Thirty years ago, I fished with a catfish expert named Bob Fincher. He’s the only man I ever met who chose the town in which he lived based on how many chickens were slaughtered locally. Fincher made and marketed his own catfish bait, made of chicken blood.
He showed me how to use a handy stick to “punch” a small treble hook into the coagulated blood, which adhered to the hook. You had to make an easy cast so as not to sling the blood off your hook.
Something about using a bait that I didn’t want to touch affronted my sensibilities. By and large, I’m still a largemouth bass angler and always will be. At the time I fished with Fincher, I wrote something about how the catfish market didn’t get much recognition because Ranger Boats didn’t make a special compartment to hold “stink bait” and there were no graphite catfish rods with sharpened butts so they could be easily jobbed into a river bank.
The catfish haven’t changed at all in 30 years. Many of the catfish anglers haven’t changed much, either. Others, however, have evolved to catch-and-release fishing for big blue and flathead cats, locating target fish with side-scan sonar and fishing from boats about as fancy as a Ranger.
That’s the beauty of a game fish that’s not all that pretty. You can catch ‘em while relaxing in a lawn chair on a river bank or by dropping cutbait down to a bend in a submerged riverbed, first located on a map, then pinpointed with sonar.
In 2015, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) published its Vision for Catfish in Texas. According to the state agency, Texas has some of the world’s best catfish angling, a statement proven in 2013 when Dallas-area brothers Paul and Dan Miles teamed up for a record catch at the Cabela’s King Kat Tournament at Lake Tawakoni. They weighed in five blue catfish that tipped the scales to 239 pounds, a 47.8-pound average.
Because catfish represent a gateway to fishing in general, TPWD has concentrated on stocking hatchery-reared channel cats into Neighborhood Fishin’ lakes spread throughout the state. Most Neighborhood Fishin’ is located convenient to a metropolitan area.
It’s important for novice anglers to be successful, lest they lose interest. Enter the catfish, a naïve species (at least when hatchery reared) that can be baited to a fishing area by using soured maize, then caught on cheese bait, stink bait, punch bait, blood bait or worms.
Blue and flathead catfish are also the largest freshwater game fish in Texas. They are surpassed in size by the alligator gar, which is protected by a daily bag limit but is not considered a game fish. In 2004, Cody Mullennix was fishing from the bank at Lake Texoma when he landed the state record blue catfish. It weighed 121.5 pounds. At the time, it was also recognized as the world record blue. The world record mark has since been eclipsed but the Mullennix fish remains the biggest catfish of any species ever reported caught in Texas.
The fact that the state record was caught from the bank doesn’t really surprise Chad Ferguson. What surprises Ferguson is the exponential increase in interest for catfish angling.
“If you had told me 20 years ago that it would be like it is today, I would not have believed it,” he said. “The catfish is ‘every man’s’ fish. You can fish for them without a lot of fancy stuff. All you need are hooks, sinkers, bait, rods and reels and you can get out and catch fish, even without a boat.”
Ferguson think catfish remain an underutilized Texas sport fish, though he is concerned about increased fishing pressure on big fish because it takes them a long time to attain trophy size. The guide releases all catfish over 20 pounds caught from his boat.
Here are some catfish angling tips from the pro. You’ll find more tips on Ferguson’s website, www.catfishedge.com.
- Forget the hocus pocus about secret bait recipes. For channel cats, use a punch bait like Sure Shot Catfish Punch Bait or CJ’s Catfish bait. Live bait works best for flatheads. For blues, use fresh cut shad, carp, drum or buffalo. Frozen or preserved bait is better than no bait but it doesn’t hold a candle to fresh-caught bait.
- Use good fishing line and change your line on a regular basis. I see a lot of people fishing in the right area who hook a big fish and have it end badly because they’re using old fishing line or cheap fishing line that can’t take the abuse or hold up to a big catfish.
- Talk to other catfish anglers. Catfish guys are pretty open, for the most part, and willing to share some info. I’ve never met one who won’t take the time to give a novice the right information to get started.
- Effort is the big deal. When it comes to shore fishing, or even kayak fishing, it’s all about the effort. If you’re fishing from the bank, don’t pick your spot because it’s easy to get to. If it’s easy, lots of other people fish there. The guys who put the effort into finding the right depth of water for each season or condition, research the topo maps and find the waters that match those conditions are the guys who always catch fish. The places they’re fishing are almost always off the beaten path.