In the outdoors, there are very few constants. So many factors influence the way fish and game go about their day-to-day lives that we mere humans will never be able to always accurately pattern them.
But there is one constant that we can take to the bank: After a period of heavy rainfall, when there is current in creeks and rivers, catfish will alwaysbe present to feed on the abundant food supply.
I recently enjoyed a few action-packed hours of catching blue catfish with my new friend, guide Tony Pennebaker, at Lake Tawakoni, and the fishing was as good as it gets, thanks in part to the influx of fresh water and food coming down the Sabine River channel.
Blue catfish are in a transition period right now. Many have moved out of the deeper water and are in pre-spawn mode in more shallow water. The dead of winter is prime for trophy hunting big blues, a time when it’s common to connect with big fish.
I enjoy catching a big fish as much as anyone but right now is my favorite time of the year for catching good eating blue catfish and the good eater size are primarily what’s biting right now. Most catfish anglers release trophy size catfish, but those 2-10 pounders are the size that make great eating, and right now at Lake Tawakoni, Pennebaker is exposing his clients to some red-hot action and several gallon bags filled with snow white catfish fillets.
Shallow water close to cover such as brush or newly emerged vegetation is where the catfish are congregated right now. Locate these conditions close to an influx of fresh water coming into the lake and you are at ground zero for catching a big “mess” of catfish.
There is no better bait than freshly caught shad for blue catfish – the fresher the better – and that’s exactly what Pennebaker rigged the eight rods with as he pushed the power poles down on his big guide barge and anchored the craft in the shallows on the upper end of the lake.
For this type of fishing, rods are positioned in rod holders on the side of the boat and it’s very important to keep the boat rock solid in order to keep the lines tight. Those power poles in the stern of Pennebaker’s boat kept the craft stationary and in a matter of a few minutes after anchoring the boat, we were fishing.
As if often the case, the big bite of the trip was the first fish to bow a rod. I was in the bow of the boat, watching several rods and the one right in front of me twitched once and the tip bowed sharply toward the water surface.
Pennebaker fishes with circle hooks and it’s important to give the fish time for the hook to do its job and thread itself into the corner of the fish’s mouth. When fishing with conventional ‘J’ hooks, it’s necessary to set the hook, but with circle hooks, the proper technique is to wait until the rod loads up and bows to the water, then, while it’s still in the rod holder, crank like crazy and take up any slack before pulling the rod out and fighting the fish.
On occasion, when the line goes slack, the catfish has picked up the bait and is moving toward the boat. When this occurs, use the same technique, reel fast to take up the slack before removing the rod from its holder.
When I grabbed the rod on this first bite of the day, I knew I had a good fish. Granted, not a giant trophy but a heavy keeper that weighed about 10 pounds, one that would later feed several serious fish eaters at my next fish fry.
The weather forecast for the day was more rain around noon and we arrived at our fishing spot around 8:30 a.m. In less than two hours, I had caught my limit and we were heading back to the cleaning station, just as a light rain set in.
The ice chest was filled with 25 catfish ranging from 2-10 pounds, with many chunky 3-5 pounders.
At some point, and probably soon, the rainfall will cease but the current in the rivers and creeks will continue. But the red-hot blue catfish bite will continue for a few more weeks, even after the run off ceases.
Granted, tactics will change as water levels drop in the upper end of the lake. Then it will be time to fish shallow areas around points, keeping baits positioned close to cover.
If you would like to join guide Pennebaker and stock the freezer with some good eating blue catfish fillets, contact him at 903-474-3078. He fishes out of Tawakoni Marina and can accommodate large or small parties.
I would like to invite all of you to come along on some of my outdoor adventures via the internet. “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and co-host Jeff Rice” airs each Friday at 10 a.m. on “Friendlee News.” To watch, simply “like” Friendlee News on Facebook. The shows are archived each week.
And remember to check out the weekly radio show at catfishradio.org.