With an estimated 1.8 million anglers in Texas, it’s fair to say Texans love to fish. Second only to bass fishing, Texans especially love to catch catfish. This may be a big reason that Texas Parks and Wildlife stocks over 1.2 million catfish annually across the Lone Star State.
And it doesn’t matter if it’s jug-fishing for big blue cats in a lake, running a trot line on a river bottom for flathead or sitting on a creek bank with a catfish rod waiting on channel cat: fishing for catfish in Texas has never been better than it is expected to be in 2019. No matter where in Texas, there is a place to fish close by. With over 5,000 square miles of inland water, it pays to know the hottest places for catfish and what they’re hitting this year.
In East Texas are perennial favorites, Lake Palestine or Lake Fork. Lake Fork is known to anglers across the nation as a premier bass fishing lake, but most Texans know this lake is teeming with crappie and catfish as well. Summer is a great time for catfish on Lake Fork. Deeper water is best with most anglers catching good numbers in 30 to 35 feet of water. Many people have good luck with punch baits, with locals using Ernest’s Poletown Fishbait with great success. Lake Palestine holds the state flathead record at 98.5 pounds, caught on a minnow. If using live fish as bait, try drift fishing between Hawn Point and the bridges on Highway 155. Daily bag and possession limit for Lake Palestine is 50 blue and channel catfish in any combination, of which no more than five may be 20 inches or longer.
In North Texas, head to either Lake Tawakoni or Lake Texoma. Tawakoni is a short hour-and-a-half drive from Dallas and is known to produce big blue cats. For trophy blue cats, try trolling in cooler weather with a drift sock and freshly caught gizzard shad. Lots of the guides use this technique with great success. Farther north is Lake Texoma, known for great numbers of catfish that are great in size. The state blue cat record belongs to Texoma, fish that tipped the scales at just over 121 pounds. In the early spring, hit the creeks feeding into the lake with shad guts for channel cat and switch to cut shad in the early summer. In cooler months, put blue cats in the boat by moving to deeper water and jug-lining with live gizzard shad. Prime areas to target are around the Highway 70 bridge by Catfish Bay or the mouth of Soldier Creek.
For sheer numbers, go a little farther south to central Texas to Lake Livingston. Parts of Lake Livingston have a minimum 12-inch and 50-fish limit for blue and channel cats. The bigger blue cats are caught starting in September as the water cools. Drifting with cut shad is deadly for the bigger fish this time of year, but channel and blue cats are caught most any time of year on Livingston. If looking to take children fishing, then look to Lake Buchanan. Buchanan has channel, blue and flathead catfish that are known to get big. Twelve-year-old Destinee Love caught a blue cat that weighed over 65 pounds with a rod and reel. For lake records like this, fish the ledges with cut shad. Anytime of the year is good for catfish on Buchanan, but spring and fall are the most favorable times of the year.
Farther south is Calaveras Lake. Catfish can be caught most anytime there, but March through May are the best months to fill the boat. By using fresh cut shad or chicken liver, channel cats are good wherever creeks feed into the lake. Early morning before the sun gets high is the best time and can produce large numbers of fish. This lake is known more for its quantity of catfish, but both the channel and blue cat lake records have been broken in the last four years. Choke Canyon is another lake that has channel, blue and flathead catfish. Channel and blue cat are plentiful and caught in both deep and shallow water on cut shad. Flathead are caught using live bait in the creek channels. Try running a trot line in the Frio River channel with crawfish or large shad.
Out west, near Abilene, is Kirby Lake. This lake dried up in 2000 but was stocked with blue cats and channel cats as it recovered. Reports say this lake is flourishing and has great fishing from the boat or shore. Even though the lake has impressive blue and channel cat records, it may be a while before any giant fish are caught again. Locals are catching channel cats on liver in shallow water and blue cats deeper on cut shad in deeper water.
O.H. Ivie is another lake out west that provides anglers opportunities to catch large numbers and occasionally put a monster on the stringer. After a nice rain, when the Colorado River is up, set lines up the river. For flathead, use perch, or cut shad for big blues. When the river is down, fish drop-offs along the creek channels. During the summer, jugging works well. Set them next to a deeper channel on flats with live perch and cut bait. Try to keep lines in water less than 11 or 12 feet deep so bait will stay alive longer.
If large reservoirs are not in play but riverbanks are, there are several rivers to choose from. In December 2018, near Waco where the Brazos River runs into Lake Brazos, Tony Montoya caught a 40-pound blue cat on cut shad. Approximately 30 minutes later, he caught a 52.6 pound lake record from the same riverbank. Both of these big cats were caught on a rod and reel when the water was up. Like many rivers in Texas, it is important to monitor water levels and, in this case, it paid off big for Tony with a pair of big blue cats over 40 pounds.
The Sabine River is known more for white bass but is another river that holds good numbers of catfish. Often, flatheads are found in the larger pools and fishing for them from a kayak is growing in popularity there. Most prefer sit-on-top-style kayaks, as they are easier to load. There are several places to put in: River Ridge, south of Carthage, is a favorite spot and it has good camping opportunities. Be sure to check on water levels before going. When the weather is warm and water level is down, snakes may be problematic on the river.
In East Texas, don’t pass up a chance to fish the Neches River. During the summer months, the channel and blue catfishing can be exceptional. So much so that special catfish regulations are in effect for Lake Palestine and the Neches River upstream to the FM 279 bridge. For blue and channel catfish, there is no minimum length limit and the combined daily bag and possession limit is 50 fish, of which no more than five can be 20 inches or longer. The Highway 149 boat ramp, south of Longview, is a good place to put in and good fishing will be close. If unsure what bait to use, a local favorite is Danny King’s Catfish Punch Bait. Many anglers will drift their boats; others stay anchored. Once on the blue cats, it is not unheard of to catch 10 blue cats up to 10 pounds in an hour.
No matter where in Texas, there is a catfish lake nearby. From a rod and reel off the bank of the Brazos to drifting Lake Tawakoni –– or whatever method anglers prefer –– there is a place in Texas to do it, making it easier than ever to put catfish in the grease and have a lot of fun doing it.