Outdoor Commentary: Catfish Fishing, Past and Present | News

I’ve always loved to catch catfish and… eat it! I think my craving for catfish comes naturally, when a boy grew up on a poultry farm in Red River County; Catching catfish was a way of life. Every nine weeks or so at the chicken sale, we packed the old 1950’s International pickup truck with tarps, Coleman stoves, cast iron pans, bedding, etc., and drove to a small lake in southeast Oklahoma that was full of canal catfish. I was going to start catching bait, a little perch from our farm pond, the day before. Upon reaching our fishing hot spot, camp was supposed to be set up quickly, which was easy to do. We did not have a tent, just a tarpaulin or, as they were called at that time, “wagon sheets”. Covers on the floor with a blanket as bedding.

Once camp was organized, my father and another person paddled across the small lake in a 12-foot homemade wooden boat and put up two trot lines that were quickly grafted onto the cut perch. I don’t remember any rod and reel fishing there, or very little. We have relied on trotting lines to produce fish, and they always do. After setting the line, we were rowing, tying the small boat to a trunk and watching the lines. Thirty minutes or so later we were rowing and running, always riding a lot of fish to fry the fish the first night, which was a pretty big deal. Fries with a handful of chopped onions thrown in, a can of beans, light bread and crispy fried catfish, and the evening meal was very fresh catfish. Over the next two days, we fished and cooked fish and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs and stocked the cooler with plenty of catfish to carry us until the next time the chicken was sold out and dad declared another fishing holiday.

Our farm was a short walk from Pecan Bayou, a spring-fed creek with its headwaters in the northwest corner of Red River County. In the spring, when the creek was running, we cut poles out of the switch-reed patch behind the house and ran what we called “stabilizing poles.” The forgery was very basic. A pole about 8 feet long with the old woven fishing line popular at the time, a weight and hook studded with a cut perch. We’d put about twenty of these poles along the creek an hour before dark and turn them around every hour or so for a few hours and then again at first light the next morning. I can vividly remember walking to that creek bank and seeing those poles with the stern end stuck in the mud and their tip being pulled down by the squabble channel catfish.

Later in my life as an outdoors writer, I had the opportunity to watch the sport of cat hunting go beyond what I knew as a kid. I was once invited by the great Bill Dance to take his place in a boat with James “Big Cat” Patterson and fish the World Championship Fishing Tour on the Tennessee River. James and I didn’t win this prestigious tournament but I learned a lot about catching great blue catfish in a river with the current. We used Santee Cooper pads stocked with skipjack herring bait and landed several “big” blue cats. Over the years, I have fished with some of the best professional catfish guys in the country. David Hanson has mentored Tawakoni for years and has targeted blue-cup catfish in the cooler weather months and dining channels in the summer. I dare guess David has fed people to more catfish over the years than anyone else.

For the past few years, I’ve fished with a friend of David’s, Tony Pennebaker, who specializes in catfish, blues in winter and channel cats starting in late May. Tony and I had a lot of great times together on the water and I honestly can’t remember ever not coming home with so many fish fillets for the fish frying pan. Fishing techniques vary when targeting blue catfish versus channels. Channel catfish will bump into a variety of baits and also will get somewhat gloomy but when targeting channel cats, a good cheese bait is hard to beat. There are a variety of lures on the market today and they will all catch fish. I have seen many debates about which taste is the best.

I’ve worked with a company years ago that set out to make “the best catfish baits on the market”. I have collected a collection of evidence of everyday fishing and every tested batch of newly grown bait. Finally, the guides and company agreed on the “best” formula and it became a popular bait for catfish. Was it the best taste on the market? The answer depends on who you ask, but it is a very good bait that for many years has been limiting catfish in many lakes.

Blue catfish will bite bait for a punch but serious “blue cats” know that fresh bait is best. in Texas waters. Fresh Shad is the king of blues catching but in states to the north, skipjack herring is the go-to bait, especially in river systems where baitfish are common.

Yes, a lot has changed since I cut my teeth with poles installed in the creek next to my childhood home and trot lines on small lakes in Oklahoma. With today’s sonar, finding fish aggregations is easy, especially when targeting the big blues in the winter. And anyone can throw some scale cubes and bring catfish under the boat. But the only thing that didn’t change was the tightness of the very fighting catfish, the flavor of the crunchy catfish fillet, or a whole small fish that had been exposed to cornmeal and about 6 minutes in hot cooking oil!

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