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tonydougla

There are various forms of fish that reside in saltwater

There are various forms of fish that reside in saltwater

If you are in southern Mississippi south of Interstate-10 and have a line in the water, odds are you will catch a saltwater catfish. There are no limits on these white-bellied salty cats in Mississippi waters set by DMR either in number or in size, so they always make a good catch. Largely seen as trash fish, they are abundant but are fun to catch and in some cases good eating for recreational anglers.

Gafftopsail

Peaking from spring through fall and lurking around most bays and shallow waters along the coast, these blue-gray cats are abundant. With very long fin rays and four whiskers, they average about two pounds but when you keep in mind the current state record is 9-pounds, 9.2-ounces for a gafftop caught in 2000 by Shane Ardis, they often go well over that. These beasts are good eating if they are big enough but produce a lot of slime that is toxic and can work its way into cuts and open sores for a nice painful experience if you are cleaning them without gloves. Biloxi locals fishing from the pier are manatee tours known to either fish just for gafftop of to throw them back as mixing these cats in their cooler with reds and sea trout mean slimy reds and sea trout. Rigging small live manatee tours gafftops are a winner offshore for ling and other gamefish as bait.

Hardhead

The gray six-whiskered Hardhead more closely resembles a freshwater cat. With a huge and non-migratory population base, they are always around in salt and brackish water along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Hardhead are much smaller on average than gafftops, and usual adult size is about a pound, with the state record being a tad over three. While not impossible to eat a hardhead, most don't and either throw them back or use them for cut bait or crab traps.

Cleaning and tips

Their dorsal and pectoral fins hide a sharp and painful spine that is known to puncture through gloves, clothes, rags and flip-flop soles, so watch how you handle these fellas and avoid the fins. If you do manage to impale yourself, think of it as pulling out an arrow and withdraw it slowly the way it came in to keep it from breaking off inside your body. If you are so unlucky as to snap it off and can't pull it out, seek medical attention.

Both gafftop and hardhead are best skinned by simply making an incision behind the back of the head, slicing the skin all the way around, and pulling it off over the tail with a pair of pliers. Then simply fillet and cook as you would any other white meat fish (remember anything that looks like red meat is just blood so don't keep it).

The neat thing about cats is that they are the Billy goat of the sea and will hit on almost anything bouncing along the bottom that they can fit in their mouth. This includes live and dead small crabs, minnows, shrimp and, contrary to what some say, any sort of lure that can be mistaken for the above. I've seen them hit on pop can tabs rigged with hooks, among other things. Remember to get in touch with your egg weights to keep your bait down where they can find it. Hooks between 1/0 and 2/0 will do the trick and almost any size line stronger than 3-pound test will pull them in. Many a kid with a Zebco and $2 worth of dead shrimp has filled a 5-gallon bucket with gafftop.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl