The Ups and Downs of Mississippi River Prespawn Catfish

The Ups and Downs of Mississippi River Prespawn Catfish

May 27, 2021

The Ups and Downs of Mississippi River Pre-Spawn Catfish

By Phillip Gentry


As a part time catfishing guide with Cat’n Aroun’ Guide Service, B’n’M catfish pro-staffer David Magness of Hernando, Mississippi has his hands full keeping up with catfishing patterns on the Mississippi River, this year.

Magness said the water levels on the Mississippi have been fluctuating greatly with several rapid rises and steady declines occurring. As if up and down water levels were not enough, Magness said the blue catfish for which the river is famous, are also entering their pre-spawning patterns which also tends to make things interesting.

“It’s a new adventure every day on the river,” said Magness. “It’s not hard to catch fish once you locate them but locating them can be challenging.

Catfish are not hard to catch during the prespawning period but locating them takes a little bit of detective work.

Magness said blue catfish are actively feeding during the pre-spawn phase, especially with baitfish, and particularly skipjack herring, running pretty good in the river. This means even trophy catfish in the 50+ range will venture into shallow waters along the bank and can be caught in as little as 6 – 8 feet of water.

“The issue is the water levels,” said Magness. “The fish will gravitate to structure along the banks when the water is on the rise. Typically, you’ll look for areas where the bank meets the bottom at a hard angle, or you’ll look for structure like rocks, logjams, or blow-down trees that have fallen off the bank.”

On a slow fall in the water levels, catfish will move from their primary shallows areas and drop back to secondary areas that would have 20 – 30 feet of water but now have less than 15 feet.

In either scenario, Magness will anchor using the Spot-Lock feature on his trolling motor and position his boat parallel to the shoreline. He will then fancast 6 – 8 rods around the boat making sure he has baits in 6, 10, 15 and even out to 20 feet of water.

He has a backup plan if the water continues to fall or makes a faster decline.

“In a hard water drop, I’ll go to an area that was hot when the water was up and I’ll find the deepest water in that area,” he said. “This is because the fish will drop back on a hard fall till the water levels settle, then start the process all over again. They won’t necessarily leave the area, but they’ll drop back to the deepest water within sight and wait it out.”

Magness said he knows the spawn is approaching when the catfish bite starts to get “mushy”. By that he means that fish will often clamp down on his bait and squeeze it and move off slowly. It is often hard to get a hard hookset because the fish will drop the bait if they feel a lot of resistance.

“That’s why I like using the new B’n’M Silver Cat Elite rods this time of year,” he said. “They’ve got enough backbone to land whatever bites, but the tip is a lot more sensitive, so I don’t lose fish for not seeing a bite or the fish feeling the weight of a heavier rod.”

B’n’M’s Silver Cat Elite rod combines the ultimate in strength and sensitivity for light biting catfish and heavy-weight brutes alike.

The all-new 7.5ft, one-piece B’n’M Silver Cat Elite is made of E-glass composite material, which provides extreme strength and durability for catching trophy catfish.

The rods are designed for suspended drifting and anchoring and has a non-parabolic action that provides a stiff backbone, but with a faster tip to see bites more clearly. 

The action of the rod is unique and will provide excellent visibility.  Other prominent features of the rod are a double-nut locking reel seat made of aircraft grade aluminum, Hi-vis tip - especially useful for night fishing, and a high-quality X-Grip handle that provides extra grip and improves rod aesthetics.

Magness said as catfish move closer to the spawning season on the Mississippi, he’ll begin looking for fish that prefer to enter into some of the open-end oxbows off the river. These are typically the early spawners that will spawn back in the oxbows as early as June.

Shallow water is the goal for prespawn fishing even when water levels are up one day and down the next.

River spawning catfish may hold off until the entire water column warms up which can mean July or even August spawning in the river. Magness said the best thing about the spawn is when it’s over. Post spawners come off the spawn hungry and mad and the bite will turn from tepid to arm breaking almost overnight.

Skipjack herring, which is plentiful in the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers this time of year is his go-to bait, although he is likely to have some cut Asian carp or gizzard shad in the boat with him just to change things up and see if the catfish have a preference on a given day.

B’n’M has all the catfish tackle you need to land the big ones. Check out our catalog online at


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