By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
The emergence of the cicadas known to science as Brood XIX or The Great Southern Brood – and known to Southerners as an audible plague reminiscent of the book of Exodus – can also mean great fun to catfish enthusiasts.
There are more than 2,500 species of cicada around the world, all of which seem to be having a family reunion in northeast Mississippi right now because of the emergence of one.
Magicicada is the genus of the 13- and 17-year periodical cicadas. They emerge on a 17-year cycle in northern states, but every 13 years here. They’re a slightly smaller and different-looking creature than the Tibicen genus that, thanks to overlapping cycles, emerge here every year in late summer.
Both types, however, make excellent bait – a fact confirmed by Keith Sutton, a lifelong catfish enthusiast and outdoor writer from Alexander, Ark. Anyone who’s watched pond catfish inhale commercial fish feed knows the fish are more than willing to feed on top of the water. Cicadas, especially in periods of abundance like the present, are a great natural alternative that fits nicely on a hook.
“Two natural foods that encourage a topwater bite are grasshoppers and cicadas,” Sutton says. “I’ve watched catfish slurping them from the surface on many calm summer mornings, evenings and nights. Other insects are eaten as well – mayflies, moths, caddis larvae, hellgrammites. But these miniscule offerings don’t seem to appeal to larger cats the way a big buzzing cicada or fat grasshopper does.”
The thought to use the common Tibicen or “dog day” cicadas as bait might not occur to anyone since they’re not all that numerous and, therefore, a good deal of trouble to catch, but the current hatch of the Magicicada brood is just the opposite.
In areas where they’ve emerged, they can be found clumped by the thousands on low-hanging limbs and branches of small trees and, in the cool of the mornings, they’re borderline immobile and can be collected with relative ease.
One of Sutton’s experiences with this bait coincided with the last emergence of Magicicada in his home state.
“While fishing on a small lake, my father-in-law and I watched as dozens of cats – some of them quite large – rose to the surface to pick off cicadas that had taken a dip,” Sutton said. “A trip to the trees edging the bank provided plenty of our own for bait. We hooked each through the hard shell on the back with a 3/0 octopus hook, and cast it out on the water’s surface with no weight, bobber or other terminal tackle. Within seconds of each cast, we’d be playing a nice channel cat – and occasionally a blue cat – that rose to take the insect offering.
“The next month, while fishing with a veteran catfisherman on Missouri’s Osage River, I tried unsuccessfully to coax him into using cicadas for bait. He refused, thinking it nothing more than folly. When we pulled into the boat ramp eight hours later, having caught no catfish, we were greeted by one of the man’s friends who had been far more successful.
“‘How’d you catch those?’ the cat man asked, eyeballing the pile of five- to 20-pound channels and blues in his friend’s boat. ‘On cicadas,’ his friend answered. ‘I wasn’t getting a bite on regular baits, but I every time a cicada buzzed down and hit the water, a big cat would gobble it up. So I caught some and put ‘em on a hook. Caught a cat on every cast. Never knew till today you could catch a cat on a topwater bait. And, boy, is it fun!’”