2018 Texas Catfish Forecast
May 18, 2018
It's catfish time in Texas! OK, so that's basically all year in the Lone Star State when you really think about it.
The ubiquitous catfish is found in almost every nook and cranny of the lakes and rivers that dot our landscape. However, some places stand out above the rest for catching channel cats, blue cats and flatheads, and in some cases, being hot spots for all three species.
In Texas, the catfish ranks behind only the largemouth bass, as you might expect, in terms of anglers' preference, and we've got exceptional catfish habitat in the Lone Star State. Fortunately for us, the fish are more than willing to take a variety of bait offerings all year long.
Here's a statewide glimpse at the catfish hot spots to consider throughout the summer.
It's safe to say that almost anywhere with water is a good place for catfish, but some hot spots do stand out above the rest. In North Texas, the names Texoma and Tawakoni come to mind and in East Texas it's Fork, Livingston and Richland-Chambers. Central Texas anglers know that Buchanan, Waco and Whitney are their best bets, while South Texans can bank on Braunig, Calaveras, Choke Canyon and Falcon for producing limits of fine eating fillets.
However, there are numerous other places that are rated at least good by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists and fisheries experts, so it's quite good to include them in the roundup.
East Texas is a haven for great catfish waters, and while the standouts are easy to name quickly, you shouldn't overlook the rest of the pack. It's hard to overlook Toledo Bend At nearly 200,000 acres it's one of the largest lakes in the South. The reservoir on the Louisiana border is known as a crappie hot spot, but also is good for cats, featuring blue catfish, channel catfish and flathead catfish. Cut baits and natural baits of any kind are perfect for the first two, while live bait dropped near submerged vegetation and laydowns works for flatheads all year long.
Sam Rayburn, north of Jasper, is known more as a largemouth bass honey hole, but it too has loads of cats, with the lake record blue weighing 53 pounds and its record flathead coming in at just over 74 pounds. It's also hard to overlook Wright Patman, southwest of Texarkana, or Lake O' The Pines, northeast of Longview. Patman features superb catfish habitat, including inundated timber, brush, creek channels and riprap, while Lake O' The Pines features much of the same and fish-holding hydrilla as well. If you're simply looking to maximize your haul, consider a trip to Palestine, which features a daily bag and possession limit of 50 blue and channel catfish in any combination, with no minimum length limit, but only five can be over 20 inches.
Click the video link above to get great catfishing tips for your future trip.
North Texas anglers also have it good, with the usual suspects such as Texoma and Tawakoni being in the top 10 when it comes to catfish. However, don't overlook two lakes that are rated excellent by TPWD, even though they're vastly different in scope. Lewisville, near the town of the same name, is another lake with differing size limits. For blues, there is a 30- to 45-inch "trophy" slot. Fish 30 inches and less or 45 inches or greater in length may be retained. Only one blue catfish 45 inches or greater may be retained each day. For channel catfish, the minimum length is 12 inches. The daily bag is 25 blues and channel cats in any combination. Fishing cut shad near the bottom is a great way to target blue cats and the lake record topped 63 pounds.
Coffee Mill, northeast of Bonham, is only about 600 acres, but has some of the highest fish densities in the entire area. The lake is off limits to some methods. Trotlines, throw lines and jug lines are prohibited, but that shouldn't keep you from throwing a variety of prepared baits, especially when specifically targeting channel cats. Lake Arlington also is a channel catfish haven, perhaps the best in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The fish are abundant and grow big, with fish in excess of 10 pounds a common catch. Usual choices of stinkbait and other prepared baits always produce limits for anglers.
CenTex anglers may have some of the best metro fishing in the country, with plenty of hot spots in and around the Austin area, but some lakes do stand out for cats near the capitol. Granger, northeast of Austin, is another excellent crappie lake that features great numbers of all three species of catfish. Trotline and jug line fishing are popular techniques for large catfish on the lake, but big cats also are caught by targeting rod and reel efforts around snags and laydowns, especially in the river portion of the lake. Another great catfish spot is LBJ, near Marble Falls. The scenic lake is known as a great bass haunt, but it also features good numbers of catfish, particularly blue cats. The LBJ record blue cat weighed 35 pounds and casting cut shad and fishing just off the bottom, whether from the bank or from a boat, is the method of choice for those critters.
