Talkin' Outdoors

(I wrote a version of this story six years ago but in view of the growing popularity of channel catfish around our area, here’s an updated version of the article.)

I’ve done a bit of snooping around the Louisiana High School Athletic Association records and quite frankly, I’m a tad disappointed. Louisiana athletic teams have picked a wide array of mascots to represent their teams, but there is one that is sorely missing.

There are dozens of Tigers; an equal number of Bulldogs; bunches of Lions, Bears, Gators, Cougars, and Wildcats. Nowhere, however, can I find a team represented by one of the most prolific, tenacious fighting creatures that lives in Louisiana. I’m obviously speaking of Channel Cats. The mascot for the team in my town is Bearcat. Why not the Ruston High Channel Cats instead of Bearcats? What the heck is a Bearcat anyhow?

I can see it now….instead of the Ruston High football team parading out in uniforms emblazoned with the image of a Bearcat – there’s really no such creature – why not feature a ferocious looking channel cat, wearing a football helmet with a menacing grin beneath its whiskers? You could even add an intimidated Tiger or Bulldog impaled on the catfish’s dangerous fins. Keep a big one in a tank that could be paraded out by cheerleaders before the game, just like Mike the Tiger at LSU.

Oh well……

While there may not be any football teams in Louisiana with a channel catfish as its mascot, it’s not because the channel cat is in short supply. They are one of our state’s most abundant fish, they’re easy and fun to catch, and when it comes to table fare, there is none better.

Fishing for catfish was, for me, the equivalent of Ned’s First Reader I tackled in first grade. For me and those with which I grew up, it was necessary to learn the ABCs before tackling Shakespeare. When it came to catching catfish, we started out at the bottom of the catfish barrel by fishing for bullheads. To us, they were “mud cats” but we loved them because neither trickery nor skills were needed to entice them to bite our offerings.

Later, we would graduate to fishing for more respectable species of catfish. Flatheads grew big and mean in the bayous near our home. Limb lines baited with live bream occasionally resulted in unparalleled excitement when we paddled up to one of our sets with a cypress limb lashing the water. The fish on the line could weigh five pounds – or fifty. You never knew until you wrestled him into the boat just what you had.

There is one species of catfish, though, that defines who we are as southerners; the channel catfish. When you visit a catfish eatery in the south – there’s one on nearly every corner nowadays – the fish you have served on a heaping platter garnished with sides of French fries, onion, pickles and hush-puppies is the channel catfish.

Granted, these crunchy, sweet, tasty morsels were reared in a pond at a commercial catfish farm somewhere. They were caught by a hydraulically operated net in a fish farming operation. The ones that flounce on the bank of my memory were caught by a kid with a cane pole and a gob of red wigglers.

The area best known for its production of channel cats in north Louisiana is Lake D’Arbonne. You don’t even need a boat; you can chum an area with a couple of hands-full of dog food, sit on the bank, cast out a piece of cold worm and catch pan-sized channel catfish until you have enough for a good fish fry.

Okay, so no football team in the state wants to be known as the Channel Cats. I think they’re missing a good thing. In my mind, these feisty fighters are capable of scoring plenty of points on the end of the line and are a touchdown on the platter.