Catfish Profiles in Passion – Jonathan Cooksey
by Ron Presley
Use each fishing trip to develop your skills
Jonathan Cooksey’s memories of fishing go back to his childhood and his uncle’s farm raised catfish pond. “It was a real treat when I got to fish there,” offered Cooksey. “You never had a bad day!”
Jonathan credits his dad, Jackie Cooksey, for his fishing passion. “I remember as a child that dad always would let me go with him, any time I wanted. He would do everything in his power to make sure that I had fun. Even to this day I think dad enjoys seeing me reel in a fish more than himself.”
“I try to use any technique that keeps me on the move.”
The 31-year-old Corinth, MS resident joins a host of well-known anglers that call Corinth home. It is almost like there is something in the water. Catfish anglers like Phil King, Larry Muse, David Shipman, Brooke Wilbank, Jonathan’s dad Jackie Cooksey, and more reside in Corinth.
“Corinth is definitely home to many catfish anglers,” offered Jonathan. “We live in a good location close to a lot of good fisheries. I can be at Pickwick Dam catching bait in 15 to 20 minutes. We are fortunate to live in this proximity to everything. I think this helps build interest and you can have success without traveling too far. I’m not sure why so many catfishermen live here, but it’s my home and I’m proud to be here. I recall voting a while back and running into Phil King at the polls. You know you live in the right place when this happens!”
Like so many of his Corinth brethren, Cooksey mostly fishes the big fish waters of the Tennessee River (Pickwick/Wilson/Wheeler Lakes) and the Mississippi River. “The addiction is real,” admits Cooksey. “I’m always working on tackle, looking at maps, or working on new ideas when I’m not fishing.”
“I’ve loved to fish as long as I can remember,” continued Cooksey. “In fact, I don’t just love to fish, I have had a strong desire for it. I really started fishing on a regular basis in high school. But, for the past few years, tournament fishing has focused my passion solely on catfish.”
Jonathan’s addiction to catfishing in particular started with his first catfish tournament in 2012. He has now been tournament fishing for six years. “My dad has always set a good example for me, from day one until now. When I started tournament fishing, he showed me the right way to go about it. There are many people in catfishing whom I respect, but my dad is number one in my book.”
Tournament fishing requires a variety of fishing skills. “My favorite techniques are suspend-drifting, dragging and bumping,” said Jonathan. “I employ each of these techniques at different times of the year and in different situations. I try to use any technique that keeps me on the move. I believe this helps me present my baits to as many of fish as possible during a given day. I really enjoy bumping baits in current. There is just something cool about having the rod in your hand when a big catfish takes your bait.”
Having the right skills and tools have allowed Team Cooksey to enjoy many successful tournaments. One particularly memorable one was Cabela’s King Kat tournament on Wheeler in March of 2016, because it was Jonathan’s best day ever.
“We had five fish that weighed 189.06 pounds that day,” recalled Jonathan. “Our bag included my personal best of 86.78 pounds. We ended up with the win and big fish, but even if we had finished last, it would still have been my best day on the water.”
“That day was just one of those magical days that happen only when the stars align,” continued Jonathan. “As soon as the tournament began we started catching fish and caught them steady until around 11:00 am. After 11:00 the fish shut down and I don’t remember getting another bite on that spot. While they were biting, it was the best that I’ve ever seen. I remember culling multiple fish in the 30- to 50-pound range, and thinking to myself, I can’t believe this. I’d hate to even guess how many fish we caught that day, but the number and the quality was by far the best day that I’ve ever had.”
Jonathan contrasted his best day with his worst, which was also on Wheeler. “Fishing can be feast or famine sometimes and that is just the way it is,” said Jonathan. “We fished the 2016 Winter Blues on Wheeler without a bite. Nevertheless, I consider a day that we don’t even catch a fish a good day, because I learned what not to do. I try to use every trip to at least learn something new and build experience.”
When Jonathan looks to the future he reminisces about the past. “I would like to be remembered by my fellow anglers as a strong competitor with a strong passion for the sport. When I see someone new to the sport, I see myself just a few short years ago. I had a lot of help in my journey and I’m forever grateful. I believe one way I can give back is to help new anglers and make them feel welcome. I hope to continue fishing for a long time and will continue tournaments if the fun is still there. It is definitely exciting to do well in a tournament, but it’s even more exciting to see someone catch their personal best or a kid hooked up with a trophy fish.”
Jonathan fully recognizes the importance of conservation to the sport of catfishing if those personal bests and trophy cats for kids are to exist. “We have a special resource entrusted to us. Luckily, I live in an area where the fish are protected pretty well, but a lot of anglers are not so fortunate. Threats to the number of trophy catfish come from many directions with the level of severity varying by region. I do see positive things happening, like more people practicing Catch-Photo-Release (CPR) on fish over 10 pounds. This change of behavior was achieved through education related to the importance of releasing trophy fish.”
Personally, I would love to see catfish get the status of game fish in all states,” continued Jonathan. “Increasingly more people are starting to target trophy fish and I think that will be a good thing for our sport on the conservation side. I believe the more catfishermen we have, the stronger voice we’ll have. I think numbers, unity, and education will help us get better regulations passed that offer more protection for the fish that we all love to chase.”
“I love fishing because there is always something new,” concluded Johnathan. “It is a constant challenge to find and catch fish. I’m also a hunter and I think of trophy catfishing like hunting for a big buck. You have to find the fish and then develop a game plan to catch them. I love fishing because there are no certainties and there is so much left to learn about the fish we chase and catch.”
“I plan to continue fishing for as long as the good Lord will allow me. I have a five-year-old son and an 11-month-old daughter. I’ve already introduced my son to fishing and will introduce my daughter in the next couple of years. Hopefully my plan will insure that Team Cooksey will live on.”
I talk to people all the time that would like to fish competitive catfish tournaments, but won’t enter due to the fact they don’t think they can compete. There is tons of information online on sites like Catfish Edge, YouTube, and various others. With this amount of information available, I believe the learning curve is better than it has ever been. I would like to encourage anyone thinking about fishing a catfish tournament to enter. If I can have some success, anyone can.
Some of my greatest learning experiences have been for so called “bad tournaments”. There are very few sports where you can compete against the top level of anglers, and luckily competitive catfishing is one of them. Get involved and I’ll bet you’ll be surprised by how much you learn in a short period of time. Most of the big names in cat fishing are eager to help, I know because they’ve helped me along my journey.
I realize that tournament fishing is not for everyone, but how would you know if you never give it a chance. This is a good time to begin cat fishing and help to grow our sport for the better. I have made some very good friends from meeting them at tournaments. It is amazing how you can relate to someone when you share the same interests.
I would like to thank my current sponsors Whisker Seeker Tackle, Whisker Wear Apparel and Barnes Marine for everything they’ve done for me. These are three great companies and I’m proud to represent them.