Catching Tennessee catfish on the Mississippi River


Josh Ness, Nashville Explorers Club

The Mississippi River

Editor’s note: In celebration of the 2019 Bassmaster Classic taking place in Tennessee, legendary angler Bill Dance is exploring fishing across the state.

The Mississippi River is woven tightly in the fabric of America. It's in our culture's stories, songs, myths. Its very existence has helped us (America) exist through travel and commerce. It's a tremendous resource in so many ways. Tennesseans are very lucky to have it along our western "shore," running south from the state line of Kentucky to the border line of the State of Mississippi.

And, of course, through my livelihood and love for fishing, I've long come to know of another major benefit — recreational fishing.

The Mississippi is a prime location to fish catfish. In fact, it's fabulous, and actually, these adjectives that I'm tossing around may not accurately be enough. Right here in Tennessee, and fortunately for me, almost in my backyard, I have a massive waterway where I can go to catch huge, trophy catfish.

And you can, too.

The river has five different kinds of catfish: blues, yellows/flatheads, channels, bullhead and spoonbills. The most popular of these five are, in order of preference: blues, yellows and channels. History notes that at one time, circa 1800s, blue catfish were caught in the river that weighed more than 150 pounds and measured more than 6 feet long.

Though you don't catch them that big anymore, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, with assistance from Collierville, Tennessee Commissioner Bill Cox, introduced a length limit to protect trophy catfish. Today, anglers (both recreational and commercial) can only keep one catfish per day more than 34 inches. Most recreational anglers catch and release them. Over time this has allowed more of these fish to enter into the trophy category. And when you throw in the surge of the exotic Asian carp species as forage, well, you can see how a lot of catfish are getting plump and plentiful.

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