Texas' Top Catfish Waters

Texas' Top Catfish Waters

When it comes to great catfish waters, the Lone Star State has got them! And these should be especially hot this year. (May 2010)

Stand in the geographical center of Texas and you will find yourself surrounded by the best of the best places to catch catfish in the Lone Star State. That's because virtually every region in Texas has a lake, river or other body of water capable of producing one of the top two priorities catfish anglers seek: monster cats or large numbers of good ol' eatin'-sized cats.

Fishing guide George Rule nets a big catfish for Marshal Cauthen of Graham. Lake Tawakoni, where this photo was taken, is coming on strong as a big-blue catfish fishery. â–ª Photo by Bob Hood.

Reservoirs, especially the larger ones, generally produce the biggest and most catfish, but several rivers including the Brazos, Rio Grande, Sabine, Trinity and Colorado also provide great action at times.

Despite our overall abundance of catfish, there are hotspots -- places where your chances of landing scores of pan-sized channel cats or monster blue cats and yellow cats are better than most other great catfishing lakes in the state. Let's start in East Texas and work our way through the other regions to find these top-of-the-line catfish bonanzas.

LAKE TAWAKONI

I cannot imagine talking about catfish without the name Tawakoni being in the first sentence of the discussion. Designated as "The Catfish Capital of Texas" by the state legislature several years ago, this 37,879-acre Sabine River Authority lake almost defies the imagination. Tawakoni is without a doubt a "box fish" lake where two anglers fishing for only a few hours can catch enough channel catfish to feed a large party. The statewide limit on channel cats is 25 per person, so you can imagine the amount of fillets that can result from 50 catfish weighing 2 to 4 pounds.

The key to catching that many channel cats at Tawakoni is baited holes. That's one of the main reasons longtime fishing guides George Rule and David Hansen have been able to lead four-member parties of customers to 100-fish catches within two to three hours day after day, week after week throughout the spring, summer and fall months.

Using soured maize, soured wheat and caked livestock cubes, the two guides keep several "holes" baited out regularly, refreshing them as often as needed. But their tactics aren't as simple as that. During the spring or summer months when rains have raised the water level into the willows and cattails, the guides move into various areas of flooded willows in their boats and tie the vegetation in clusters with pieces of plastic tie-downs or ropes. That creates open holes where they can tie up when fishing with their customers. Without doing that, they would either have to fish the edges of the thick cover or put up with their customers hanging up and losing a lot of fish.

Willows in the cove south of Anchor Inn Marina and in Wolf Creek are among the best places to catch channel cats when the fish are holding in shallow water.

As the water begins to warm in May, the fish usually move from the 3- to 6-foot depths of the willows and cattails to the timber along the main river channel and major creeks. Baited holes in the stumps along these major channels produce scores of pan-sized channel catfish on punch bait rigged on No. 4 treble hooks tight-lined at the base of the stumps in 12 to 20 feet of water.

Although Tawakoni rose to fame by producing tons of eating-sized channel catfish, its big-fish history is just as impressive. After all, just check out the new records for the three species of catfish that have been set there since 2006: a 16.5-pound channel cat caught by Stanley Winkle on July 1,2009; a 75-pound yellow cat caught by Lamar Evans on May 17, 2008; and a 69.60-pound blue cat caught by Ronald Lachman on Jan. 16, 2006. All three record fish were caught on shad, which should tell you something about the influence of that forage species on this incredible catfish fishery.

LAKE TEXOMA

If there were any lake in the state that could lay claim to being the "Juglining Capital of Texas" for huge blue catfish, it would have to be Lake Texoma. The Red River border impoundment annually attracts scores of anglers with jugs made from Styrofoam, PVC pipe, bleach bottles and just about anything else that will float and is suited for attaching a line, weight and hook. And those rigs catch big blues weighing from 15 to 60 pounds or more on a regular basis beginning in about January and running through early March.

Texoma is loaded with a huge population of gizzard and threadfin shad. That's one reason the lake has become renowned as one of the best striped bass fishing lakes in the country, and also why it produces so many large catfish. It also is the reason why shad is the primary bait used to catch big catfish there.

The upper Red River channel attracts large numbers of jugliners, including many from the Fort Worth-Dallas Metroplex who arrive in groups with as many as 18 or more anglers. "Teams" from these group run strings of jugs numbering 30 or more, each rigged with reflective tape so they can find them easily at night under spotlights.

But jugliners are not the only anglers tapping into Texoma's great blue cat fishery. Rod-and-reel anglers catch their share, too. After all, the state record and former world record blue cat weighing 121 1/2 pounds was caught on a rod and reel by Cody Mullenix in 2004.

In late spring and early summer, drifting shad and cut perch in the creeks and more shallow areas at night is a great way to catch not only big blues but also giant yellow cats. During the colder winter months, the open waters along the edges of the Red River channel and major creek channels produce the most big blue cat catches.

FALCON RESERVOIR

Warm year-round climates, warm hospitality and friendships, and hot channel cat fishing: That's what Falcon Reservoir is all about. I've fished this Texas-Mexico lake near Zapata since 1968, and it is by far my favorite South Texas pick for a place where the fish seem always to be biting. It's also where great friends like Ramiro Torres of Holiday Restaurant and Robert Amaya of Robert's Fishing Tackle in Zapata always are there with open arms and good advice on where to catch fish.