Fayette County, another excellent bass fishery near LaGrange, features great catfish potential, as evidenced by its lake records: blue catfish, 58 pounds; channel catfish, 15 pounds; and flathead, 79 pounds. Live minnows are the ticket for a number of fish on the lake and should be counted on first as the go-to method for catching almost anything. The other small hot spot in the area is Bastrop, and like Coffee Mill, is a small-time giant. The lake is less than 1,000 acres, but may harbor the best channel catfish opportunities in the state. Any kind of cut bait, punch bait or prepared offering will do the trick, especially from the bank, making it perfect for family fishing fun.
West Texas lakes have been hit hard in some areas by golden algae outbreaks, but there are some hot spots that still exist. Kirby, a 700-acre lake near Abilene, is another lake with lots of potential and expanded bag limits. For blue and channel catfish, there is no minimum length, with a daily bag and possession limit of 50 fish in any combination, of which no more than five may be 20 inches or longer. This is another bank-fishing hot spot to consider. Fort Phantom Hill, another Abilene-area lake, is among the lakes statewide affected by low levels in drought times, but it still harbors lots of fish. Blue cats can be caught in all areas of the lake, but the most popular areas are at the spillway, Sailboat Slough and the area near the dam.
Texas Parks and Wildlife is in the process of adding resources to further study and document the catfish fishery in the Brazos River and elsewhere, but there remain a number of good access points that anglers continue to frequent and leave with hefty fish.
Lake Brazos in Waco has a channel dam in it and a lot of people still refer to it as the river. There typically has been jug lining and regular line fishing for blues in that particular area, and below the channel dam is another popular place for bank anglers, when water's running through. Wherever there's easy access you're sure to find someone fishing.
The portion of the river below Lake Whitney and north of Waco also has offered good access when there are releases from the lake. One of the main access points for the river below the Whitney Dam is at the FM 2114 intersection.
There are good populations of big channel cats, blues and flatheads in a variety of areas and access points and the river records confirm that it should be on your angling list. The top flathead taken weighed 58.1 pounds, the biggest blue cat 34.5 pounds and the largest channel cat 15.53 pounds.
For state park access to bank fishing, check out Stephen F. Austin State Park located west of Houston on Interstate 10.
The Colorado River is a superb catfish fishery, especially in its flow south of Austin. The Lower Colorado River Authority offers pier fishing sites that can be good this time of year.
Because catfish of all shapes and sizes start to get more active as water temperatures rise, there is no better time than now to fish for them.
Channel cats will move into creeks and rivers to spawn in secluded areas or cavities under logs or undercut banks, and the males protect the nests and become aggressive during this time. This makes them vulnerable to angling.
Flatheads can be caught in the Colorado in deep holes with logjams. They prefer live bait, like sunfish or shad. Blues will bite on cut bait or live bait mostly, and channel cats are easiest to catch, as they bite on a variety of baits. The best are chicken livers, stinkbait, night crawlers, hot dogs and dough bait. However, they will pick up artificial baits and other alternatives if they have the opportunity.
Widespread drought that has loomed over the state in recent years has affected the river flow, turning shallower areas into what is now extended bank areas. However, with less water comes less hiding opportunities for catfish, and deep holes and cuts should be bustling with fish.
The stretches of the river between Austin and LaGrange, including areas in Travis and Bastrop counties, offer some good access points for anglers, including existing boat ramps. Travis County access points include the Montopolis Bridge, where the river crosses U.S. Highway 183 in Austin, the Farm-to-Market 973 crossing just northeast of Del Valle and the county park 10 miles east of Austin off FM 969.
Bastrop County access points include the FM 969 river crossing, where a boat ramp gives good access, and farther downriver at the State Highway 71 crossing in Smithville, where another boat ramp is located. The best state park access to the Colorado River is at Colorado Bend State Park, which is located west of Lampasas. The river has miles of good access. For more information and maps, contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or the Lower Colorado River Authority.