Limb-lining for catfish on the Cache River bayou with Black Duck Revival
Eastern Arkansas is known for waterfowl hunting. That’s why Jonathan Wilkins chose Brinkley for the location of his hunting lodge, Black Duck Revival. When he’s not booking hunts, writing for Outdoor Life, or fixing up his own home, Jonathan runs limb-line catfish excursions on the cypress and tupelo canopied Cache River bayou. The beauty, sounds, and bounty of the bayou was the perfect subject for our latest Patreon video, the first of a three part Catfish series that features our staff catching, competing, and eating a LOT of whiskered river fish.
We booked this trip as an extension of our second annual Catfish Wars competition at LeRoy and Lewis. In August we host an internal staff cook-off to see who can cook the best catfish and the winner gets to run their own menu at a pop-up hosted at our new french fry trailer, Mama Fried. After seeing what looked like a great time, and a huge catfish haul on hyper-local chef, Jesse Griffith’s Instagram page, I contacted Jonathan and booked a trip immediately.
Over the course of three days Jonathan shared his knowledge of catching catfish using time-honored methods of limb lining and trot lining. He also shared with Brad (Chud’s BBQ) and myself his strongly rooted ethics behind taking the life of a sentient being as well as some really, really good food. Jonathan stressed treating the fish well, making the end of its life as quick and painless as possible, and using the entire animal. He fried up crispy cornmeal coated catfish tails for us and waxed eloquently about catfish head stew. He served us up a hi-lo version of Tapatio ramen with a soft cooked egg, chili crisp, and the broth and breast of a speckled belly goose he shot himself.
“You don’t just share your wild game with anybody,” Jonathan said as he sliced medallions of the perfectly red rare goose breast and sank them into the broth and noodles. The quality of the food Jonathan cooked for us was the biggest surprise of the entire trip. Having worked as a cook in a previous life, our catfishing guide put up food of a quality that any professional chef would be proud of. He stressed fishing for food, and the techniques he taught us have fed families in the area for generations.
We arrived around noon on a Sunday and after a brief meeting, headed out on the bayou on Jonathan’s boat to set our first limb lines. We sough out limbs hanging over the water with just the right height above the water and tension; enough to hold our six foot lines and pull back against the fighting fish. The bait we used? Pink Zote soap. An animal fat-based laundry soap that’s cheap and easy to obtain and cut. The fat in it sends a scent trail in the water the catfish can smell from miles away. After we set our lines, we headed back to the lodge for dinner and drinks.
The next morning we woke up early to check and rebait our lines. From yards away we could see our tagged lines and limbs shaking with the weight of a hooked fish. There were a couple of fish on but we didn’t come back with a huge haul after the first night. We also set a trot line, a long line with multiple baited hooks and weighted in the middle to get to the fish at a lower depths.
After we got back to the lodge, Jonathan ran us through a fish cleaning demo, described how he would prepare fish of differing sizes, and filleted a couple fish for a fried catfish poboy lunch. That evening we checked lines again, rebaited again, and brought back even more fish.
The last morning before heading out we pulled up the most fish: a couple big 4lb guys on the limb lines and about half the hooks on the trot line were wriggling with fish. After we pulled all our lines and a final round of fish cleaning, Brad and myself headed back to Austin with a cooler full of fish, a couple full bellies, and a wealth of knowledge to take back to our own home waters in Austin.