Texas is a great place to catch a BIG catfish. But it’s also a great place to catch a lot of catfish.
Ashleigh Defee of Manville can tell you about big catfish, especially big flatheads. In June 2010 Ashleigh was fishing with her family on Lake Tawakoni when a fish nearly yanked her off the pier. After a 20-minute battle, Ashleigh landed a 70-pound monster that put her name in the record book a slew of times — Junior Angler water body, Junior Angler state, Junior Angler water body catch-and-release, state catch-and-release.
Yep, she put it back.
Blue cats grow big in Texas, too, and on a trip to Lake Waco with James Tucker of Fish Haulers Guide Service (254-495-6726), two companions and I reeled in and released blue cats weighing 28, 26, 23, 16 and 13 pounds. But we also put some keeper-sized blues and channels in the ice chest as well.
It was cold the day we fished, and Tucker did exactly the opposite of what conventional wisdom says to do on such days. “I target big blues in shallow water,” he said. “That’s where the shad will be because the water is warmer there, and there’s only one reason for blue cats to be there: to eat.”
And eat they did, gobbling up the hand-sized hunks of smallmouth buffalo on our circle hooks.
Eating was also on my mind on a recent trip to Lake Conroe. If there is better eating than a heaping mound of crispy corn-mealed channel catfish filets, I haven’t found it. Lake Conroe is an excellent place to fill an ice chest with tasty filets.
Conroe’s catfish population is chiefly the prolific, fast-growing (and delicious) channel cat. In TPWD surveys, more than 90 percent of the channel cats sampled were legal-sized fish, 12 inches or longer.
Guide Butch Terpe (Lake Conroe Guide Service, 936-856-7080) proved the accuracy of those reports on our trip. Anchoring up to a tree a few feet off the San Jacinto River channel, he chummed the area with range cubes and baited our hooks with Premo Super Sticky Catfish Bait. It took about 30 seconds for the first 2-pound channel cat to bend a rod, and from then on the action was steady both in our boat and in another 50 feet away on the other side of the channel.
GREAT FISHING BY DESIGN
Fishing like that doesn’t happen by accident. Harvest regulations are the key to keeping fish populations at levels that can fill a lot of ice chests while still keeping populations strong enough to permit high catch rates. The statewide limit for channel and blue cats is 25 fish a day 12 inches or longer; for flathead cats, 5 a day 18 inches or longer. Possession limit is twice the daily bag limit.
Regulations on waters shared with other states, such as Oklahoma and Louisiana, are more complicated. In waters shared with Louisiana, for blue and channel catfish, there is no minimum length; daily bag and possession limit is 50 in combination, of which no more than 5 may be 20 inches or longer. For flathead catfish, minimum length is 18 inches; daily bag and possession limit is 10 fish. In waters shared with Oklahoma, for blue and channel catfish, minimum length is 12 inches and combined daily bag limit is 15 fish. Only one blue catfish 30 inches or greater may be retained each day. For flathead catfish, minimum length is 20 inches and daily bag is 5.