By Ian McNulty
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Fried Catfish
Catfish is enjoyed and celebrated with three festivals in north Louisiana.

Ask a north Louisiana outdoorsman about cats, and you won't hear anything about cute and cuddly.  "Cats" in much of the Louisiana outdoors means catfish.  Many fishermen love nothing better than dropping a line into the water and pulling up a big healthy cat.  And a great many diners around the state consider a plate of fried catfish just about the finest item anyone could put on a table.

Catfish can be caught at almost any time of year in Louisiana.  There are many species – including flathead, blue and channel cats – and a big range of sizes, from less than a pound to 100 pounds-plus.  Louisiana cats are found in waters including ponds, streams, lakes, rivers and backwaters.  Drop a line in a river or lake from north to south Louisiana, and you'll likely find rewards.  See Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for more information.

While diners throughout the state are fond of the fresh fish, catfish is king in north Louisiana. On one Saturday each April its doting subjects gather in downtown Winnsboro to pay homage at the  Franklin Parish Catfish Festival. The event draws an estimated 40,000 people to hear live music, browse 300 or so craft booths and eat lots of catfish.  During the day-long event, cooks fry up two tons of the sliced filets. Other communities also honor the delicacy with big events, including the Louisiana Catfish Festival in Des Allemands and the Washington Catfish Festival in Washington.

For a deep dive into north Louisiana's catfish culture any time of year, travelers can choose from an array of dedicated catfish houses – from Scott's Catfish & Seafood in West Monroe and Scott's Catfish in Ruston.  Their common calling cards are big portions, fair prices and a family atmosphere.

Like many other catfish specialists, Johnny's Catfish & Seafood in Shreveport serves whole catfish filets and thin catfish strips.  "People who like whole fish best will say it's sweeter, has more meat and catfish flavor, while the (strips) are crisper, and you're getting more of the cornmeal and that seasoning," says manager Rory Covington.

The local clientele likes the fish rolled in seasoned cornmeal, and most restaurants fry it in peanut oil. The best batches come out greaseless, crisp and piping hot, accompanied by the near-universal sides of coleslaw and fries.

Travelers might find their favorite catfish house nestled in a neighborhood or along the rural routes on a north Louisiana road trip.  For instance, catfish destination Port au Prince is perched right on the water's edge at Lake Claiborne State Park outside of Homer.