Here's where and how to enjoy some of the best catfish action to be found within this cat-producing region of our state. (August 2009)
It's called the Texas Triangle, a place where you can spend a hot July or August afternoon and literally get lost, at least in your thoughts, until awakened by the tug of a catfish at the end of your line.
While big flatheads are most often caught on trotlines or limblines baited with something live, Groveton angler Leah Kissinger caught this hefty yellow cat on rod and reel.
Photo by Bob Hood.
From Lake Tawakoni, near Dallas, westward to the narrow, ravine-like beginnings of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River northwest of Abilene and then southeast to Town Lake near Austin and back to Tawakoni, the Texas Triangle offers anglers more than 50 prime catfishing lakes to choose from -- and many of them are right at their back doors.
The hot summer months provide many of the best catfishing opportunities simply because large numbers of catfish can be caught so many different ways, from fishing vertically or drifting with rod and reel to setting trotlines, limblines or juglines to fly-fishing with grasshoppers.
Let's start in my favorite, and more eastern, corner of this Texas Triangle of catfishing hotspots and see just what's out there for Texas anglers: Lake Tawakoni. There is a reason the community of West Tawakoni was designated the "Catfish Capital of Texas" by the state legislature several years ago. It's just that good!
Veteran outdoor writer Luke Clayton of Combine says he believes no other lake can match Tawakoni for producing large numbers of channel and blue catfish, especially during the summer months.
"It is just unbelievable how customers of fishing guides like George Rule and David Hansen -- as well as many groups of everyday anglers -- can go out and catch 100 or more catfish day after day, year after year," Clayton said.
If you want to catch lots of good eating-sized channel and blue catfish at Tawakoni, use the method that the pros use: baiting out areas close to tree stumps with soured maize, wheat, chicken feed or a combination of them ahead of time. The more regularly you can bait the area with the soured grain, the more catfish you will attract, Clayton said.
Good additives to spice up your baited areas are cattle or horse range cubes, half-cigar-sized compressed feed that attracts baitfish and catfish as they dissolve. A dozen or so cubes once an hour while fishing generally will do the job.
Soured grain as bait can be achieved simply by filling a five-gallon bucket three-quarters full of maize, topping it off with water and letting it stand in the sun for two weeks. The range cubes can be used as they come in the sacks. The worse the maize smells to you, the better it smells to the catfish!
"If I want to catch a bunch of channel cats for a fish fry or to go after a big blue catfish, Tawakoni is going to be at the top of my list," Clayton said.
Venturing westward across a 10-county line at the top of the Texas Triangle, anglers will find a host of other great catfishing lakes. Among them are lakes Ray Hubbard, Lewisville, Benbrook, and Joe Pool in the Fort Worth-Dallas Metroplex. And there are lakes Weatherford, Possum Kingdom, Palo Pinto, Hubbard Creek and -- one of my favorites of all -- the narrow Clear Fork of the Brazos River from northwest of Abilene near the beginning of its 800-mile-plus course to the Texas Gulf Coast.
The Fort Worth-Dallas area lakes are great places to sit on the bank and cast off sloping points that have been pre-baited with soured grain, or simply fishing from the banks in the tributary creeks. After all, that's what fishing for catfish should always be about: relaxing and enjoying the moment as well as the action. However, there is another alternative that can be just as enjoyable as sitting in the shade of a tree and hoping Ol' Whiskers will take your bait, and that's drifting in a boat with earthworms or shrimp as bait under a full moon with family or friends.
Lake Benbrook at Fort Worth is one of my favorite drift-fishing spots. The flats just off the Trinity River channel near Mustang Park, as well as the old submerged gravel pits on the west side of the lake between Mercer Slough and Airplane Point, generally produce good catches of summertime channel cats for nighttime drifters. The same tactics will work on the flats near channels on many other lakes, especially on lakes Ray Hubbard, Lewisville and Joe Pool in the Metroplex, and little Lake Weatherford just west of Fort Worth.
Possum Kingdom Lake, which lies mostly in Palo Pinto County, is an excellent choice for virtually every type of catfishing. Its extremely deep lower reaches produce great catches of big blue and yellow cats on juglines and trotlines baited with live perch or live and cut shad. The mouths of Neely's Slough, Governor's Slough and Scenic Point typically produce the largest fish, but the ledges along the steep, rocky banks below Scenic Point also are good places to set jugs or trotlines.
Good places for rod-and-reel anglers to bait out holes with soured grain are the stumpfields around Costello Island and in Rock Creek on the far upper end of the lake.
Hubbard Creek Lake near Breckenridge in Stephens County is a virtual sleeper in catfishing circles. The lake's level remained at more than 18 feet below full pool for several years, leaving all boat ramps closed. City officials managed to get a new ramp built near the dam in the early 1990s, but fishing activity remained limited until heavy floodwaters in 2007 brought the lake back to its full capacity. Despite drought conditions over the past year, the abundance of new flooded cover and refilled creeks make this lake one to be reckoned with for bank-fishing rod-and-reelers and for trotliners, limbliners and jug-fishermen.
Big Sandy Creek is loaded with flooded willows just waiting for limbliners, as are Brushy Creek and Hubbard Creek itself. The underwater islands below the U.S. 180 bridge are excellent places to lay trotlines, as is the boat cut at Goat Island.
Small-boat owners won't find many better places where they can catch channel cats and 5- to 10-pound flatheads than in the upper reaches of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River where the channel ranges from 15 yards to 40 yards or more wide. Although access is limited, the rewards can be great, especially following rains that give the river an increased current.
