Your Guide To D/FW Whiskerfish

So much water to cover, so little time to fish! Make the most of your forays for Metroplex catfish by hitting these venues. (July 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Mention the Dallas/Fort Worth area in coffee shops around the country, and the usual images associated with the Metroplex pop up: the Kennedy assassination; pro sports teams -- the Dallas Cowboys, Mavericks, and Stars, and the Texas Rangers; the Texas Motor Speedway; J.R. Ewing and South Fork Ranch; boots, cowboy hats, and blue jeans; and, of course, some of the best barbecue in the world.

But when the subject turns to fishing in and around the Metroplex, I'm betting that most of the chatter centers on the solid largemouth bass fishing. Possibly the striped bass fishing at Lake Texoma will get a mention or two as a second cup of coffee is poured. But the odds are good that catfishing prospects in and around the Metroplex will scarcely have gotten a mention by the time the java pot runs dry.

And that's a shame, because when it comes to catfishing, the D/FW Metroplex has plenty to brag about.

"A lot of people don't fish that much for them," admitted Rafe Brock, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries district supervisor based in Fort Worth. "We have an untapped catfishery in almost all of our lakes."

Of course, no lake is more famed for big whiskerfish than Lake Texoma, the 89,000-acre reservoir lying less than 80 miles north of downtown Dallas.

Texoma, which has had a reputation over the years for turning out big blue cats, rocked the angling world in January 2004 when Howe angler Cody Mullenix pulled a 121 1/2-pound blue cat from the lake.

At the time, the fish later dubbed "Splash" was an International Game Fish Association world record and went on to wow crowds at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. Eventually replaced as the IGFA world record when Illinois angler Tim Pruitt pulled a 124-pound blue cat from the Mississippi River, Splash remains the Texas state record for the species. So don't be surprised if another state record or world record blue cat is eventually pulled from the deep waters of Lake Texoma.

"Texoma is probably as good as it gets anywhere in the U.S. other than perhaps Santee Cooper in South Carolina," said TPWD inland fisheries biologist Tom Hungerford, also based out of Fort Worth.

While most truly big blue cats seem to be caught in the winter months, that doesn't mean you can't hook up with one in the middle of the summer.

In fact, last summer, while I was fly-fishing for stripers with Flywater Angling Adventures guide Steve Hollensed, I cast a shad-imitating Clouser Minnow fly on a full sinking line into water about 30 feet deep.

About a third of the way back to Hollensed's Ranger, I felt a mighty jolt, set the hook, watched my rod tip bend double and felt a giant fish surge toward the bottom of the lake. Unfortunately, I'll never know for sure what the fish was, since it eventually broke me off. But both Hollensed and yours truly are completely convinced that the fish was a giant blue cat that mistook my fly for an easy shad hors d'Å“uvre.

And who knows? Perhaps it was an IGFA tippet-class world record that broke me off -- at Texoma, you just never know.

But according to Brock, Texoma isn't the only good blue cat water found in and around the D/FW Metroplex. He says that a number of lakes in the area were stocked with blue cats in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with some of those fish now reaching lofty trophy status.

"It takes a blue cat about 20 years to reach that 65- to 70-pound range," said Brock. "It is real hard to get a good accurate estimate or to even get in the ballpark, but blues have pretty good growth rates once they get over the minimum length limit of 12 inches. They reach that in two years."

Brock attributes that growth -- which he says is faster than channel cats -- to the fact that blue cats become fish eaters at an early age.

And since a number of area lakes are full of threadfin and/or gizzard shad, it's little wonder there are so many spots for Metroplex blue cat anglers to give a try.

"Lake Ray Hubbard? It's probably our best blue cat lake in the D/FW area," Brock said. "It was gill-netted in '05, and there were numerous blue catfish in the 15- to 25-pound range. The biggest one we caught was probably 65 to 70 pounds. It is unusual to catch a lot of big ones, and we caught them all the way down to 9 inches. That means that there is a good stable population of blue cats there."

Why's that?

"Well, it's a combination of a tremendous forage base and a lack of fishing pressure," Brock said. "We did a creel survey out there and tried to figure out who was out there and what they were fishing for. What we found is that it doesn't get much fishing pressure, especially in the summer when it is more of a recreational lake.

