Run A River For Catfish

Run A River For Catfish

Catfish not biting at your favorite lake right now? Then maybe you should try a run at catching the whiskered fish at these river hotspots in the southern half of our state. (July 2006)

Interested in sampling some of the Lone Star State's best flowing-water whiskerfish hotspots? Well, you're in luck.

Why? San Angeloan Bobby Farquhar, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's inland fisheries biologist, explains it this way: While legal access to some of the state's rivers can be tricky at best, the reward of finding such access can certainly justify the effort this month.

"River catfishing is probably an underutilized resource in some areas," he noted, "although that's mainly due to the difficult access issues. But it's very popular in some areas, although you've got to kind of work at it. Some are willing to do that -- and they're probably rewarded with some pretty good fishing."

Steve Magnelia, a TPWD inland fisheries biologist based in Central Texas, isn't going to disagree, especially when the subject turns to the Colorado River flowing between Austin and LaGrange.

"That's our best one," he said. "It has an unbelievable channel cat population and some really large flathead catfish, along with relatively good access with its boat ramps." He added that blue catfish can also be picked up farther downstream.

Magnelia recommends running the Colorado with a flat-bottomed johnboat equipped with either a jet-drive outboard engine or a small outboard that can negotiate the rocky, shallow stretches of the river. The biologist pointed to two prime types of area in which anglers employing such means can target cats.

"They seem to like riffle-type areas, believe it or not," Magnelia said. "You would think that catfish would be in the slower-moving sections, but they like those broken rocks where there are a lot of insects. The catfish are feeding heavily on those.

"For the other good spot, find any large, woody debris that is breaking the current -- like an old tree in the water. Those are magnets, and catfish seem to hang around those."

What types of bait work for whiskerfish anglers on the Colorado? On many days, the same myriad of catfish baits that work elsewhere in the state including stink baits, dough baits, sponge dip baits, earthworms, and various live or cut baits like shad.

"Dip baits work real well -- that's probably the No. 1 bait at this time of the year," Magnelia offered. "And many of the commercially-made baits work pretty well too. If you want to fish for flatheads, you'll have to use some sort of live bait, though."

While most forms of fishing -- catfishing included -- can be best early and late, the Colorado River offers the mobile angler rewarding all-day fishing.

"The surprising thing is that this river doesn't receive all that much fishing pressure, except around the access areas," remarked Magnelia. "If an angler gets away from that, there's no reason he can't fish right on during the day. A lot of those fish in those unpressured areas can be pretty naïve, and relatively easy to catch."

What can an angler expect to catch here? "It's both numbers and quality of fish," said the biologist. "There are good numbers of smaller fish, but surprisingly, there are a lot of bigger channel cats too.

"The growth rates on the Colorado are incredible. They grow pretty quickly, getting to 14 inches by age 3. That sounds low, but it's not; that's pretty quick for channel cats in Central Texas. And they get to be 18 inches by age 4, and 21 inches by age 5."

Keep in mind that the Colorado offers but one of the top river-cat fisheries to be found in Texas within a roughly triangle-shaped area stretching from Austin to the Gulf Coast and the Rio Grande.

"In July, if I had to go and pick a river to fish for catfish, it would be either the Guadalupe or the Nueces," said John Findeisen, a TPWD natural resources specialist based out of Mathis. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd rate the river as an 8 or a 9."

His reason? Because, depending on where an angler chooses to fish, a channel cat, a blue cat, or a flathead could come calling on his line.

"On much of the Guadalupe, we're primarily talking channel cats," Findeisen said, noting that the small lake-like sections of the middle river produce 24- to 26-inch channel cats when biologists do their sampling work.

Farther down the river, you can expect more channel cats along with a mixture of larger blues and flatheads.

For that reason, Findeisen says, catfish anglers might want not only to use baitcasting rigs and live bait on the lower Guadalupe but also to beef up their gear a bit with heavier line. Why? Simple: These fish aren't the lightweight channel cats found in many Hill Country rivers and streams to the north.

"I wouldn't feel comfortable fishing until I had at least 20-pound monofilament on," Findeisen said. "There are some big fish in there, not to mention a lot of snags, so if you're using lighter line, you might have problems keeping them out of that stuff."

The same advice applies for the Nueces, which Findeisen rates as a 7 1/2 or an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. "It's kind of the same thing there as it is on the Guadalupe," he stated. "We don't do a whole lot of river work (sampling), but since Lake Corpus Christi has a mixture of blues, channels, and flatheads, you can catch those in the river."

According to Findeisen, enterprising anglers might be surprised at what they can catch where the Nueces empties into Nueces Bay. "I've caught channel catfish out in Nueces Bay up to 12 pounds for up to six months after heavy floods," he said. "When you get that freshwater inflow into the bay, it's kind of a brackish-water environment. One day, we had 12 to 15 blue cats and a mix of red drum from the bay, too."

Another notable stream in the region is the San Antonio River, which the natural resources specialist rates as a 7 on the proverbial 1-to-10 scale. "There are not a lot of big, giant fish there, but some of the blues that we've shocked up were approaching 36 inches," Findeisen said. "Plus, the flatheads are real dominant there."

Bobby Farquhar reminds prospective whiskerfish anglers that the Frio River isn't too shabby a venue either, albeit one at which access issues can be tricky. "There's not a lot of good access where the river is very big, since there are a lot of private ranches there," he noted. "Up in the Hill Country, the river has pretty

good access with a lot of places to put in where people tube and stuff. Plus, we have our state park up there, Garner State Park, which may be the most used sate park in the entire state."

While there can be fair catfishing for smaller channel cats in some of the deeper pools, the clarity of the upper Frio means that the prime action for bigger blues, channel cats, and flatheads is to be found farther downstream.

"Down toward Choke Canyon, there is much better catfishing," Farquhar observed, "just not much in the way of access. But you can go up the Frio pretty far from Choke Canyon when there's enough water."

Regardless of which river -- or catfish species -- you target, this isn't a bad time of the year to target whiskerfish in a Texas stream. "It may be a little late in the year in terms of their spawn, but the summertime is about as good a time (as any) to fish for them," Farquhar said.

Keep in mind that while Farquhar's statement may be true in terms of the calendar, it's not necessarily true in terms of the clock, owing to the possibility of triple-digit heat. "You can catch them at any time of the day, but they're probably more nocturnal than any other fish," Farquhar said. "Early and late are good for any fish."

In supporting his assertion, the fisheries biologist pointed out that most trotlining and juglining catfish enthusiasts ply their craft overnight, collecting the whiskered goods early the next day. "In the summertime, that's a good thing," he said. "In July, it's pretty hot. If you like to fish with more conventional gear, you can go down to a river and fish with lights and that type of thing."

Such river-fishing efforts might appear to be too much in the way of hard, sweaty work during a time of the year when it's much easier to sit back in the easy chair in front of the a/c with a glass of ice-cold lemonade in your hand. But given the tasty nature of Texas' catfish, it's certainly worth the effort.

And that's especially true when there's a fish fryer with hot peanut oil standing nearby!

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