John's Journal...

Brian Barton – Trolling for Catfish in the Fall and Winter

Day 3: Fish the Historic Sites on the Bottoms of the Tennessee River’s Lakes and Rivers for Catfish

Editor’s Note: You can catch truckloads of catfish during the fall and winter on the Tennessee River that runs through Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, if you know how to troll for catfish. In late October, I learned a technique that makes catfishing fun and productive all the way up until about Christmas. This week Brian Barton of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a professional catfish and smallmouth guide, will teach us all how to catch fall and wintertime cats.

Click for Largr ViewI like to troll for cats, because we can cover more water and present our baits to more catfish in more locations by trolling than if we anchor on one spot and hope to catch cats. Also, we’re moving at 2 to 4 mph, and we’re fishing with circle hooks. The movement of the boat is very effective in setting the circle hook in a catfish’s mouth when the cat takes the bait. Since we’re fishing with our rods in rod holders, when a catfish is hooked, I know the cat won’t come off the hook, until the angler reels the cat up, and I take the hook out of the cat’s mouth. Using this technique and these hooks, we've learned that we can catch far more catfish than we can using straight hooks.

Click for Largr ViewTo get the catfish to bite, I like to keep fresh bait on my hooks at all times. Many years ago an old catfisherman told me, “Never use the same piece of bait twice, even if you catch a fish on that bait.” Over the years, I've noticed that we catch more cats more consistently by constantly baiting with fresh bait. That’s why I carry a lot of bait when I go fishing for meat cats. I change out baits about every 30 minutes. In the winter, you may be able to let the same bait stay in the water 45 minutes instead of 30 minutes.

Click for Largr ViewI've also learned that there are certain places on every lake where you're more likely to catch eating-size catfish than big cats and/or spots where you’re more likely to catch big cats than eating-size cats. When I'm fishing for big catfish, I've learned that the herring shad (skipjack) head is the most-productive bait. When I’m fishing for eating-size cats, the shad guts or cut shad is usually the best bait. I don’t know why the head of a skipjack herring produces more big cats than either a herring fillet or a big chunk of cut skipjack, but I've observed this phenomenon to be true.

Click for Largr ViewWe usually take pictures of and release our trophy cats, but many people just like to eat catfish. So when we’re fishing for eating-size cats, we use smaller baits and smaller hooks and try to catch the cats that are just the right size for delicious table fare. A recent survey said the number-one fish eaten in the U.S. today is tilapia, and the number-two fish consumed by Americans is the catfish. Plenty of channels, blues and flathead catfish are in the Tennessee River. Many people like to fish with us and catch a cooler full of eating-size cats to take home and eat for dinner.

To learn more about trolling for catfish you can email, go to his website at, his Facebook page at, or call 256-412-0969.

To learn more about fishing for and cooking catfish, check out John E. Phillips’ print and eBooks for “Catfish Like a Pro,” “13 Freshwater Fish Recipes You Can't Live Without,” “The Best Wild Game & Seafood Cookbook Ever: 350 Southern Recipes for Deer, Turkey, Fish, Seafood, Small Game and Birds,” by clicking on each title, or going to, typing in the name of the book, and downloading it to your Kindle, and/or downloading a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer. You can also get “The Catfish Catcher’s Cookbook” for free at

For one of the finest places to stay on the Tennessee River, the Coldwater Inn in Tuscumbia, Alabama, go to, or call 256-383-6844.

To learn more about the Colbert County section of the Tennessee River, go to Colbert County Tourism at, or call 256-383-0783.

Check out these YouTube videos:

"Catching Catfish You Can Fry Whole"
"How and Why to Fish for Catfish"
"How to Find Catfish on Underwater Historical Sites"

Share this page with a friend!

Check out our new website at

About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Tomorrow: Family Catfishing Fun in the Fall and Winter with Brian Barton

Check back each day this week for more about Brian Barton – Trolling for Catfish in the Fall and Winter

Day 1: Equipment for Trolling for Fall and Winter Catfish with Brian Barton
Day 2: Where to Troll for Fall, Winter and Catfish with Brian Barton
Day 3: Fish the Historic Sites on the Bottoms of the Tennessee River’s Lakes and Rivers for Catfish
Day 4: Family Catfishing Fun in the Fall and Winter with Brian Barton
Day 5: Catching Smallmouths and Catfish with Brian Barton Year-Round

ALL CONTENT PROTECTED UNDER THE DIGITAL MILLENIUM COPYRIGHT ACT. Content theft, either printed or electronic is a federal offense.


Entry 847, Day 3