If there's anything more enjoyable and relaxing than resting beside a Texas waterhole and watching a bobber or rod tip while waiting for a hungry catfish to jiggle it, I haven't found it.
It's not that you can go to sleep or daydream. You do have to keep on the alert to prevent that whisker kitty from stealing your bait — if not your whole rod and reel. It happens! But the total concentration required to almost sense, rather than see, when the fish is mouthing your offering clears your mind of all those everyday cares and worries like nothing else.
Although you can catch catfish just about anywhere in the Lone Star State, some lakes do stand out. Names like Texoma, Choke Canyon, Tawakoni, Livingston, Richland-Chambers, Amistad, Falcon, Braunig, Calaveras and Fork figure into more than their fair share of fishing stories — and for good reason. They produce fish year after year. However, there are lots of other good catfish holes, and so here's a rundown on the ones that our Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries biologists rank the highest.
Richland-Chambers Reservoir and Lake Palestine both offer excellent catfishing opportunities. Richland-Chambers supports an excellent blue catfish fishery, and these quality-sized fish can really stack up in the creek channels in the winter months. Cut shad dangling on the end of a rod and reel or jugline and drifted around the creek bends is hard to beat for taking these fish. Guide Bob Holmes (texasfishingguide.net) can put you on them.
Consistent fishing for Richland-Chambers catfish can be enjoyed throughout all 12 months of the year. However, if you want nonstop action during the warmer months, Lake Palestine offers an extremely high density of channel catfish. Anglers typically use punch baits or dip baits and often "complain" of catching too many fish. The current regulation on Lake Palestine allows a daily bag and possession limit of 50 blue and channel catfish in any combination, with no minimum length limit (only five can be over 20 inches). If you are looking to fill the freezer with tasty catfish, give Lake Palestine a try. It's a true catfisherman's hotspot.
Although Lake Fort Phantom Hill north of Abilene is fairly low, and has been for some time, boat launching is still possible at the low-water ramp in Johnson Park on the west end of the dam. Phantom has lots of white bass, hybrid striped bass, and crappie as well as a good population of feisty blue catfish.
The best way to target blue catfish is with cut shad fished just off the bottom. Blue catfish can be caught in all areas of the lake, but the most popular areas are at the spillway, sailboat slough, and, during winter, the deepest portions of the lake basin in front of the dam.
Nearby Lake Kirby, only 700 acres when full, is loaded with quality-sized blue catfish, pan-sized channel catfish, and a good population of flatheads.
Many anglers target the blues and channels from the bank, as there is excellent access. Casting cut carp or shad and fishing just off the bottom, whether from the bank or from a boat, is the method of choice for most blue catfish anglers. The usual stinky catfish baits work their magic for the channel catfish. Flathead catfish are not caught as often, but are plentiful. Be aware that the City of Abilene frowns on trotlines in the lake.
In the fall and winter, after Lake Texoma has turned over and there is plenty of oxygen throughout the water column, jugline fishing with shad, perch, or cut bait is popular all over the big border lake. Rod-and-reel fishing also is productive in areas where you can get down to the shoreline, such as at Hagerman Wildlife Refuge or Fobb Bottom above the U.S. 377 bridge. In late spring and early summer, fish around shorelines with big rocks or bank cavities where the cats spawn.
Lake Lavon has had more than its share of bad press in recent years following its infestation with zebra mussels. For information on helping prevent the spread of zebra mussels as required by law, see the Texas Outdoor Annual print or online version.
Blue catfish were first stocked into Lake Lavon in 1989 and then again in 1997 and 1998. Using popular catfish baits, they can be caught downlake during most of the cooler months, and they move uplake in the warmer months. Juglines, trotlines, and rod-and-reels are all effective ways to fish. The Little Ridge Park shoreline is a popular place to fish for them.
Coffee Mill Lake, near Bonham, has a robust population of channel catfish, with most — better than 90 percent — of the catfish collected in recent surveys being legal. Shoreline fishing around the campground is good. Drift-fishing is a good method, especially so since the lake is north-south oriented with a large portion of the lake consisting of open water. The warmer months are best for drifting. You also can anchor up and fish near the spillway using the usual catfish baits. No trotline or jugline fishing is allowed.
Both channel and blue catfish are abundant in Bonham City Lake. Any inflow can draw the catfish up the creeks, and so underneath the bridges are the go-to spots then. Otherwise, open water is the best bet with rod and reel, juglines, or trotlines. Check the City of Bonham web site for regulations on trotline and jugline use (cityofbonham.org/parks).
During the spawn in June, fish areas close to rocky or cut banks. Popular catfish baits will produce for you. The channel catfish record of 8.12 pounds was caught in 2013. The blue catfish record is 46 pounds and was caught in 2007.
