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   January 26, 2004
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Texas Sportsman Magazine
Texas Catfish Hotspots
Texas is known for many great things -- and its excellent catfishing is one of them! That's a little wonder, given fishing spots like these.

Freddie Voyles didn't have to take a second glance at the plastic 2-liter soft-drink bottle bobbing on Lake Texoma's choppy surface to see that a hand-to-hand battle with a giant blue catfish was about to take place.

"It's setting deep," Voyles said, "and it's been moved a long way from the line" - the array of 83 floating containers of which the bottle in question was a part. "This may be a big one."

  

Indeed, the jug - rigged with at least 50 feet of 80-pound-test monofilament line, a 40-pound leader, a doughnut weight and a stainless steel hook baited with a live shad - was at that point 30 yards away from the line of jugs set out the previous night by Voyles and his fishing buddies. Instead of lying on its side, it stood upright and - much like a pencil-cork pulled down by a fish so that two-thirds of its length is under water - was more submerged than not.

For several years Voyles has been among a group of about six anglers from the Fort Worth area who venture to Texoma with hopes of catching the big blue catfish that are so numerous at the Texas-Oklahoma border lake. Ed Hope, the ringleader of the group, is a veteran catfisherman so serious about catching large numbers of catfish that his friends have compared him to the conductor of a symphony orchestra - as precise in rigging the individual jugs are as he is in setting them out along an underwater creek channel on the lake's spacious open waters.

The group's annual trek to Texoma is usually made in February, which veteran catfishermen recognize as the best month for catching big blues at that lake. And it's a trip similar to many others made to other Texas lakes during other times of the year - not only by jugliners but also by other catfishermen availing themselves of a variety of tactics, including the use of trotlines, droplines and even rod-and-reel rigs, to battle Ol' Whiskers.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Hope is as serious about his catfishing as anyone can be, and his careful preparation of jugs for fishing exemplifies that dedication. Each jug is filled with sprayable liquid insulating foam to give it "body" as well as more buoyancy. Firmness is important; otherwise the ultra-thin plastic bottle will collapse when being wrapped with a tight line for storage or while a fish is being fought by hand.

With the boat rolling with the high winds, Voyles had to calculate his timing in his attempt to grasp the jug as it bobbed with the waves. His first try was a good one, and he immediately felt a sudden heaviness on the long line below.

Wrapping the line around the jug as he worked the fish toward the surface, Voyles knew that this fish was much larger than the 17-pounder he'd boated the previous day. Finally, tired not only from the struggle with Voyles but also from its previous battle with the jug after being hooked, the big blue cat appeared below the surface. Weighing 34 pounds, it would be the largest of about 20 fish caught during the anglers' two-day venture - a slow one in comparison to all previous trips, Hope said.

Juglining has become increasingly popular at many Texas lakes in recent years, but it's just one of many methods effective for catching channel, blue and flathead catfish on just about any lake in the Lone Star State. And for some catfishermen, like those in Hope's group, it's an adventure in teamwork - everyone helps catch the bait in cast nets, baits the lines and runs the lines hourly.

For the really big cats, Texoma deservedly ranks at the top of Texas' catfish holes; after all, the largest catfish of any species ever caught in Texas is a 116-pound blue cat taken from this border lake in 1985 by trotliner C.D. Martindale. But the best thing about catching big cats in Texas is that it happens all over the state all the time - and it's not just trotliners or jugliners that are doing it. True, trotlines and juglines are generally recognized as the methods to use to catch big cats. But you might be surprised not only by the numbers and sizes of huge catfish that have been caught on rod and reel but by the names of the lakes at which they've been caught, as well.

As an example, if you were to take a tour across the north part of Texas, you would find one incredible story after another of anglers who have used rod and reel to catch fish far larger than their gear was ever intended to land.

To get a quick glimpse in a nutshell, take a look at what has taken place on several of the lakes in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, many of which are among the oldest reservoirs in the state and have long seen their prime years for other popular fish such as largemouth bass and crappie fade into the past.

