That may be just what you think you've found when you start pulling fish from these Texas catfish waters.
The largemouth bass is the most popular fish in the Lone Star State.
Can you guess which one is No. 2? Yes, that cat's out of the bag.
The lowly, sometimes slimy — yet extremely tasty — catfish is the second-best among all the go-to species for many Texas anglers. Roughly a quarter of our freshwater anglers choose catfish — more specifically, the channel catfish — as their primary target on the water, That's according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department data.
The catfish is the species the TPWD promotes for those who want to eat fish. Simply put, they're easy to get, they're abundant and it's just good to bring home some filets for dinner, which is a big part of the fishing experience, especially for youngsters.
Dave Terre, Inland Fisheries Management and Research Chief with Texas Parks and Wildlife, knows all about catfish. The state stocks more than a million catfish a year, most of them channel cats that are added to community lakes in an effort to provide more fishing opportunities for the angling masses.
"Catfish have always been very important to Texas anglers," he noted. "They may be even more important in the future."
That future includes the plan designed to expand angling opportunities for Texas' growing urban population and introduce the next generation of anglers to fishing. That plan, "A Vision for Catfish in Texas," describes why catfish are likely to become more important to Lone Star State anglers in the future and presents goals and strategies designed to make catfishing better.
Terre said those goals center around providing access and opportunity to a growing population. Part of that ongoing effort includes the Neighborhood Fishin' program, which helps stock channel cats into lakes in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Abilene, Amarillo, Bryan-College Station, San Angelo, Tyler, Waco and Wichita Falls areas.
"Texas is growing at a rapid rate — and most of the people who live in those urban areas don't go fishing," Terre noted. "The purpose of the Neighborhood Fishin' program is to get more people involved in the outdoors by creating fun, convenient, close-to-home opportunities where people can catch fish anytime they are ready to go."
While the urban fishing effort remains strong, in large part due to the resiliency of channel catfish, there are other larger Texas lakes that stand out when discussing exceptional catfish angling. These lakes are all worth the drive, regardless if it's an hour from home or a lot farther. Included in their descriptions are the lake-record catfish for each body of water for channel cats, blue cats and flatheads. While you're there, you may as well try to catch as many species as possible!
Here's a look at cat paradises in Texas. And many of our state's top catfish lakes are in prime condition, thanks to heavy rainfall in 2017 that filled many of them right up to the brim.
Lake Records: Blue: 87.50 pounds; Channel: 29.80; Flathead: 88
You can't have any catfish list that doesn't include the "Catfish Capital of Texas," which is what Tawakoni was designated during a previous session of the Texas State Legislature.
Tawakoni has the most exceptional channel cat population in the state, and with a lake record of nearly 30 pounds it's easy to see why. There is both quantity and quality there.
The upper reaches of the lake feature coves that are fed by nearby creeks and streams, making it ideal channel cat habitat. Lake Tawakoni State Park offers drive-up access to decent fishing options.
Tawakoni does have special catfish regulations that differ from other lakes. For blue and channel catfish, there is no minimum length limit with a daily bag limit of 25 fish in any combination. Of the 25-fish bag, no more than seven can be 20 inches or longer, and no more than two can be 30 inches or longer. For flatheads, the minimum length is 18 inches and daily bag is five.
Camping, picnic areas and a four-lane boat ramp are available at Lake Tawakoni State Park. There are five other public boat ramps and numerous private-owned access facilities. Accommodations range from motels and cabins to RV and tent sites.
While channel cats are the go-to species for Tawakoni anglers, catches of trophy blue catfish, especially during winter months, are fairly common, and with a lake record of almost 90 pounds, you may want to bring along some stout tackle!
Lake Records: Blue: 59.99; Channel: 11.22; Flathead: 62.60
Lake Records: Blue: 62.23; Channel: 18.24; Flathead: 65
This pair of "Ray" lakes near the Metroplex are both notable largemouth fisheries, but they also have good numbers of catfish. Each lake has multiple bridges spanning its waters, providing plenty of manmade, fish-holding habitat.
They both feature plenty of areas available for bank fishing. Ray Roberts State Park in particular is a scenic spot offering good catfish opportunities.
Marcos De Jesus, a district fisheries biologist with TPWD, also has plenty of experience with catfish. His district includes some of the best fishing holes in Central Texas for all varieties of freshwater species.
"Texas has some of the best catfish populations in the country," he said. "They do well in a range of water conditions. Catfish can also do better and even thrive more than other species in lower-quality waters."
