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.
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.
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.
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.
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.