Torres was the first to introduce me to several fishing guides on Falcon Lake in the late 1960s, including Tommy Gray at Redwood Lodge. Gray is gone now but his son, Amaya, is the man to see if you want to learn about not only where to catch catfish on Falcon but largemouth bass and others species as well.

Falcon has a tremendous population of pan-frying-sized channel catfish. Like most anglers, Amaya uses soured maize to bait out holes along the main Rio Grande channel, in the creeks and ditches that lead into the main channel and around underwater structure such as rockpiles, old corrals and bridges. Amaya's knowledge of what is under the surface has been his key to catching scores of fish.

Anglers not familiar with the lake should use their sonar units and concentrate on the timbered areas close to the channels during the spring and early summer months, baiting out various areas ahead of time if possible. Punch bait and shrimp should be all you need to get into the action, even if you bait out a hole only 30 minutes or so before you start fishing. Spinning or spincast gear with 10- to 15-pound-test line and a No. 4 treble hook (when using punch bait) fished vertically is all you need when fishing the edges of the timber.

LAKE LIVINGSTON

There is only one reason that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department gathers its blue catfish brood stock from Lake Livingston and that's because the lake has such a tremendous population of the popular and very tasty battler.

But it isn't just blue cats that this big reservoir on the Trinity River north of Houston produces. Sure, it has produced a 78-pound blue, but it also has yielded an all-tackle record yellowcat that weighed 114 pounds. Both fish were caught on trotlines. One thing that makes Livingston such a great catfish fishery is the fact that it has lots of deepwater structure with lots of timber and a tremendous population of shad. Combine the three and you have a virtual big-fish production factory.

During the winter months, most of the big fish will be in the deeper areas along the main channel and can be caught on cut shad, either by anchoring and casting out or by fishing vertically. During the spring and summer months, look for the fish off the main-lake points in shallower water or in the creeks at night.

Bank-fishing for big blues also is popular in the Trinity River below Livingston's dam. Anglers there often use heavy surf rods baited with cut shad or perch to catch big blues from the deepest depths of the river channel.

POSSUM KINGDOM LAKE

Here is a lake deep in beauty as well as in fishing opportunities, especially for channel catfish. Winding down 17,624 acres on the Brazos River in Palo Pinto and Young counties, PK, as it often is referred to, has what it takes to be a great catfish lake: lots of shad and other forage fish. It was last stocked with channel catfish in 2001 when 434,718 fingerlings and 230 adult-sized fish were placed in the lake by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. In 2002, the lake was stocked with an additional 70,995 fingerling blue catfish.

If you are a record-seeker, PK is the place to go. Although records have been established at PK for blue catfish (39.66 pounds) and yellow catfish (24.75 pounds), no one ever has submitted a channel catfish for lake record consideration.

During early spring and throughout the summer, the lake produces good catches of channel cats on both ends of the lake. In the upper areas, target Costello Island and then go northward to Pump House Slough, around Bird Island at the mouth of Elm Creek, Frog Branch, Lambert Branch and in Rocky Creek. Areas with timber baited with soured maize produce the best catches; punch bait, shrimp and large earthworms work the best. On the south end of the lake, Scenic Point, Neely's Slough and Governor's Slough near the dam can produce good catches.

Tawakoni, Texoma, Falcon, Livingston and Possum Kingdom have earned their places at the top of the ladder, but there are many other great catfishing lakes that traditionally produce monster cats or large numbers of smaller, tasty-eating cats. Here are a few to consider, and some time-tested ways to fish them.

THE OTHERS

Choke Canyon

This lake is great for taking large numbers of channel cats and smaller blue cats. Target the cormorant roosts. The droppings from the fish-eating birds are a natural chum for catfish. Punch bait is best.

Sam Rayburn

This is one of East Texas' greatest lakes for catching lots of eating-sized channel cats. The best method: Cruise the open waters from mid-lake to the dam near mouths of creeks and search for submerged buoy markers that mark brushpiles placed in the lake by crappie anglers. Crappie anglers often bait their brushpiles with cottonseed cake to draw in baitfish and that attracts catfish as well.

Richland-Chambers

This lake is very popular among trotliners and jugliners who catch scores of channel cats in the flooded timber on the upper reaches of both Richland and Chambers creeks.

Millers Creek Reservoir

This little-known lake (except to a few West Texas anglers) has an excellent population of channel cats and good bank access. It's located near Munday between Throckmorton and Knox City. Bank-fishing with punch bait and drifting earthworms and shrimp on the flats are good bets.

Lake Lewisville

This is a great lake for both monster blues and yellow cats as well as ice chests full of channel cats. Just check its lake records and you should realize why it is so popular: 98-pound yellow cat; 63.12-pound blue cat; 22.68-pound channel cat. Whether fishing baited holes with punch bait or shrimp for pan-sized channels or going for the monster blues and flatheads on rod and reel or jugs baited with cut shad and live perch, you won't go wrong here.

In fact, you won't go wrong by heading to any of these great catfishing destinations. Each one of them is capable of providing you with a fishing trip you won't forget.

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