De Jesus noted the marked differences in what makes each catfish angling pursuit unique — namely what they eat and what you can catch them on.
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"Flathead catfish prefer live bait like sunfish or shad," he said. "Blues will bite on cut bait or live bait mostly, and channel cats are easiest to catch, as they bite on a variety of baits. The best are chicken livers, stinkbait, nightcrawlers, hot dogs and dough bait."
When discussing channel cats, he said that the fish frequent specific areas during the spawn, which is the recipe for finding your own honeyhole.
"Channel cats will move into creeks and rivers to spawn in secluded areas or cavities under logs or undercut banks," he said. "The males protect the nests and become aggressive during this time. This makes them vulnerable to angling."
Lake Records: Blue: 65.20; Channel: 9.50; Flathead: 20.80
Lake Records: Blue: 49.70; Channel: 16.12; Flathead: 54.78
Blue cats tend to dominate the overall catfish populations on these bodies of water in the Highland Lakes Chain, but they all are good options for channel cats, too.
The upper portion of Buchanan where the Colorado River flows in is ideal catfish habitat, while the lower portion near the dam also is suitable. The eastern portion of the lake features a pair of coves with numerous piers and boat docks.
At Travis, the Colorado widens before it enters the lake and meanders south. The lake is really just a wider spot in the Colorado but it features numerous shallow coves that hold plenty of catfish. There are multiple municipal parks along the river's route that offer bank fishing access. If you're in a boat, there are hundreds of boathouses, piers and docks extending into the water, all providing plenty of cover.
Lake Records: Blue: 67; Channel: 7.94; Flathead: 71
This massive impoundment on the Texas-Louisiana border is flanked by the Sabine National Forest on its west side and drained by the Sabine River. It offers the most liberal catfish limits in Texas.
Residents of Texas or Louisiana who are properly licensed in their state (or are exempt because of age), or persons who hold valid non-resident fishing licenses issued by either state, can fish in any portion of the lakes and rivers forming a common boundary between Louisiana and Texas inland of a line across Sabine Pass between Texas Point and Louisiana Point.
The daily bag and possession limit for channel cats and blue cats is 50 in combination, with no minimum length limit. It should be noted that no more than five of those fish can be 30 inches or longer. For flatheads, the minimum length is 18 inches, with a daily bag and possession limit of 10 fish.
The time-honored tradition of baiting up catfish holes with soured grain or other smelly attractants is alive and well, especially on this huge reservoir.
Lake Records: Blue: 71.50; Channel: 17.73; Flathead: 80
Fork is the longstanding trophy largemouth fishery in Texas — two-thirds of the state's biggest bass have come from the lake — but it also is a great catfish spot.
The overall catfish population is dominated by channel catfish, but also includes good numbers of the other species. Fork's numerous coves are a haven for channel cats, providing plenty of habitat for spawning. Multiple bridges also span the lake, providing pilings that hold good numbers of catfish. There are numerous boat docks and piers that always harbor baitfish and larger species.
Fish attractors made of PVC have been placed in the reservoir — as if it needed even more quality fish habitat! Anglers can use GPS in conjunction with a fishfinder to locate those structures. The coordinates can be found on the TPWD website.
Lake Records: Blue: 71; Channel: 14.04; Flathead: 82
Known more as a white bass and striper fishery, 90,000-acre Lake Livingston on the Trinity River also is an outstanding catfish haunt.
The Trinity flows into the northern end of the lake, providing fertile breeding grounds for catfish and other species. Channel cats can be found almost all year in the main river channel and in the smaller tributaries and creeks that feed the body of water.
The special bag limit also shows just how good the catfish angling can be. For channel and blue catfish, the minimum length limit is 12 inches, with a daily bag and possession limit of 50 blue and channel catfish in any combination. That regulation applies to the portion of Livingston in Polk, San Jacinto, Trinity, and Walker counties.
PVC fish attractors also have been placed in this reservoir.
The state park on the southeast side of the lake offers easy public access.
For channel and blue catfish, the minimum length limit is 12 inches and daily bag limit is 25 in any combination at the statewide level. For flathead catfish, the minimum length is 18 inches and daily bag is five.
Some lakes have a special trophy size slot limit for blue catfish. On those bodies of water, such as Lake Lewisville, anglers can keep blue cats 30 inches and less or 45 inches or greater in length. Only one blue catfish 45 inches or greater can be kept each day.
As always, consult the Texas Outdoor Annual for the most updated freshwater fishing regulations.