Keep an open mind in pursuit of big catfish
Winter is whopper time, and there are lots of ways to land them
11:40 PM CST on Saturday, February 19, 2005 By RAY SASSER / The Dallas Morning News
According to popular lore, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. More than one way to catch a cat, too, say Dallas-area catfish pros. The winter season is big fish time for oversized blue cats – fish that weigh 30 pounds or more.
In fact, Chad Ferguson hated to see the February warm-up that delighted most North Texas residents. Ferguson runs North Texas Catfish Guide Service and fishes on six lakes in the area. Ferguson endured his worst fishing day of the season last Sunday.
“During cold weather, the shad stay concentrated in deeper water, and the fish are right there with them,” Ferguson said. “When the weather warms, the baitfish and the catfish scatter.”
When conditions are right, Ferguson puts his clients on 25 to 30 fish a day, and virtually every customer can expect to catch a blue catfish 25 pounds or more. Just don’t expect to eat the big catfish. Ferguson is one the new breed of catfish pros who practice catch-and-release for big fish.
“My rule is that we release all catfish weighing 10 pounds or more,” Ferguson said. “That rule has cost me some business, but it takes a long time to grow a big fish, and they’re too valuable to eat. The small catfish are better for eating, anyway.”
Ferguson uses sonar to spot schools of shad near submerged structure, then fishes around the baitfish. He uses shad or cut bait.
“I target blue cats, because they grow bigger and fight harder than channel cats,” he said. “The biggest fish caught from my boat this year has been 44 pounds.”
While Ferguson targets blue cats in deep water, Larry Spillers of Quinlan sticks with the shallows. Spillers and fishing partner Danny King compete in ACATS (American Catfish Anglers Tournament Series) tournaments such as the one scheduled for Lake Tawakoni on Saturday.
“I seem to catch more and bigger fish in water 12 feet deep or less,” Spillers said. “I fish a lot in coves that have creeks and channels coming into them, but I fish in the shallow flats rather than the deep channels.”
Spillers relies on a catfish bait marketed by his fishing partner. He fishes it with a Carolina-style bass-fishing setup that usually features a slip sinker above a barrel swivel. Like bass anglers, he sometimes uses plastic beads on the rig to create a “clicking” sound that attracts fish. It takes a treble hook to hold the soft “punch bait” made by King. Spillers’ biggest blue cat weighed 48 pounds and was caught at Richland Chambers Lake.
“There’s a lot more information available now to make people better at catching catfish,” said Spillers. “The main thing I tell fishermen is to stay versatile. Some guys still fish the way their grandfathers showed them, and they catch fish using the old techniques. We’re finding out that you can catch catfish in lots of different ways.”
While catfish are the undisputed heavyweights of North Texas game fish, some anglers would rather have constant action on smaller fish than fish for hours hoping for a big one. Howard Carry targets channel catfish at Lake Tawakoni and seldom comes home empty-handed. The fish Carry catches rarely weigh more than 5 pounds, but he makes up for size with sheer numbers. In fact, 99 percent of the people who fish with Carry fill their 25-fish limits, often in a couple of hours.
Carry’s secret is keeping key spots baited with soured corn chops or maize. He keeps four 40-gallon barrels of the pungent grain in different stages of fermentation. When Carry has a morning fishing trip planned, he makes the rounds of a few productive spots the afternoon before, pouring soured grain into the water. Catfish have a notoriously good sense of smell, and odor emanating from the grain draws fish from all around, concentrating them in Carry’s fishing spots. The next morning, Carry adds a little more grain to the water or puts in a few range cubes, which are designed for feeding cattle.
“The range cubes really gets ’em going,” Carry said. “I like to bait spots in flooded woods near a river or creek channel. The fishing stays very good through April.”
Spillers teaches catfishing seminars and believes tournament fishing is a good forum for catfishing techniques. Ferguson sees the Internet as a cyberspeed connection to a traditional sport. “I’m seeing a lot more information about catfish on the fishing forums,” he said.