Here’s your guide to some of the hottest catfishing spots across Texas!
Inspecting the red and white bobber perched in its half-submerged stance on the shimmering surface, I remember daydreaming about cartoons.
Or dogs, or dinosaurs, or trucks — or any number of topics of interest to young Texas boys. I don’t remember all that well.
What I do remember vividly is the sight of that bobber taking off in the opposite direction. It was much like the girl in the movie “Jaws” when the creature beneath the waves carries her around like a rag doll.
“Set the hook, Will,” I remember my fishing buddy saying. “Get him — he’s got it.”
I can remember working the reel on my Mickey Mouse rod that, looking back on it today, was slightly overmatched for the slimy targets below.
I cranked and I cranked, and just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, a whiskered head popped up from the water as if to say, “You got me.”
“That’s a 5-pounder,” my father said. “Good catfish!”
From that day, nearly 30 years ago, I have been hooked, literally and figuratively, on fishing. That’s especially true when it comes to Texas catfishing. The great part about all catfish angling is that it’s tailor-made for easy fishing techniques and it’s downright perfect for introducing youngsters to the outdoor pursuit.
GOOD AND GETTING BETTER
In Texas, the catfish ranks behind only the largemouth bass, as you might expect, in terms of anglers’ preference, and we’ve got exceptional catfish habitat in the Lone Star State. Flatheads, channel cats, and blue catfish can be found in almost every nook and cranny of our state. Fortunately for us, the fish are more than willing to take a variety of bait offerings all year long.
In addition to our having a thriving catfish population, fisheries biologists with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are working long and hard on a plan designed to expand angling opportunities for Texas’ growing urban population and introduce the next generation of anglers to fishing. That plan “A Vision for Catfish in Texas,” (bit.ly/CatfishManagementPlan) which debuted last year, describes why catfish are likely to become more important to Lone Star State anglers in the future. And it presents goals and strategies designed to make our catfish angling even better.
“Texas has some outstanding catfishing opportunities,” said Dave Terre, chief of research and management for TPWD’s Inland Fisheries Division. “We believe our public waters have great potential for providing quality catfishing in the future, and we have the experience and expertise to maintain and expand the fishery. However, success will depend on having the support of anglers, industry, civic organizations, and local governments.”
You’ve only got to read a quick TPWD report on one catfish honeyhole to understand just how abundant are the methods for catching catfish. And how varied they can be as well, making catfish the ideal species for helping introduce a whole new generation to the outdoors.
Consider this passage: “Channel catfish are taken near the mouths of creeks after a rain, especially in spring and fall. In late spring and early summer, they are found around rocky shores and areas of riprap. Best baits are shrimp, blood bait, cut bait, dough bait and shad gizzards. In summer, try drift-fishing shrimp across flats. Sunfish and large minnows also pay off here. Blue catfish are caught on many of the same baits. Try juglining with live gizzard shad for bait. A rod and reel baited with live shad on windless winter days works well, too. Flathead catfish are infrequently caught by rod and reel anglers, but most often by trotlining with live sunfish for bait.”
Any guesses on what lake the biologists were discussing? If you said Lake Texoma, on the Texas-Oklahoma border, you’d be correct.
It’s safe to say that almost anywhere with water is a possible locale for catfish, but some hotspots do stand out above the rest.
In North Texas the names Texoma and Tawakoni come to mind and in East Texas it’s Fork, Livingston and Richland-Chambers. Central Texas anglers know that Buchanan, Waco and Whitney are their best bets while South Texans can bank on Braunig, Calaveras and Choke Canyon for producing limits.
However, there are numerous other places that are rated at least good by biologists and fisheries experts. TPWD also is in the business of improving fish habitat, something that is vital for a variety of species, including catfish. It’s no secret: if you better the overall landscape of a body of water, you improve the overall fishing, which is precisely why TPWD has partnered with a number of groups, including the Brazos River Authority and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to enhance habitat with artificial structures. These fish attractors include habitat made from recycled plastics and natural structures made of things from recycled bamboo to Christmas trees. The best part is that the coordinates for the structures on these lakes across the state are listed online. For information, visit tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/fish_attractors.phtml.
It’s widely known that much of Texas occasionally can suffer from lingering drought, which can be extremely detrimental to fishing access and to fish populations as a whole. However, by providing increased habitat, it’s TPWD’s hope that any negatives are somewhat alleviated.
“The Christmas tree piles will eventually break down but will provide habitat in the shallower areas of the reservoir,” said Michael Homer Jr., Inland Fisheries Division district supervisor in Abilene. “Artificial reef areas will persist much longer and may be crucial refuges for fish when water levels drop. We have taken the necessary steps and worked with the controlling authorities to identify areas in each lake that are not only safe but also will maximize the benefit to the fisheries.”
Catfish anglers shouldn’t bring a lot of excess gear. That’s because catching the cats simply doesn’t require a lot of special rigging or frills. Channel cats can be caught using small terminal tackle, such as a No. 6 hook baited with some type of prepared bait and weighted down with a split shot and fished near the bottom. Eight- to 14-pound line usually is sufficient for those catfish. However, for flatheads and blues, anglers need to up their gear choices.
