October 04, 2010
Catfish waters in Texas? We've got 'em in abundance. These are some of the ones that you should be fishing in the months to come. (May 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Texas encompasses so many great catfish waters that it would be arbitrary to highlight just a few. Literally hundreds of reservoirs, rivers and other bodies of water produce blue, channel and/or flathead catfish in extraordinary numbers and huge sizes. Coming up with a list of the best is like trying to pick America's best restaurants. It's darn near impossible, and lots of excellent establishments are sure to get left out.
Nevertheless, following are some reviews of Lone Star lakes and rivers renowned for their great catfishing. Some are known for their trophy potential; others have well-deserved reputations for fast action -- lots of cats caught in a day's fishing, with an occasional lunker in the harvest to keep you on your toes. But there's one thing you can count on: All of them offer excellent fishing for the savvy Texas catter.
Straddling the Oklahoma-Texas border, this 89,000-acre reservoir is first and foremost a lake known for producing trophy blue catfish. Texoma gave up two former Texas record blue cats -- a 116-pound trotline-caught blue in 1985 and a 90-pound rod-and-reel record in 1995. In addition to those great catches, the Oklahoma portion of Texoma surrendered a 118 1/2-pounder to a jugfisherman in 1988; that fish stands as the Sooner State's record for unrestricted tackle. At least four International Game Fish Association and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame line-class records also were caught in Texoma. These include fish weighing 80, 75 and 69 pounds. The most notable catfish caught there, however, was the 121 1/2-pound former world-record blue caught by Cody Mullenix on Jan. 16, 2004.
Although anglers take Texoma blues year 'round, local guides say that the best chance to catch a record-class fish is during winter. Blue cats are more concentrated then, because the shad they feed on are concentrated. Lots of big fish congregate in small areas, and if you can pinpoint them on a graph or by other means, the chances of catching several trophy fish are superb.
One excellent locale for catfishing is the lake's Red River arm from the islands to the dam, a six-mile stretch of water. The Washita arm is good from the Roosevelt Bridge to the main body of the lake. Drift-fishing over the river channels with live shad is a popular local tactic, especially on calm winter days. Most blues stack up in bends of channels.
Texoma also boasts a substantial population of dandy channel cats. Heavyweights are rare, but small ones serve up plenty of action. Huge flatheads aren't common, but occasional 50-pounders do turn up.
Information: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Dennison, (903) 465-4990. Accommodations: Denison Chamber of Commerce, (903) 465-1551. Guide service: Capt. Steve Barnes, 1-866-
No body of water in Texas has more potential for producing lots of big catfish than does Lake Livingston. On the Trinity River 75 miles northeast of Houston, this 82,600-acre impoundment is one of the best year-round catfish lakes in the country. Blue cats, channel cats and flatheads thrive in fertile shallow-water environs rich with shad and other forage fish. Hefty specimens of all three species are taken on a regular basis. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the lake-record flathead caught in February 1987 weighed 82 pounds, the lake-record blue caught in March 1986 weighed 71 pounds, and the lake-record channel cat caught in February 2004 weighed 14 pounds.
Catfishing is good throughout Livingston, but especially productive are some old lakebeds that were inundated when the dam was built. Places such as Hickman Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Hardison Slough and Halls Lake are a few of the spots still producing excellent catfishing.
The Trinity River channel winds across the lakebed, with shallow flats and bars along the side. The upper lake in particular is full of old tree stickups, with some still standing farther down the lake near the Trinity River channel. These areas produce outstanding numbers of outsized cats. One favorite area for local catters is a spot of several hundred acres known as "the Jungle." Aptly named for its dense, woody cover, this catfish honeyhole is in the lake's upper end across from White Rock Creek.
Another spot favored by local catmen is the Highway 190 bridge. Almost two miles long, the causeway near Onalaska crosses Livingston close to its midsection. Concrete walkways lead to excellent bank-fishing areas where hundreds of people fish day and night year 'round. Catfish congregate there to gorge on huge concentrations of shad.
Another hotspot for line-stretchers is the tailrace below the dam. Chances of hooking a trophy-class channel, blue or flathead in the roiling waters are excellent.
Information: Trinity River Authority, (936) 365-2292. Accommodations: Polk County Chamber of Commerce, (409) 327-4929. Guide service: Dave Cox's Palmetto Guide Service, (936) 291-9602.
Just 28 miles east of Dallas, this 36,700-acre Sabine River Authority lake serves up excellent fishing for the big cat trio: flatheads, blues and channels.
