October 04, 2010
Ever wonder what it would be like to fish the best catfish waters around the entire state? Well, here's a guide that might just help you make that dream come true. (May 2009)
So many waters, so many catfish and so little time to fish them all! But whether you prefer to catch skillet-sized whiskerfish or monster cats, the opportunity is right at your back door, regardless of where you live in Texas.
Granbury angler Lance Cauthen, Marshall Cauthen of Graham and Stacy Cauthen of Wichita Falls caught these fat, pan-sized channel cats at Lake Tawakoni while fishing with veteran guide George Rule. Tawakoni is a hotspot for catfish right now.
Photo by Bob Hood.
It shouldn't be surprising that catfish rank as the No. 2 game fish in Texas behind the largemouth bass. Or should it? After all, most bass anglers these days go after their quarry driving expensive boats and vehicles and invest heavily in the latest electronics, rods and reels and lures to catch a fish that very few of them take home to sit down and enjoy at the dinner table.
There's certainly nothing wrong with that, unless some bass harvesting is needed for the sake of the particular fishery, but there should be little argument about the sometimes-ancient tactics used to catch catfish or the delicious taste of their flesh whether fried, blackened or grilled.
Your opportunities to catch large numbers of pan-sized channel and blue catfish are just as numerous as are those for catching trophy-sized flatheads and blue cats. And that holds true from the Pineywoods of East Texas, the scenic, rugged Hill Country and the cacti-infested flats and canyons of West Texas, to the Coastal Plains of South Texas or the prairie grasslands of North Texas.
To help you decide where to go to enjoy the best catfishing waters found in the Lone Star State, let's take a look at what's out there and consider the many methods you can use to "load the boat" with these tasty game fish.
Actually, you won't need a boat on some of our choicest catfish waters -- just a bucket of punch bait or box of shrimp and whatever type of pole or rod and reel you prefer. That's part of what's so great about catfish. You can catch them on a pauper's equipment and then eat like royalty.
Let's begin our voyage down the path to Texas' great catfish waters on the shallow waters of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, beginning at an access point near the Highway 6 Bridge near Lueders north of Abilene. Typically, running water is the key to unlocking this relatively little-known channel and flathead catfish fishery. Good rains in late April and May can transform the Clear Fork's shallows into a limbliner's dream come true. Access at the Lueders Bridge is for johnboats, canoes and other small craft only.
You can go as far downriver and back from the bridge as you are physically allowed, but the first two to four miles provide some of the best water depths (about 3 to 4 feet) and overhanging willows. I fished the area for the first time a few years ago while making a 32-day canoe trip with a friend down the river. For bait, I used the hearts of squirrels and the livers of bullfrogs, but cut bait, shrimp or chicken liver will work just as well.
Other areas of the Clear Fork that provide access and good fishing for channel catfish from small crafts are located at Fort Griffin State Park north of Albany, the Crystal Falls bridge crossing near the Hubbard Creek tributary to the river just downstream of the park, and at the old grist mill site at Eliasville between Breckenridge and Graham. The latter is private property, but access is available via a drop box and modest fee system.
Several West Texas lakes also provide good fishing for channel cats, including Millers Creek near Munday between Throckmorton and Knox City. I fished Millers Creek for the first time in 1975, a year after it opened. It was loaded with small channel catfish then, and that hasn't changed. It's a true sleeper, a lake that attracts only small numbers of West Texas anglers but a great one for catching a lot of fish for the freezer.
Bank-fishing with Carolina-rigged punch bait and cut bait for channel cats is excellent on its upper reaches in May when the spawning season is under way. Drift-fishing the flats with earthworms and shrimp also is a good bet.
Travel all the way to the Texas/Mexico border and you will find another great catfish fishery at Amistad Reservoir. Amistad has become best known for its great largemouth bass fishery in recent years, but its great channel cat fishery is a literal legend. In its early years more than 30 years ago, most catfish anglers used soured corn to bait out their "holes" and punch bait and cut bait to haul in big numbers of channel cats from the rocky ledges along the Rio Grande channel and tributaries to the river.