The first trophy regulation for blue catfish in the nation was enacted on Lake Waco in 2009. The regulation is a 30- to 45-inch slot. Blue catfish shorter than 30 inches or longer than 45 inches can be kept. However, only one fish above the slot can be kept on any given day. The bag limit is 25 blue and channel catfish in any combination.
The regulation is meant to favor trophy-sized blues while allowing a statewide bag limit of catfish for anglers to keep — so that trophy anglers and fish-fryers alike can enjoy the catfish angling in the lake. Concentrate near creek and river channels, flooded timber, and wind-swept flats (especially during winter). Lakes Whitney, Limestone, and Belton in the area also hold good populations of catfish.
The power-plant lakes Bastrop, Fayette, and Walter E. Long are always a good option for catching channel catfish. Good numbers of fish are consistently caught in those lakes between spring and fall. Fishing for channel cats is simple, with the use of cut or odorous baits on a medium-action rod. Areas around the dams and discharges produce consistently. Using electronics to find dips in structure can be helpful. These fish are most active in the mornings and evenings but can bite all day under overcast conditions. An obvious advantage of fishing these lakes is that they are managed at constant water levels, which gives you some options if your usual lakes have been impacted by drought.
In the D/FW Metroplex area, Lake Lewisville is a surefire reservoir for loading up the freezer for the family fish fry. Lewisville is packed with blue catfish, which are managed under a slot-length limit of no harvest between 30 and 45 inches and only one fish over 45 inches. Take your cast net along and you'll have no trouble catching shad to use as bait.
Lake Arlington is far and away the best channel catfish reservoir in the Metroplex. The fish are abundant and grow big there, with fish in excess of 12 pounds a real possibility. Usual bait choices of cut shad, stinkbait, chicken livers, shrimp, and other prepared baits should produce ample catches of channel cats.
Fishing for blue catfish is excellent at Lake Arrowhead. Most of the big blue catfish are caught in late winter on tree-covered flats near the river channel. Mostly they are in rather shallow water (2 to 4 feet). While the reservoir currently is quite low and launching a boat can be tough, there still are opportunities to catch big cats from the shore. Not only are the cats big, but they also are numerous.
Choke Canyon is the catfish factory of South Texas. Its fertile waters provide catfish anglers with excellent fishing opportunities, no matter what the water level might be. Blue catfish are the predominant species, but channel and flathead catfish fall prey to anglers as well. Areas to fish include both the North and South Shore shorelines, Opossum Creek, Greyhound Point, and in the back of Calliham Cove. Specifically target the edges of timber, flat points created by sharp bends in the Frio River, and all cormorant roosts. You'll know them by the "white-washed" timber. Don't forget about the humps near the dam, as those locations produce a lot of catfish each year.
Bank fishing opportunities are good at both park locations and at each of the other three boat ramps. Prepared baits such as blood and cheese baits are excellent, but cut carp and sunfish, shad, crayfish, and worms work almost as well. Trotlines and juglines are highly effective in this catty reservoir.
Lake Corpus Christi is only slightly behind Choke Canyon when it comes to rankings for catfish action. Blue catfish, again, are the predominant species, but channel and flathead catfish also frequent local anglers' stringers. The best areas for catfishing include Lagarto Creek, Ramirena Creek, F.M. 534 bridge crossing, the Abbey, Carmel Hills, the Castle near Lake Corpus Christi State Park, and the submerged timber field south of and across the lake from Lake Corpus Christi State Park.
Fishing is best inside the flooded timber fields as well as on the outside edges. Also look for dropoffs into the river channel (the Abbey), and flat points created by sharp bends in the river channel. Excellent bank fishing opportunities can be found in Lake Corpus Christi State Park. Other South Texas catfish destinations include Delta Lake near Raymondville, where there's only shoreline access, with no boats allowed, along with lakes Dunlap and Placid.
While most anglers think of East Texas as big-bass heaven, catfish are thriving there as well. Late winter and early spring are popular times to catch large blue catfish on juglines or rod and reel. Later in the spring and summer, rod-and-reel angling for smaller, eating-sized blue catfish is popular at lakes Tawakoni, Toledo Bend, Conroe, Livingston, Cedar Creek, and Richland-Chambers. Cut gizzard shad is the preferred bait at those prime spots.
Outstanding channel catfish angling can be found at Lakes Fork and Conroe. Channel catfish are abundant, and larger fish are available to harvest on prepared baits. On Lake Fork, you'll often see a line of boats just north of the F.M. 515 bridge. The old submerged roadbed there is a channel catfish magnet, whether you are fishing with a rod and reel or with jugs.
Also check out the standing timber near the mouths of creeks north of the City of Dallas pump station on the west side of the lake south of F.M. 515. Stinkbaits can put a lot of fish in the ice chest there.
Wherever or whenever you go after catfish in the Lone Star State, be sure to have plenty of peanut oil and cornmeal on hand at home. You're going to need them.