Outdoor Corner: Catching Catfish in the Trees

Lyle Johnson

Catching catfish in the trees; your first thoughts might be, “I’m not exactly sure how they get in those trees, but I’ll give it a shot. Could it be that those walking catfish from Asia have learned to climb?” They were introduced in the United States in the early 1960s in Florida. 

While it does not truly walk, it does have the ability to use its pectoral fins to keep it upright as it makes a wiggling motion with snakelike movements to traverse land. And it can breathe air. It is reported in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Nevada but not in south Louisiana. It certainly can’t climb trees.

Charlene and Roy Sutton are catching them in the Cypress trees in Lake Palourde May 4 on night crawlers under a cork as well. This is a 10.5-pounder Charlene caught among the 40 they caught that day.

But there is a technique for catching catfish that has been around for a while that seems to have cemented itself a top spot amongst the hardiest of catfish aficionados. That would be fishing under a cork in the cypress trees in at least two popular lakes (Lake Verret and Lake Des Allemands) that have been on fire for the past few years.

This technique is very popular for husband and wife teams as well as the kids too. It’s not terribly technical like bass fishing. No need to spend a couple of hours the night before rigging 10 or 15 rods with baits you’ll probably change a time or two before making your final decision.

Cheryl Nickens Billiot and her husband Tony, caught these 30 bream and 24 catfish May 7 fishing in Lake Verret in the cypress trees under a cork using night crawlers.

Everybody can actually use the same rig up, while bait selection is not too difficult either. Choose your favorite rod and reel and tie just about any hook to the end of the line. A circle hook works really well for those that are not developed at setting the hook. Place a cork around 18 inches up the line with a split shot (lead weight) about two or three inches above the hook

Now for the bait; night crawlers (worms) are probably the top choice for most anglers fishing this way. They are easy to attain at most bait shops and convenience stores anywhere near the water. Chicken livers work pretty well and can be bought at any store. Shad and crawfish work really well, but a little time and effort has to be put in to get them. Shad are usually obtained with a cast net, while crawfish need to be dipped in a ditch.

Another thing to watch out for while fishing in the trees; snakes! This is a non-venomous water snake, but you never know.

The list of the technical parts of this fishing operation is short. Location is the first. Not everywhere you pull over will hold catfish, so sometimes it takes trying a few locations to find the concentrations of fish. Your cork distance could factor into the success rate as well. Experiment with the depth of your bait to obtain the maximum catch.

There are a few choices about which hook to use to increase your chances for hook up rates. A normal 1/0 hook works really well but if you have someone in the boat that is inexperienced in setting the hook, a circle hook is the way to go. The hook is designed to bury the hook in the fish’s mouth without setting the hook. They work very well.

The cypress trees in Lake Verret and Lake Des Allemands also offer great panfish action in the spring (right now) as well. So the potential for catching more than one species of fish is highly possible.

The same bait (night crawlers) is one bait choice that will catch them along with crickets. Your hook size will have to change for the smaller mouth that bluegill have. They will be in different locations as well.

The good thing about those “bigger that your hand-sized” fish is that they are getting ready to spawn right now. When bream spawn, the males make a bed for as many females that they can attract.

So you could actually find one spot that literally have hundreds of fish. The females will be preparing to lay her eggs and the males will be guarding the nest or getting ready to fertilize the eggs that the females lay.

Lake Palourde has also made its way into the catfish, cypress tree top ten list. Not only can you launch you boat at Lake End Park on Hwy 70, the first part of the park offers fishing from the bank into Lake Palourde so you don’t even need a boat to catch plenty of catfish, bluegill and chinquapin.

Catching catfish under a cork has not been limited to cypress trees. Two summers ago, the shad were in the Diversion Canal in great numbers and catfish love to eat them. my neighbor was fishing on his pier, tightlining like usual when he thought he felt fish hitting his line on the way to the bottom.

He remembered me talking about  catching catfish under a cork but that was in shallow water, not 30 ft deep. So he decided to give it a try. Lo and behold he and his fishing partner began catching beautiful blue cat 40 ft from the bank under a cork.

I’d been out of town for a week and upon my return he quickly informed me about the cork fishing. It came as a bit of a surprise to me but hey, who am I to be a doubting Thomas.

So out came the spinning reel with a popping cork with a night crawler on the hook and it was on! Eventually I was able to catch some shad in my cast net which made the catch ratio go up and for about three weeks we caught them that way. It was awesome.

For the past month, we’ve had lots of current and plenty of catfish action on the Diversion. Five piers of anglers have been catching plenty of catfish. On one of the piers across from me, I watched a couple tearing them up and guess what? They were catching them under a cork about 2’ deep.

Who woulda’ thunk it? So whether it’s in the trees or not, there is plenty of catfish action going on now. So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!