Today, it is soured maize that is the preferred choice of bait, perhaps because of the cost difference.
During May, target the rock ledges 10 to 18 feet deep, located in the numerous canyons and draws from Diablo East upriver, for good channel cat action. The quick-dropping rocky ledges in the Devils River also attract large numbers of spawning fish. The deep draws leading into larger creek channels and the Rio Grande channel generally are best for flatheads on live perch.
Falcon Reservoir, located farther down the Rio Grande near Zapata is another incredible channel cat fishery. I fell in love with Falcon's great fishery on my first visit there in 1968 at the invitation of Ramiro Torres who ran Oso Blanco Lodge and who now owns the renowned Holiday Restaurant in Zapata. Torres introduced me to several Falcon Lake fishing guides, including Albert Guiterrez, a channel catfish expert who kept several holes baited with soured maize throughout the spring and summer months in the Big and Little Tiger creeks.
Guiterrez's approach was simple and one that still works today anywhere in Texas: Set the table and the fish will come. He baited his holes at 5 to 12 feet every few days and never failed to catch all the eating-sized channel catfish he and his customers or friends wanted. Today, fishing guide Robert Amaya and others are applying the same methods to haul in scores of channel cats from the big border impoundment.
Head cross-country into the Texas Hill Country and you will find a reservoir where huge blue catfish have provided thrills for many anglers for decades -- Lake Buchanan. This lake is on a chain of Colorado River impoundments that include lakes Inks, LBJ and Travis, but I believe Buchanan to be the prince of all Hill Country Lakes due to the numbers of trophy blues it has yielded over the decades.
Of the three major catfish spe
cies, blue cats are the most prevalent on Buchanan. It was only March 2008 when 12-year-old Destinee Love set a new Buchanan record for blue cats with a 65.20-pounder she caught on cut shad while fishing with guide Clancy Terrill. (See "Cats Near The Capital" in the August 2008 issue of Texas Sportsman for details on that record catch.)
The lake annually produces numerous blue cats weighing 40 pounds and larger on cut bait, especially during the spring and early summer months. Most are taken off underwater rocky humps and the edges of the channels.
Another great lake in Central Texas that is a favorite is Belton, to me one of the best trotlining lakes in the region. I've trotlined it with friends using anywhere from 10 to 15 hooks per line baited with slabs of beef blood at night during the late-spring and summer months. Expect to catch a lot of channel cats weighing in the 1 1/2- to 3-pound range each night.
Tie the ends of your short weighted lines to the stumps in 12 to 18 feet of water close to a channel or draw and then scatter about one-half gallon of soured grain along the sunken line. You will have plenty of fish to fillet by morning.
For trophy blue cats, no lake has topped Lake Texoma in numbers and sizes of blues harvested. Texoma, located on the Red River in North Texas and southern Oklahoma, not only produced the former world-record 121-pound blue cat, but also annually yields scores of blues weighing 40 to 90 pounds -- and sometimes more.
Cody Mullenix proved you don't have to have a boat to land a big blue on Texoma when he caught the 121-pounder from the bank in 2004 on a shad, but any veteran Texoma blue cat angler knows that the lake is a jugliner's heaven. More blue catfish have been caught on juglines at Texoma than by any other method.
Veteran jugliner Ed Hope of Burleson has been catching blue cats on jugs at Texoma for more than 16 years and has caught numerous ones weighing more than 30 pounds.
Like many Texoma juggers, Holt leads a camp of from four to 12 fishermen working as teams from two to four per boat several days a week to monitor 25 to 40 jugs each on a daily basis. Holt's first blue cat caught on a jugline weighed 36 pounds and he said that caused him to become "hooked for life."
Texoma also is a great place to catch channel catfish during May. A different way one group of anglers catches them is from float tubes. This is spawning time for the catfish. Positioning themselves in float tubes over underwater ledges and probing the rocks with single circle hooks baited with large rock shrimp, these anglers not only catch channel cats but an occasional blue cat as well.