One- to 3-pound channel cats are abundant; a three-hour fishing trip often results in 50 landings. Most fall for sponge baits, either commercial cheese products or homemade chicken-blood brews, fished in 12 to 14 feet of water around flooded bois d'arc trees near the lake's north end.
The lake-record blue cat weighed just shy of 70 pounds, and locals contend that bigger blues swim there. Most aficionados drift-fish with cut shad along channel drops and adjacent flats, using special homemade sinkers constructed with 6-inch lengths of shoestring. Lead weights are inserted in each shoestring and the ends sealed using a soldering iron. This custom-made snagless sinker drags bottom as the boat drifts. A hook baited with shad chunks is placed on a leader line above the sinker at a depth where blue cats are likely to be holding. With 80 to 90 feet of line out, the angler drifts with the wind or uses a trolling motor for propulsion.
Tawakoni flatheads reach enormous sizes but remain almost untouched by rod-and-reel anglers. Trotlines baited with live sunfish or goldfish baits account for many 18- to 70-pounders each year, and have produced at least two 100-pound-plus fish -- a 108-pounder, the former lake record, and a 110-pounder that is said to be the heaviest legal flathead catch recorded in Texas. The lake's upper reaches produce most of the big ones.
awakoni's abundant channel cats average a pound or two apiece, but sometimes top 15 pounds.
Information: Sabine River Authority of Texas, (903) 598-2216. Accommodations: Lake Tawakoni Area Chamber of Commerce, (903) 447-3020. Guide service: Little D's Guide Service, 1-800-269-7227.
LAKE LYNDON B. JOHNSON
Lake LBJ, part of the Highland Lakes chain on the Colorado River, covers more than 6,000 surface-acres from Granite Shoals to Kingsland, Texas. Channel, blue and flathead (yellow) catfish all are available in abundance.
"Over 40 years ago, when I began fishing the lake with my dad," said guide Jim Files, "I remember catching many yellow cats and blues over 70 pounds, and a couple of 100 pounds plus that were weighed on cotton scales. Fish that size aren't taken with regularity any longer, but I believe flatheads this size still lurk in holes along the Colorado and Llano rivers, the primary feeder rivers for Lake LBJ."
A trip on LBJ today is likely to produce 40 or more catfish, a mixed bag of channels and blues in the 2- to 15-pound range, and frequently a blue or flathead of 20 to 40 pounds.
"The confluence of the Colorado and Llano rivers is a prime location," said Files. "The channel averages 25 feet with holes to over 30 feet, and easily accessed by bank fishermen. Another good spot, particularly in winter, is in the lower lake area on the discharge side of the power plant. During even the coldest months (January and February), catfish stack up in this creek because the water temperature is 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the rest of the lake."
Warm autumn and winter days bring catfish out of deeper holes and onto breaklines in 5 to 16 feet of water. "During these times, sloping sandy points are prime spots," said Files. "Anchor in deeper water and, casting shallow, slowly work the bait back down the point an inch or two at a time until fish are found. Patience is a must during winter months since catfish are in their least active period."
The heaviest LBJ flatheads and blues are taken on live baits such as sunfish, goldfish, minnows, shad that are fished in holes baited with fist-size chunks of cottonseed cake, commercial chum or dog food.
Information: Lower Colorado River Authority, 1-800-776-5272. Accommodations: Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce: 1-800-759-8178. Guide service: Jim Files, JR's Guide Service, (830) 833-5688.
CHOKE CANYON RESERVOIR
Choke Canyon Reservoir is 80 miles south of San Antonio on Highway 72, four miles west of the town of Three Rivers. Built in 1982 and encompassing 25,989 acres at full pool, the reservoir contains considerable standing timber and numerous inundated ponds, islands and roadbeds.
Choke Canyon Reservoir has developed and maintained an outstanding catfish fishery, and is considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best, in South Texas, as well as one of the top-producing reservoirs in the state. Catfish anglers outnumber those seeking popular species such as white bass, crappie and largemouth bass. Blue, channel and flathead catfish are abundant, although the blue catfish population overshadows the other two.
Most fish harvested are blues. The reservoir produces large catches during all but the hottest summer days. The best fishing by season, according to local anglers, is during spring, fall, summer and winter, respectively.
Fish surveys by state biologists indicate Choke Canyon's blue cats average 12 to 20 inches. The biggest catfish recorded from Choke Canyon weighed 70 1/2 pounds.
Channel catfish are less abundant. Harvested fish average 12 to 14 inches. Flatheads are abundant, but few are harvested; anglers rarely target them. Flatheads weighing up to 50 pounds have been caught by trotliners.