"When you take the combination of adequate forage and a lack of fishing pressure, that has allowed the blue cat population to build up and the fish to grow large."

Just to the north of Ray Hubbard is another good catfish lake, Lake Lavon.

"At Lavon, blue cats were stocked in the early 1990s and they seem to be the predominant catfish in there now, which a lot of people like better," said John Moczygemba, a TPWD fisheries biologist stationed at Lake Texoma.

One thing to keep in mind about Lavon is that if summer rain from either thunderstorms or tropical activity moves northward through Texas, any flowing water can turn the lake's catfish on.

"That's especially true on Lavon," Moczygemba said. "It's got several big tributaries like Pilot Grove Creek and Sister Grove Creek, besides the East Fork of the Trinity (that flows into the reservoir)."

Should summer rains get the river and creeks up and flowing -- including the area near Twin Grove Parks -- the TPWD biologist says that the catfish, especially channel cats, are lured to such spots by the inflow of insects, invertebrates, and nutrients.

"If it is a good flow that lasts several days, it will attract them," Moczygemba said.

Another area to consider when catfishing on Lavon is to the east of Lucas where the U.S. Army Co

rps of Engineers is rebuilding a bridge going across the creeks.

"The Corps has decided that instead of tearing down the old bridge, they're going to convert it into a fishing pier," Moczygemba said. "That's going to be great, especially across the East Fork when there is a heavy rain, because it will be good for catfish and in the spring, the spawning runs of sand bass."

To the west of Lavon is another good blue catfish water body, Lake Lewisville, which Brock says has a good population of the fish.

"Lewisville seems to get a little more fishing pressure," Brock said. "Back 15 to 20 years ago, the area around the lake was more rural, but now it's much less so, and there's more fishing traffic, more boat traffic, more urbanization, etc."

That said, Brock still believes that it's possible to catch blues in the 10- to 15-pound range.

"Fish that size are not necessarily common, but for those really fishing for blue cats, you definitely have a chance to catch a fish that size," he said.

Another water body that Brock says to consider for blue cats is Lake Benbrook, just west of Fort Worth.

"In our sampling there, we get blues up to 15 pounds and occasionally to 20 pounds," Brock said of the relatively small lake. "In fact, a new lake record was set in October at about 42 pounds. Plus, we've been getting reports the last few months of guys catching them to 30 pounds.

"It's such a small lake, that's surprising because when it comes to blue cats, they're a big river (or lake) fish and you wouldn't think of catching bigger ones on smaller lakes. Of course, they wouldn't thrive at Benbrook if it didn't have such a good forage base of gizzard and threadfin shad."

When the subject turns to channel cats, several D/FW area lakes come to mind.

One is Ray Roberts, according to Moczygemba. He says the lake could be really good in early summer if the rains that were falling recently continue to refill the lake.

"Channel cats are the predominant fish on Lake Ray Roberts," Moczygemba said. "If we can keep gaining some of that water back, those channel cats will be in the inflow up around terrestrial vegetation.

The TPWD biologist says to look for channel cats on Ray Bob -- especially in late spring and early summer -- in the upper end of creeks. Also, check on the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, near the Isle du Bois state park unit, near the bridges on the lake's upper end, and in the Buck Creek area along the railroad bridge and the Highway 377 bridge.

Other spots to try for channel cats in the Metroplex region include Benbrook, Eagle Mountain, Lewisville, and Ray Hubbard according to Brock, while Hungerford also adds Lake Arlington to the list.

While not necessarily noted for catfish, Grapevine and Joe Pool offer good catfishing action, according to the TPWD Web site, www.tpwd.state.tx.us. So keep those two in mind for a summertime whiskerfish outing.

One lake that Brock is really high on for summertime channel cats is Benbrook.

"You can catch them in July and August at Benbrook," said Brock, who reports "tearing them up" at times while fishing for bass there.

"I've caught channel cats up to 8 pounds on crankbaits and stuff. It's pretty amazing since we're talking about catching them in about 3 feet of water."

Perhaps one of the best spots to chase channel cats in the D/FW area, according to Hungerford, is in two three-acre city park lakes enrolled in the TPWD's Texas Community Fishing Lakes program.

