Techniques and Destinations
by Ron Presley
You can never have too much equipment.
Travelling to a new big cat destination usually conjures up questions of what to pack for the trip. Veteran catfish angler and B’n’M prostaffer Jason Aycock has some suggestions based on his own experience on three different bodies of water.
Savvy cat men and women know that you really need to discover the secrets that exist for the particular body of water you are fishing. Nothing helps you more than having time on the water in various destinations. What you learn from being there a few times will pay big dividends in the long run. Aycock has his favorite bodies of water and he’s made a lot of good notes about each. They include the Mississippi River, Wheeler and Wilson Lakes, and the Ohio River.
Fishing the Mississippi River
Fishing the Big Muddy is an experience in itself. It is a big body of water with lots of current and lots of structure throughout the river system. Anglers find wing dikes, L dikes, sandbars, sharp bends, revetment banks, and tons of logjams that have collected over the years. Some anglers are scared off because of what they hear about the big river, but Aycock says not to worry. He says you have to respect the Mississippi River, but you don’t have to fear it.
“In some areas, the current will make it up to 6-8 mph,” instructed Aycock. “The average, however is about 2-4 mph. The main technique that works for me on the Big Muddy is bumping and the current helps me do that.”
Aycock likes the bumping technique because it covers lots of river bottom and potential fish. Instead of waiting for the fish to come to your bait, you are taking the bait to the fish.
“When using this technique, you must have the right equipment,” says Aycock.
“My rod is the first choice I make on my equipment. I use the B’n’M Pro-Staff Bumping Rod. The rod is light, very sensitive, and has the backbone to fight the heavy current and a 100-pound catfish.”
“I match my B’n’M with an Okuma low-profile reel,” offered Aycock. “The low-profile reel is very light and doesn’t add much at all to the weight of the rod. My terminal tackle for bumping is a three-way swivel rig.”
Aycock’s hook line is 50- to 80-pound test mono and his sinker drop is 20-pound test mono.
“It’s important on your hook line to add a 2-way swivel about halfway between the 3-way and the hook,” said Aycock. “This added swivel keeps your line from twisting while bumping.”
Aycock uses the trolling motor to cut the backward drift down the river to about half of what the current is actually running.
“When I get to the speed I like, it’s time to start letting the bait out,” instructed Aycock. “Thumb the spool lightly and don’t let the line out too fast. If you don’t thumb the spool, you will either not feel your weight hit the bottom, and let out to much line, or bird nest your reel. Once you reach bottom, lift your weight up off the bottom and set it back down. You repeat this over and over while you boat travels backwards at your reduced speed.”
Fishing Wheeler and Wilson Lakes
Wheeler and Wilson produce some of the biggest fish in the country. They are man-made lakes on the Tennessee River that are controlled by TVA Dams. The dams are what make these lakes different to fish because they control the current.
“One day you might go out and have 1-2 mph current,” said Aycock. “The next day you might not have any. There are different structures throughout these lakes such as standing timber, man-made structures, sunken barges, and humps and roller coaster terrain caused by the current.”
“These lakes are different to fish than a river system that has constant current because you are never sure what TVA will be doing. I am always ready to switch techniques to match the conditions I face on any given day.”
Aycock says that when there is zero current the fish will suspend and roam around. It may require covering a lot of water to find fish.
“With no current my technique of choice is dragging and suspending baits,” instructed Aycock. “I use my trolling motor to produce my own current.”
“Just like any fishing technique this one calls for certain types of equipment,” continued Aycock. “When dragging and suspending baits I use a variety of pole lengths. My rods of choice during this situation is the 10-foot B’n’M Silver Cat Magnum and the 7-foot 6-inch B’n’M Silver Cat Magnum.”
“When fishing in these conditions I take two of my 10-foot Silver Cats and rig them up Santee Cooper style. These poles are set up as my dragging rigs. I set them in my two back corner rod holders. I usually let them out around 150-200 feet. They drag along the bottom as the boat moves with the wind or powered by the trolling motor. If I am using my trolling motor I target a speed of around .5 to .8 mph.”
