Big Muddy Catfishin'



by Dr. Nick Rauber

Many years ago, my good friend, JJ Tabor and I met while attending LSU in the late 90s.  It was during those early years of Swollfest, fishing with mutual friends out of Grand Isle, when I found out how skilled a fisherman JJ really was.  Since then, more than 20 years of school and life have passed, propelling Dr. Tabor to become renowned as one of the best fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.    

Last December, he called to see if I wanted to make a trip downriver to give catfishing a try with his brother-in-law and two 6-year-old nephews, Tripp and Sawyer.   This was exactly what I needed with so much going on at the end of the year and said I would love to enjoy a relaxing weekend with a couple of kids being kids on the Mississippi River.  All I could think about was that I would be witnessing the new age Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.  

As a young boy, I was fascinated with the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.  There was even a time when I got to visit the hometown of Mark Twain in Hannibal, Missouri and see in person what I had read about.  I can remember being totally enamored with the legendary duo and anything that had to do with them.  

I have always loved any time I could spend on the Mississippi River, hunting or fishing.  At one point in high school, I ended up pictured in the Times-Picayune holding my fishing pole and dip net, getting a stern warning from the levee district police for wading in the batture area.  I just wanted to catfish and scoop river shrimp, but in hindsight, the cop was just looking out for the safety of my irresponsible teenage self.  Needless to say, I’ve always had an affinity to fishing the River, and here was my chance to rekindle those nostalgic feelings from decades ago.  

Just like all young kids going on an adventure, they have boundless energy and questions.  As we headed down to Venice, Tripp had a lot of questions for us. We’d answer, then a whole new slate of questions would roll in after his imagination ran wild with the escapades to come. 

Arriving late in the evening to Venice Marina, we launched and headed by boat to the houseboat, where we met Sawyer and his dad.  As soon as the boys got together, they were ready to play. The men got their gear together for the next day’s adventure as the boys built forts in the bedroom, had the usual crashes, screams, tattling, and make-ups.  Letting this go for several hours just to get out their energy was exactly what they needed.

As morning arrived, the boys were amped to go fishing.  We headed out, taking it slow through the Jump, just soaking in all the beautiful scenery.  I’ve seen it many times, but it never gets old. There is something magical about the mouth of the River and watching this next generation get to enjoy it warmed my soul.  

The two of them sat on the seat in front of the console, hoodies tightly tied, as we headed downriver.  The sun rose, casting its warm rays across the water on the cold crisp ride, as a myriad of birds flew in every direction.  These are the times that get engraved in my memory as if in slow motion.  

We pulled in the first cut, the River was flowing rapidly through the Roseau cane, whirlpooling in some areas.  As the boat zigzagged, the boys laughed loudly as if we were on an amusement ride. Capt. JJ pulled up in a perfect-looking spot in the bend of an offshoot of the River.  He laid out the game plan to the boys and made sure they understood why we were doing what we were doing, making sure no one would get hurt. He wanted to make sure they respected everyone, sharp objects, and the fish we’d be catching.  For as long as their attention allowed, they understood.  

We began baiting lines with some left over pig liver that had been recently harvested as well as some cut baitfish soaked in the same liver bucket.  As far as catfishing goes, this looked like the absolute best bait we could have!

It didn’t take long after setting lines with this epic stink that the big blue cats started smashing the bait.  As each line would go, the boys would get so excited; of course, what one had, the other wanted. So we had to take turns with the gaff, baiting lines, and pulling in catfish.  No matter where we put the lines, in deeper areas or more shallow ones, the boys would say, “This is the spot, we’re going to catch a bunch here!”

We changed locations several times, but everywhere we went, the fish were hungry.  This was one of those special days when the fish were biting all day, solid blue cats, not a single other species.  As some of these catfish came in, they looked like swollen garbage bags. Big ole roly-poly blue cats, some pushing 35-pounds; and every time one of these big ones came in, the boys would lose their minds!  The boat box was full of catfish ranging from 10-35 pounds after a productive day on the River.  

It was very special seeing Tripp and Sawyer enjoying a great day on the mighty Mississippi River.  A part of any southern outdoorsman’s DNA, the realization of how amazing the mouth of the River is to produce so many aspects of life.  As we rode around all day, the boys pointed out many new things they saw. They admired, in their own way, the vitality of their surroundings.  The smiles never left their faces, and they were constantly hitting each other to show something new.   

I never want to miss out on the opportunity for another great experience outdoors, especially when I can be a part of the next generation’s eagerness to experience.  Seeing Tripp and Sawyer forming those memories at a young age is what it’s all about. There were so many valuable life lessons and memories gained in that short period of time, they aren’t even aware they learned.  That’s what life is all about!