Lake Ray Roberts, located less than an hour's drive north of Fort Worth, is another lake that produces large numbers of channel cats. The lake is loaded with timber, creek channels, roadbeds, submerged stock tanks, brushpiles and other structure that attract lots of channel cats from May through the late summer months.
A few quarts or two of soured grain broadcast in the flooded timber among flooded grassbeds and willows or atop submerged stock tank dams, roadbeds and points near channels can bring rewarding experiences. Use blood baits and punch baits to seal the deal.
Use baited No. 4 treble hooks about 18 inches below a barrel weight and cast them out onto a baited area. A 1/4-ounce weight is fine unless there is a stiff wind where you might want to use a slightly heavier weight. The Wolf Island, Buck Creek and Indian Creek areas produce lots of channel cats at this time of the year, especially near edges of hydrilla, along grassy shorelines and over submerged stock tank dams.
Possum Kingdom Lake, located about 1 1/2 hours northwest of Fort Worth, is a great choice not only for the action it produces but also for the mountainous scenery that surrounds it. You can find great results there by trotlining, drifting, limblining or vertically fishing for channel cats and small blue cats.
During the first half of May, target the bulrushes and cattails around Costello Island and those along the east shoreline above Willow Beach Marina. The bulrushes and cattails around Carter Island and the rocky ledges in nearby Lambert Branch also are good bets for both spawning channel cats and those feeding on shad attracted to the aquatic vegetation.
Later in May, target the inlets at Scenic Point, Neely's Slough, Governor's Slough and Caddo Creek on the lower end with soured grain and punch bait or blood bait. The warming water temperatures will help spread the scents of your bait and the grain. Cats love both.
In East Texas, Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn and Livingston top the list for big blue catfish, and Tawakoni, Palestine, Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek are tops for big numbers of channel cats.
The best way to catch big blues on the Big Three lakes in southeast Texas in May is to target the underwater humps, especially near the thermocline at about 15 feet. Live or cut shad rigged on circle hooks are your best bets.
For numbers of eating-sized channel cats, never pass up Tawakoni. How fishing guides like George Rule and David Hansen as well as other veteran Tawakoni anglers can produce 100-fish catches of panfish-sized channel cats per boat day after day and year after year is nothing short of phenomenal.
For those who have experienced the everyone-catches-their-limit days at Tawakoni, it should not be surprising to learn the city of West Tawakoni was proclaimed by the state legislature as the "Catfish Capital of Texas." But Tawakoni is not just a great channel cat fishery. Wintertime catches of blue cats weighing 20 to more than 50 pounds also are common.
For channel cats during early May, target the timbered areas along the main channels both above and below the Two Mile Bridge that connects the communities of West and East Tawakoni. Use soured wheat or maize to bait out the bases of the stumps in 12 to 16 feet if the lake is low.
If the level is high, head for the flooded willows from just south of Anchor Inn Marina to Wolfe Creek. Position your boat in the middle of the willows and fish the 5 to 8 feet of water with slip-cork rigs baited with punch baits that are rich in fibers such as shredded cattails so it will stay on your No. 4 treble hooks better than softer punch baits.
If you have the time to pre-scout the willows and bait them out, use pieces of rope or plastic tie-downs to bunch up or bundle a group of cattails, bulrushes or willow saplings to create "holes" to fish with your slip-corks. If the fish are not hitting aggressively in the thick cover, remove the slip-cork and fish off the bottom on a straight line on the outside or open edges of the willows rather than inside them.
Lakes Palestine, Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek also produce lots of channel cats, and for some reason each have achieved that acclaim under different fishing methods. At Palestine, drifting earthworms and shrimp from the Flat Creek to Kickapoo Creek areas near
the submerged timber seems to top all others.
At Richland-Chambers, jugs set above and just below the railroad bridge on the upper reaches of the Richland Creek arm seem to produce the larger numbers of channel cats at this time of the year. Cedar Creek, on the other hand, produces lots of channel cats for anglers fishing vertically under the bridges or around docks.
Your catfishing choices are many in Texas these days, but there are bound to be a few not too far from your home to suit your taste. That holds true whether you're after skillet-sized fish or trophies.