One of the most incredible catfish catches of all time took place on June 2, 1986 at Lake Lewisville, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir just north of the Dallas city limits. That was the day local angler William Stephens hooked and eventually landed a 98-pound flathead on bait-casting equipment.

Just a few years earlier at nearby Lake Grapevine, Jerry Jordan caught a 73-pound, 8-ounce flathead on rod and reel to set a lake record on that Corps reservoir.

Since those two feats were accomplished, other incredible D/FW Metroplex catches have been made on rod and reel - including a 73-pound flathead by Johnny Morton at Eagle Mountain Lake, a 44-pound flathead by Mark Prine at Cleburne State Park Lake, and a 49-pound, 8-ounce flathead by Elmer Star at Lake Arlington.

These are incredible catches, indeed, made mainly by average fishermen who were just out to catch anything that might bite, and not necessarily a trophy catfish. And there have been similar big catches by rod and reel, trotlines and juglines all across the state, even out to as far west as Amistad Reservoir on the Texas-Mexico border and as far north to Lake Meredith near Amarillo in the state's Panhandle.

Among the other notable rod and reel catches have been an 83-pound flathead caught at Lake Palo Pinto by James Carpenter, a 52-pound flathead at Fort Phantom Hill Reservoir near Abilene by Paul Gomez, a 52-pound flathead caught at Squaw Creek Reservoir near Granbury by David Watley, a 64-pound flathead by Valerie Leven at Baylor Lake, and a 45.65-pound flathead caught at Lake Texoma by Ed Wolfe.

One thing these catches prove is that big catfish, especially flatheads and blues, can be caught on just about any Texas lake, big or small. However, if you are really serious about catching Texas catfish, there are some guidelines to follow that will help you concentrate your efforts on those lakes that typically produce the best catches, not just an occasional headliner.

Trotliners generally use live perch or shad to bait their hooks, setting them either on or slightly off the bottom along the edges of underwater creek channels, at the mouths of tributary creeks where they join major channels, and along the tops of submerged ridges.

Flathead catfish, and many of the larger blues, feed primarily at night, so baiting and setting your lines with that in mind will help you provide the fish with fresh, live bait at a time when they are most active.

Channel catfish can be caught on trotlines, generally best during late spring and summer months in the shallows of flats or creek channels, but drifting with shrimp and earthworms can be a relaxing yet exciting method of catching them, as well.

The overall favorite method of catching channel catfish among veteran anglers, however, is baiting out one or several holes ahead of time with an enticer - something like soured maize, range cubes, hog pellets, or corn. Some serious catfish fishermen even add wheat to the souring process.

The generally accepted method of souring a grain such as milo is to pour it into a five-gallon or larger container until the container is about two-thirds full, then adding enough water to cover the grain by several inches. The container is then covered and let stand in full sunlight for several days. The heat from the sun will help complete the souring process in just a few days. Because the maize will absorb much of the water - just as does a pot of beans - you may need to add water occasionally to see that the grain remains completely submerged.

As a rule, you can expect the grain to be soured sufficiently in two to three days, or whenever your neighbor's cat gets sick by just walking beside it.

Generally, scattering two to three pounds of grain in a particular area will be enough to bring in the channel cats. Another method is to put the soured grain in a burlap bag and sink it where you wish to fish. Fishing for catfish is best when done vertically while your boat is tied to a tree or anchored, and using cheese, dough or blood bait.

As mentioned earlier, the Red River system's top producer for blue and yellow cats is Texoma, with the best results generally found by using juglines and trotlines baited with live perch or shad. Gizzard and threadfin shad are numerous in Texoma, and usually can easily be caught in cast nets in the small coves.

Lake Ray Roberts, located near Denton north of Fort Worth/Dallas, has become one of the best catfish fisheries on the Trinity River system in years. Loaded with fertile waters that also have produced a great largemouth bass fishery, Ray Roberts has a versatile structure of habitat and a large baitfish base that should help keep it a good catfishing lake for years to come.