The one area where you cannot afford to skimp is hook selection. You will want the sharpest, most durable metal you can get your hands on and for good reason. Catfish, especially the big ones, have tough mouths. Cheap hooks will only irritate an angler who either won’t be able to hook a big one or, worse yet, will lose the fish.
Rigging options remain almost infinite, but two easily prepared bait rigs seem to work just fine for almost any catfish trip you might be considering. The first one is made by tying on a barrel swivel with a slip-sinker above it and a heavier leader below it equipped with either a circle or treble hook. The leader can be as long as you want, but the shorter it is the easier it is to cast. Another easy rig is the drop-shot, which simply can be tied using a Palomar knot at your hook while leaving a longer tag end where you can attach a heavy sinker weighing an ounce or more.
These rigs can be fished in a variety of situations, but if you’re having difficulty with current while you’re fishing, which normally isn’t a big problem in most places, you can go heavier on the sinker to get it to take root on the bottom. The dropper rig can even add some zing to an offering if you’re using live bait such as nightcrawlers that will dance mightily in the slightest current.
— Will Leschper
WHERE TO FIND THEM
Here’s a look at your best bets for catfish angling in Texas this year, thanks to valuable input from biologists and anglers.
East Texas is a haven for catfish, and while the standouts are easy to name quickly, you shouldn’t overlook the rest of the pack. It’s hard to overlook Toledo Bend — at nearly 200,000 acres, it’s one of the largest lakes in the South — but this reservoir on the Louisiana border known widely as a crappie and bass hotspot also is good for cats. The fishery features the three well-known versions — blue catfish, channel catfish and flathead. Cut bait and natural bait of any kind are perfect for the first two, while live bait dropped near submerged vegetation and laydowns works for flatheads all year long.
Sam Rayburn, north of Jasper, is known more as a largemouth bass honeyhole, but it too has loads of cats. It checks in with the lake record blue weighing 53 pounds and its record flathead coming in at just over 74 pounds.
It’s also hard to overlook Wright Patman, southwest of Texarkana, and Lake O’ the Pines, northeast of Longview. Patman features superb catfish habitat, including inundated timber, brush, creek channels and riprap, while LOP features much of the same and fish-holding hydrilla as well.
If you’re simply looking to maximize your haul, consider a trip to Palestine, which features a daily bag and possession limit of 50 blue and channel catfish in any combination, with no minimum length limit. Only five fish can be over 20 inches.
North Texas anglers also have it good, with the usual suspects such as Texoma and Tawakoni being in the Top 10 when it comes to catfish. However, don’t overlook two lakes that are rated as being excellent by TPWD, even though they’re vastly different in scope. Lewisville, near the town of the same name, is another lake with differing size limits. For blues, there is a 30- to 45-inch “trophy” slot. Fish 30 inches and less or 45 inches or greater in length can be kept. Only one blue catfish 45 inches or greater is allowed each day. For channel catfish, minimum length is 12 inches. The daily bag is 25 blues and channel cats in any combination. Fishing cut shad near the bottom is a great way to target blue cats; the lake record topped 63 pounds.
Coffee Mill, northeast of Bonham, is only about 600 acres in size, but has some of the highest fish densities in the entire area. The lake is off-limits to some methods, with trotlines, throwlines and juglines prohibited. But that shouldn’t keep you from throwing a variety of prepared baits, especially those specifically targeting channel cats. Lake Arlington also is a channel catfish haven, perhaps the best in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The fish are abundant and grow big, with fish in excess of 10 pounds a common theme. Usual choices of stinkbaits and other prepared baits always produce limits for anglers.
Central Texas anglers may have some of the best metro fishing in the country, with plenty of hotspots in and around the Austin area, but some lakes do stand out for their production of catfish near the Capitol. Granger, northeast of Austin, is another excellent crappie lake that features great numbers of all three species of catfish. Trotline and jugline fishing are popular techniques for large catfish on the lake, but big cats also are caught by targeting rod and reel efforts around snags and laydowns, especially in the river portion of the lake.
Another great catfish spot is Lake LBJ, near Marble Falls. The scenic lake is known as a great bass haunt but it also features good numbers of catfish, particularly blue cats. The LBJ record blue cat weighed 35 pounds. Casting cut shad and fishing just off the bottom, whether from the bank or from a boat, is the method of choice for those critters.
West Texas lakes have been hit hard in some areas by golden algae outbreaks, but there are some hotspots that still exist. Kirby, a 700-acre lake near Abilene, is another lake with expanded bag limits. For blue and channel catfish, there is no minimum length, with a daily bag and possession limit of 50 fish in any combination. No more than five may be 20 inches or longer. This is another bank-fishing hotspot to consider.
Fort Phantom Hill, another Abilene-area lake, is among the lakes statewide affected by low levels in drought times, but it still harbors lots of fish. Blue cats can be caught in all areas of the lake, but the most popular areas are at the spillway, at sailboat slough and the area near the dam.
MORE TO COME
These are only a few of the really great catfish holes spread out across the Lone Star State. The fact is, if you can find a water source that stays wet all year, it is likely to hold some pan-sized catfish, and maybe some larger ones as well. Try your luck in your part of the state wherever and whenever you get the urge for a tasty fish fry. I don’t think you will be disappointed.