Preferred baits include regionally produced soft soaps that can be molded onto a hook, cut shad and commercial cheese baits. Bob's Cheese Bait, produced locally and made of chicken blood and cheese, is both popular and effective. Many successful anglers use the bait. Live sunfish are the choice for flatheads.
The best areas to fish vary with water level, so the following indicators are worth keeping in mind. Spring and early-summer fishing for average-sized blues and channels is very good in the midst of flooded willow trees and other brush. This is from March through June, depending upon weather. Anglers do best by pushing their boats into the thickest flooded brush and fishing straight down using heavy tackle. Baiting fishing spots with sour corn is a popular method of drawing in the fish. Larger blues are taken with trotlines baited with whole or cut shad set in deep water, especially near underwater structure. Flatheads get harvested from the riverine sections of the upper reservoir in deep holes, mostly near standing timber and from deep water at the dam. Most flatheads are taken on setlines fished overnight.
Information: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 1-800-792-1112. Accommodations: Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce, 1-888-600-3115. Guide service: Wallace Gee, (361) 786-2749.
BESSIE HEIGHTS MARSH
Catfishermen often are surprised to learn that catfish -- particularly blue cats -- are abundant in the brackish water of coastal rivers. Those willing to learn the tactics needed to catch catfish in these environs can open up a whole new realm of opportunities.
Barry Mullin of Nederland fishes for blue cats in the brackish waters of coastal southeast Texas. His favorite honeyhole is Bessie Heights Marsh near Bridge City at the mouth of the Neches River. The Neches flows into Sabine Lake, a bay that empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
"This area of the river is the threshold between salt and fresh water," said Mullin. "There is a huge salt marsh on the east side of the river and some on the west.
"When there's plenty of rain, the run-off purges all the saltwater out of the river and marsh. This sometimes happens in summer, and nearly always when the cold fronts make their way down in winter. In December, the blue cats begin showing up. The years when it rains a lot in fall, more catfish move down the river than normal."
Mullin fishes in deep holes in canals feeding the marsh. These holes occur wherever the tide enters the canals from the shallows.
"When the weather is mild, and the shallow water temperature is warmer than the canals, blue cats often move into 2 feet of water or less in the open marsh," he reported. "I look for places where the tide has cut trenches in the shallow marsh. A trench in shallow water is likely to hold blue cats, especially if it's near a hump covered with submerged grass. Blue cats are attracted to baitfish that hide in the grass and eat algae growing on the grass and mud.
"I use cut bait to give the fish a scent trail to follow, and usually catch baitfish that are abundant in the area I'm fishing -- typically m
ullet, shad or croakers. Shrimp also are good bait. I often chum with the same type bait I'm using. I start with a bait the length of my thumbnail on a No. 4 Kahle hook. If I'm catching too many little cats, I double the bait size. At times, the bigger blues want live bait only."
Blue cats position themselves to intercept baitfish being carried by the tide. Mullins said an incoming tide is best when fishing the shallow flats. When the tide is leaving the marsh, the catfish hold in holes created by swift current entering the canals. Catfish in Bessie Heights rarely bite when the tide is still.
"The most I've caught in one day has been 23 keeper-sized blues, the biggest being 15 pounds. Four or five keeper-sized fish is a normal day. I have caught several blues in the 12- to 15-pound range, and know of one 32-pound blue caught in one of the canals."
Information: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, (409) 983-1104. Accommodations: Port Neches Chamber of Commerce, (409) 722-9154.
HOT TEXAS RIVERS
Lakes and reservoirs are the only waters where you'll find Lone Star catfish. Many of Texas' rivers also harbor healthy populations of channel, blue and flathead catfish.
For channel cats, the Trinity and Colorado rivers stand out, as do the Rio Grande, Frio, Guadalupe, Brazos and upper reaches of the Sabinal.
Blues cats are common and grow large in the Trinity, Nueces, Guadalupe, Sabine, Red, Lavaca, San Antonio, Frio and Navidad.
The Trinity and Navasota are top producers of flatheads, along with the Colorado Navasota, Guadalupe, Sabine, Brazos, San Antonio, Frio and Neches.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
An autographed copy of Keith Sutton's book, Catfishing: Beyond the Basics, can be ordered by sending a check or money order for $24.95 to C&C Outdoor Productions Inc., 15601 Mountain Dr., Alexander, AR 72002. For credit card orders, log on to www.catfishsutton.com.
Find more about Texas fishing and hunting at: TexasSportsmanMag.com