“I take two more 10-foot Silver Cats and set them up with a Carolina rig. I put one on each side in a rod holder. That way I am covering 10 feet on each side of my boat with a suspended rig. I simply drop the weight until it hits bottom and reel up three times. This gets the bait up bout 5 feet off the bottom where I believe fish are holding.”
“Next, I have my 7-foot 6-inch Silver Cats rigged up Carolina style. These two rods go in the center two rod holders out the back end of my boat. Occasionally I put them in the front of my boat to change the spread. These rods are suspended as well.”
Aycock points out that your boat also needs to be equipped with strong rod holders. The big fish caught in Wilson/Wheeler will test the strength of the holders.
“This technique, with multiple rods and rod holders serve as an extra set of hands,” explains Aycock. “My rod-holders of choice are Driftmaster Rod Holders. These have always worked well for me and come in different angles so I can fit them to the particular presenting I want.”
Fishing the Ohio River
Aycock describes the Ohio River as a smaller version of the Mississippi River below where the Tennessee River dumps in. He also says it is a lot like the Tennessee River above it.
“Below the Tennessee River, you will have current up to 2.5 mph,” offered Aycock. “Sometimes it will run faster if there has been heavy rain in the area. It can, however, be very slow during slack rain periods.”
“The Ohio River above the Tennessee River will sometimes fish like a lake. That can make fishing difficult. You also have dikes on the Ohio, but not as many as on the Mississippi. Anglers will find structures, such as humps and roller coasters, holes caused by eddies, lots of wood that has jammed up in the bottom, and maybe your occasional sunken barge. All good catfish spots.”
“If I have my druthers, I will be suspend-drifting on the Ohio River,” offered Aycock. “Some refer to it as free-drifting. Like I said earlier, there usually is current on the Ohio but most of the time it’s not enough to bump. Anytime the current is less than 1 mph I prefer to free drift.”
In this scenario Aycock uses his 10-foot and 7-foot 6-inch Silver Cat Magnums equipped with Shimano Tekota Reels.
“I rig all the rods with a Carolina rig and might even use a Kentucky rig on a couple of them. The size weight I use depends on how fast the current is. Faster current requires bigger sinkers.”
“The technique is very simple,” explained Aycock. “A typical spread will have 6 rods placed in Driftmaster Rod Holders around the boat. They spread reminds me of a big spider with legs reaching out in several directions.”
After the weight has hit the bottom Aycock reels up 2, 3, or 4 times with the notion of staggering the baits in the water column.
“I want the baits at different depths in the water column. Once I discover which depth is producing the most bites I set all the rods at that depth.”
Once all the rods are deployed Aycock lets the current move the boat where ever it pleases, taking note to use the trolling motor to avoid obstacles. He refers to this use of the trolling motor as controlled drifting.
Aycock loves his bumping, drifting and dragging, but also wants anglers to know when to anchor up and fish stationary on the rope.
“I will anchor fish in any body of water,” instructed Aycock. “But first I have to see a stack of fish on the sonar or structure that I expect to hold fish. If I don’t see the fish or the structure I don’t waste my time.”
“There are times on the Mississippi when I might anchor down behind dikes. There are times on Wheeler and Wilson Lakes when I anchor up on an area where there is a lot of wood. On the Ohio River it could be an old sunken barge or a hump, but I must have that gut feeling that the area is holding fish, before I throw the anchor. Additionally, when I fish in the winter I anchor because I think the fish are less aggressive and it might take a little longer for them to make the decision to strike.”
Once anchored, Aycock normally fishes with his 7-foot 6-inch rods. The only exception he makes is when he needs to make an extralong cast.
“If I need a long cast, I break out the 10 footers to get the extra distance,” explained Aycock. “The longer rods have a lot of leverage. I can cast them a mile. In all these bodies of water I would be fishing with bait that is natural to the area.”
“The last thing I want to mention is to always be willing to change when conditions warrant it,” concluded Aycock. “Every time you go out on the water try at least one new area and always try a different technique.”
“Don’t stay with the same technique just because it’s the way you caught them before. I’ve made that mistake and it has cost me in tournaments. I have had tons of success by being pro-active and willing to change. Finally, we never know it all, so always be willing to listen to other anglers and try the things that they are willing to share with you.”