"These lakes are stocked about every two weeks with channel cats," Hungerford said. "The good thing about these small lakes is that you don't have to have a boat to access the fish, but you can catch them from the bank."

One such spot is Lakeside Park in Duncanville, and the other Chisholm Park in Hurst. Stocked every other week on a per-acre rate, these 250-plus channel cats measuring 12 inches or better are very good to eat. According to Hungerford, they're basically farm raised in hatcheries.

"I prefer blue cats from one of our reservoirs unless they are channel cats from one of our urban lakes," Hungerford said.

One thing Hungerford notes about this program is that it is a great way to get kids involved in fishing.

"These channel cats are fairly easy to catch and that's a good thing because this program is designed to get people to catch fish," he said.

What about flatheads in the area?

"All of our lakes have flatheads in them," Brock said. "Lewisville at one time had the state record and there are still some big ones out there. On Hubbard, the flathead is such a different catfish and doesn't occupy the same areas as blues and channels, so if you catch one, it's unusual. Still, just about all of our lakes have had some pretty big flatheads come out at over 30 pounds."

Another couple of lakes that Hungerford believes that Metroplex anglers should consider for a flathead outing are Arlington and Lavon.

The beauty of fishing for any species of catfish in the Metroplex is that you don't need to have a $50,000 boat and a lot of expensive tackle to angle for these whiskerfish.

If blues are what you're after, Brock says to find a big open point next to deep water and use some sort of shad, either live shad or cut shad.

If you're fishing from a boat, look for the same combination -- a point and deeper water nearby.

"Obviously, with a boat you look for open water off a main point," Brock said. "When you are fishing from the bank, it is hard to fish off the bottom in 20 to 30 feet of water at this time of the year. Right now, these fish have access to the whole water column, although in the summer, if a lake stratifies, the fish won't go down below the thermocline."

If channel cats are your cup of whiskerfish tea, Hungerford recommends baits ranging from chicken livers to night crawlers to shrimp to hotdogs -- at least at the two urban ponds mentioned earlier.

For channel cats in a reservoir setting, chicken livers, night crawlers, and shrimp will work for channel cats. To that list of potential baits, Moczygemba adds stink baits, blood baits, or even "globs of worms."

To fish for flatheads, Hungerford advises looking first for what he calls the "gnarliest cover there is,"

particularly in creeks.

Next, use the right bait, since flatheads are finicky. "Flatheads eat live bait," Hungerford said. "They don't eat cut-bait. I have a great uncle in his 80s and he has done a lot of fishing for flatheads and he said it's got to be alive, nothing cut."

What about tackle? All three TPWD biologists indicate that tackle need not be complicated for whiskerfish; baitcasting or spinning gear or even a spin-casting outfit can work when spooled with monofilament line in the 15-pound-test range.

While many a channel cat has been caught using a hook, lead weight, and bobber combination, most blues and many summertime reservoir channel cats will be caught by either tightlining or using a Carolina-rigging method.

As for flatheads, most of them are typically caught on trotlines and/or juglines. Check TPWD and local regulations before employing either of those methods.

As mentioned earlier, catfish can be hooked and occasionally caught on fly fishing gear. Use 6- to 8-weight rods, sink-tips or full-sinking lines, leaders in the 2X or 3X range, and flies such as a Clouser Minnow to give whiskerfish on the fly a try.

Keep in mind that while whiskerfish might not be the most beautiful species out there, they are still fun to catch and conservation practices should be followed.

"If you're catching them for fun, be sure to bend the barb of your hook down," Brock said. "That way, when it comes to getting the hook out, for the most part you're not going to lose many fish."

Finally, one of the best things about fishing for the D/FW area's abundant whiskerfish is that they serve as the main ingredient to a delectable summertime fish fry.

In addition to hot peanut oil and a good coating mix, anyone hoping for a fish fry is reminded to observe legal limits, keep only what can be used, and to remember that generally, younger fish taste better than older fish do.

Whatever your preference -- catching whiskerfish for a fish fry, or catching and releasing them for the big pull and the grin they provide -- the D/FW area is a great place to catch catfish this summer. Give it a try -- see if you don't agree!

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