Butch Orr caught a 77.2-pound flathead at Ray Roberts last March on a trotline, setting a new lake record in the process. Channel catfish also are caught in large numbers around the brushpiles left in the lake during construction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Many of these brushpiles are as deep as 12 to 18 feet.

On the Brazos River system, lakes Possum Kingdom, Granbury and Whitney prevail, with some tributary impoundment such as Palo Pinto Lake and Fort Phantom Hill also good bets, not only because they have good catfish populations but also because they generally receive little fishing pressure.

Although Possum Kingdom Lake was hit hard by a golden algae bloom in January 2001 that claimed numerous rough fish and other species including largemouth bass, crappie, sand bass, striped bass and catfish, the earliest signs of a rebound was seen in its catfish fishery as early as last May, when good catches of catfish were made on the lake's upper reaches around Rock Creek.

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  • Possum Kingdom's lake records include a 19.13-pound channel cat, a 60-pound blue cat and a 60.5-pound flathead.

    The three major Brazos River lakes - PK, Granbury and Whitney - are relatively narrow, winding reservoirs with deep water along the main river channel and moderately deep to shallow water in its sloughs and tributary creeks. The best catfishing for trotlines and juglines is along the main river channels on the upper ends of each of these lakes.

    Farther west, O.H. Ivie near San Angelo is becoming as popular for its channel cat fishing as it has been for the larger flatheads, or yellow cats. The largest channel cat caught to date at Ivie is a whopping 27.45-pounder caught by Terry Winchester on March 3, 2000, and he made the catch on a rod and reel!

    Ivie's largest yellow cat is a 68-pounder taken on a trotline. The lake has numerous underwater ridges and small, narrow winding creek channels - all ideal places to set trotlines or juglines for the big yellows. Drift-fishing for channel cats along the lower end of the lake or fishing over baited holes generally pays off with good catches during late spring and throughout the summer months.

    Another San Angelo-area lake - E.V. Spence Reservoir - is yet another West Texas hotspot for big catfish. The lake record for blues is a 54.44-pounder, and the largest yellow cat taken there is a 54.31-pounder. Numerous other catfish weighing 20 to 30 pounds are caught there regularly during the summer, usually by trotline.

    Amistad Reservoir near Del Rio on the Rio Grande annually attracts scores of catfish fishermen, not only from Texas but from northern climates, as well. The lake is noted for its excellent channel cat action. Baiting holes with soured corn or milo is perhaps as popular at Amistad as it is on any other Texas lake.

    Lake Meredith, located north of Amarillo in the Panhandle, also is well known for producing bit channel catfish. The lake record there is a 22.75-pounder, another incredible rod and reel catch, this one made by John Switzer.

    These are among the best large reservoirs that produce many of Texas' top catfish catches, but even the small lakes can sometimes produce good catches of blues, yellows and channels.

    At Lake Aquilla near Hillsboro, where Royce Burkett caught an 85.75-pound yellow cat on a trotline last March, trotlines set in the lake proper regularly turn up good catches. Any place near the timberline often is a hotspot for larger fish, as are portions of both creek channels where they enter the deeper portions of open water.

    Lake Cisco, a city-owned reservoir, is another small lake that often produces big catches. Larry Allen caught a 36-pound-plus yellow cat there on rod and reel last May when the lake's level was low. Good catches of channel cats on blood and cheese baits also continue to come from the relatively flat reservoir.

    In East Texas, many of the major bass lakes are also catfishing hotspots. Look to Rayburn and Toledo Bend to yield good catches of channels cats. And Lake Conroe, near Houston, is no slouch as a catfish lake either. Livingston is another well-known catfish producer in that region.

    The Colorado River has been turning out good catches of channel and flathead catfish for years in Central Texas, as have many of the smaller tributary streams throughout the Hill Country. Look to Choke Canyon, Braunig and Calaveras to give up good numbers of channel catfish near San Antonio.

    Big or small, catfish are rated among the top three fish sought-after by Texas anglers along with largemouth bass and crappie. They're fun to catch and excellent to eat, and they figure among the easiest to take of all Texas' native fish species.



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