Thanks to some lessons learned decades ago by a Lincoln Parish youngster from his mentor, his family is enjoying lip-smacking fried catfish today.

Keith Johnson watched and listened attentively as Lake D’Arbonne fishing legend, I. B. Emmons, demonstrated and taught the proper way to prepare fishing lines to attract some of D’Arbonne’s big flathead (Opelousas) catfish.

Johnson was a good student and after moving his family to the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri a year ago, he discovered some waters there he felt could produce some of the same quality catfish he’d seen Emmons haul into the boat years ago.

“After moving up here and hearing what good catfishing the Missouri River offered, I talked to some fishermen and did some on-line research. I was convinced that if those big old “Ops” would bite on D’Arbonne, they ought to do the same here in this river if I used the same techniques I.B taught me. However, this river has quite a bit of current so I knew I’d have to make some adjustments,” said Johnson.

“The tackle and bait is the same we used in Louisiana; a heavy line, sinker and I’ve been using 9-0 Mustad saltwater hooks. I catch some bluegills, put them in the live well to keep them fresh, and bait my hooks with them.”

Because of the current in the river, Johnson looks for areas away from the main channel where the current is slowed significantly by obstructions.

“This river has wing dams and it’s typical to find log drifts up against the dams. Knowing that catfish like wood as well as the slower moving water under these drifts, I’ve been able to pick my spots and set my hooks there, and it’s paid off pretty well,” he added.

I’d say it’s paid off pretty well. During the last two weeks of June and the first week in July, Johnson has caught 12 flathead catfish, six of which weighed between 10 and 15 pounds; four between 25 and 30 pounds with two tipping the scales at just over 40 pounds.

“From what I’ve been able to learn, I have been fishing the river at a prime time; June and July are usually the best months. Fishing success will drop off between now and when cooler weather arrives in fall when it should pick up again.

“Another problem up here right now is the low water conditions I’m finding in the river because of the drought. I’ve seen it drop quite a bit to the point that it’s been harder to find suitable spots to set my lines,” said Johnson.

While most of the fish he has caught have been hooked by dangling his bait off the bottom near deep water, the largest was caught in five feet of water; the fish was buried up in a root ball and waiting for a bream to swim by. Fortunately for Johnson, one of the bream the big cat chomped down on concealed a Mustad hook.

“That one was special; I had my 16 year old daughter, Hannah, with me that day and I let her land it,” he said.

The 9-0 hooks he uses have been sufficient so far in landing the dozen flatheads he has caught but one morning when he ran his hooks, Johnson found something that indicates he may have to move up to something bigger.

“I came to this one line, pulled it up and the hook was straightened. The fish that tied into this rig had also pulled the line so tight it had cut into the wood of a log it was lying across. I’d love to get a look at the whopper that was able to do that,” he said.

Thanks to lessons learned at the feet of I.B. Emmons, Keith Johnson is now enjoying catching catfish in Missouri, just like he did as a kid on Lake D’Arbonne.