where the rod holders come in. In each of his rod holders he has an open-faced casting reel with 25-pound line and pretty strong rods, because he often catches blue catfish up to 20 pounds, and quite a lot I suppose between 10 and 15 pounds.
But you have to learn the technique... when you see that line straighten, and the rod tip bend a little, you have to pick the rod up out of the holder, setting the hook as you go, and ignoring the reel. It is just one motion, done quickly, setting that hook hard and strong, and then reaching for the reel. I found myself to be a little slower than I should be, mostly because I have the tendency to reach for the reel a little too quickly. My inexperience cost me those three catfish, but I caught four others, and one was six pounds. Unfortunately, Don's wife Lois beat me with a seven pounder. It is difficult for a grizzled old veteran outdoorsman like me to be beat by a woman, but it will never happen again. Some of those fish I didn't get a hook into were twice that size, and the next time we try that, I won't miss them. I learn in a hurry. If I had learned just a little quicker, I am confident I would have put a ten pounder in the boat.
Oh well, with that same rigging, you can go out and catch big catfish, where big catfish are found, and where you can catch shad. But in some waters a nice live sunfish would work as well, or some chicken liver or commercially-produced blood bait.
I took home about 7 pounds of catfish filets, and Scott told me to go by the grocery store and buy a package of mild shrimp and crab boil stuff. Then cut the fresh catfish filets into small pieces about two inches across. He said to empty the package into fresh water in a fairly good-sized pan, and boil it. When it starts to boil good, put the catfish chunks in, and it will stop boiling. In about two minutes it will begin to boil again, and you can see those catfish chunks begin to float. You take them out and cool them, and you can dip them in melted butter or tartar sauce and eat them hot. My gosh, why didn't somebody tell me about that before? I think I could have eaten the whole seven pounds of fish done just that way. You need to try it next time you get a good catfish or two. Especially if you are someone who shouldn't eat fried foods. It was the best doggone catfish I ever ate. Maybe I was just extra hungry. Anyhow, I am going back to fish with Don Scott again if he will leave Lois at home. Every time I missed a good one, I could hear her snicker about it, and you know how I am about men being beaten at something by women.
My good friend and fishing partner Dennis Whiteside went to Millwood Lake, down in the southwest corner of Arkansas, and caught a bunch of big, big crappie. That lake has a crappie spawn going on right now, and they are bigger, on the average there than any place I ever fished in Ozark waters. If it stays cold here, I might go down there next week and try it myself. But of course you know where I will be this coming Saturday. I will be at the Lightnin' Ridge Outdoorsman's Swap Meet, where I hope to meet a number of you readers. This week I have to make a bunch of turkey calls, which I often sign and inscribe, the best turkey call ever made. I make folks promise not to use it but one hour a day, so that the gobbler population will not be reduced by too great a number. If you will come by and see me I will give you my March magazine free of charge, and you can meet the editor, Sondra Gray, who will autograph it for you.
We are actually going to play an old record or two on that hundred-year-old crank-style record player we will have there. And some antique collector can buy it and take it home with them. Since last week's column we have gone over 40 tables, and I relented and let one lady who makes jewelry have a table so we can have something for the ladies. I am hoping we don't have any men there who wear earrings, but I expect there will be some wives there who do. That jewelry lady is also bringing fudge. Another fellow we signed up for a table this week does scrimshaw carving, which should attract a lot of attention.
If you need a small outboard motor I think we will have several in the 5 to 10 horse sizes, and a couple of bigger boats and motors for sale out on the parking lot. Remember that if it is cold and rainy, it is warm inside that big gymnasium at the Assembly of God church. It is located just off the new Highway 13, at the 215 exit about 16 miles north of Springfield, about seven miles south of Bolivar. We will be there from 8 to 2, this coming Saturday, and admission is free.
There is more info, and a map to the swap meet on my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO. 65613