The river at Hawley, west of Fort Phantom Hill Reservoir, is no more than a narrow draw, but it widens by several yards by the time it flows beneath the Highway 6 bridge south of
Lueders. Small-boat access is available at a small unimproved campsite at the Lueders Bridge. Good catches of channel cats are made on limblines placed downstream of the bridge, and bank-fishing for yellow cats in the channel can be good using live bait.
This stretch of the Brazos River also is a perfect place to go for channel cats in a way that may be considered unusual by many avid catfish anglers -- fly-fishing.
That's right, fly-fishing with live bait, not tiny fly lures, has become very popular among a small segment of West Texas anglers in the upper Clear Fork of the Brazos River during the hot summer months, especially after preceding mild winter temperatures have resulted in high populations of grasshoppers and other insects. Fly-anglers wading the river in Jones, Shackelford and Stephens counties, as well as just northward in Haskell and Throckmorton counties, have enjoyed catching channel catfish by floating grasshoppers at the surface for years. Naturally, they've kept news of the sport close to their vests.
Swinging southeastward toward San Angelo along the triangle's border brings you to several lakes affected almost annually by drought conditions, but which never should be overlooked by catfish anglers. Among them are lakes Nasworthy, Fisher, and O.H. Ivie. And at the tip near Austin, there are a host of deep, clearwater lakes like Town, Travis and Long.
The West Texas lakes near San Angelo typically provide the best action for trotliners looking for yellow cats, or for rod-and-reel anglers fishing the creeks for eating-sized channel cats. As with anywhere else, live bait works best for the flatheads, but the so-called punch baits seem to work best for channel cats in the usually warmer, off-colored waters of West Texas.
Within the boundaries of this Texas Triangle I have presented are scores of small lakes loaded with catfish that receive little fishing pressure outside that from local anglers. To name just a few, they are lakes Coleman, Ballinger, Cisco and Hords Creek in the west, lakes Waxahachie, Bardwell, and Navarro Mills along the eastern boundary, and more southern lakes like Aquilla, Bastrop, Georgetown and Austin.
And inside this triangle are several of Texas' top catfish-producing reservoirs. Here are a few to put on your catfishing calendar:
Lake Granbury, the second in a threesome of Brazos River impoundments, shows its best action for channel cats on its upper reaches. I favor the area from Stroud Creek northward to Long Creek, Turkey Creek and Sanchez Creek above the Tin Top Bridge for trotlining.
The shallow banks below the Highway 51 bridge, an area where I used to live, also is an excellent place to set lines in 3 to 4 feet of water for channel cats during the summer months. I can't tell you how many eating-sized channel cats I've caught on 15-hook lines baited with punch bait and chicken livers along those banks after "doctoring" them with soured maize.
Farther downstream at Lake Whitney, the action seems to be even more diversified. The lower end of the lake from Cowan Park to the bluffs near Harbor Master Marina near the dam produces great catches of big yellow catfish during the heat of the summer. Lines set at the mouths of King Creek, Steele Creek and across the lake near the state park also have produced many big yellow cats.
For channel catfish, the riverside area along Steiner Valley, Plowman's Creek and the upper Brazos and Noland River channels are great places to bait out stumps along the edges of the channels with soured grain. Night-fishing under lanterns along the banks of the creeks at Plowman, Mesquite, Steele and at Big Rocky also are great choices for ways to beat the heat while having excellent chances of catching channel catfish.
If you like to fish with ultralight tackle, try the rocky shelves beneath the bluffs leading into the entrance of Big Rocky Creek with earthworms rigged on a small hook and split shot weight. You can bait out the ledges before fishing, but chances are someone else already has sweetened the area ahead of you. It's just that popular of an area, but it consistently produces good catches for light-tackle anglers.
Lake Belton is another of my favorites, but mainly for trotlining. Belton has a great population of channel catfish ranging from 2 to 3 pounds, and that makes it a great lake for setting two to three short lines at night during the hot summer months.
Lines baited with blood bait and then spiced with a coffee can full of soured maize poured over the area will keep you and your buddies busy not only all night long removing the fish but also for an hour or two after daybreak cleaning your catch!
Many trotliners prefer longer lines. For some, it is a matter of what the law allows. I like short lines, especially for channel catfish, set along newly flooded vegetation when available, and along the edges of narrow creeks during drier times.
For vertical fishing, punch baits will outproduce many other baits in the long run. I think that's because many of the top punch baits, such as Stick-It and others, include in their ingredients not only natural foods and attractants that have been ground up, but also cattails and other fibers that help keep the bait on the hooks for a longer period of time.
I prefer a 4-ought treble hook baited with punch bait about a foot below a barrel weight -- a sort of Carolina rig setup that puts the bait either on the bottom with the baited hook rising about a foot off the bottom in a slack situation, or lifting the weight a foot off the bottom to achieve a similar hook placement but on a tight line.
For drift-fishing, frozen or thawed shrimp are the standard. With the ever-popular earthworms, you often catch other species of fish, such as largemouth bass, white bass and freshwater drum.
Juglining for big blue catfish has increased in popularity in recent years, especially on some of the larger reservoirs. During the summer months, many of the larger blue cats are caught on juglines baited with cut or live shad and positioned just off the bottom in deep water in or on the banks of submerged creek and river channels.
The methods available to you for catching summer catfish are many, as are your choices of lakes, creeks and rivers. A day beneath a shade tree on a creek bank, drifting at night in a boat, running trotlines, juglines and limblines, or experiencing something new like fly-fishing with grasshoppers all are awaiting you this month in the Texas Triangle.