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Blue catfish on steady bite at Tawakoni

Luke Clayton

The natural world is governed by cycles that repeat themselves in a pretty predictable pattern! We have learned much about the cycles or “patterns” of fish and wildlife. We know when to expect the whitetail rut or the crappie to move shallow. We fishermen have also learned when the time is right for catching trophy-size blue catfish or smaller fish better suited for the frying pan. We are now right in the middle of the best action on smaller blue cats.  The cold weather months, roughly from late October through March, is “trophy blue cat” time and on lakes such as Tawakoni where regular catches of fish in the 20- to 50-pound range and larger is common.

But if a big “mess” of eater size blues weighing between 2 and 6 pounds is your desire, it’s time to head to your favorite blue catfish destination, post haste!

I’ve been catfishing with Tawakoni guide David Hanson with Little D’s Guide Service for the past 12 years. David lives and breathes catfishing and is, to the best of my knowledge, the most veteran catfish guide on the lake. David understands the catfishes’ patterns and where to find them throughout the seasons.  I remember catching my personal biggest catfish with David a decade ago from water about 3 feet deep. We were fishing a shallow flat just off a windblown bank line. As soon as the 53-pound blue catfish felt the hook and I took the slack out of the line, he rolled on the surface in the shallows. I remember telling Hanson that I had hooked into a whale!  On the scales in the boat, the big fish pegged the 53-pound mark and was released after a quick photo session. This past winter, David’s clients boated many big blues, the biggest of which tipped the scale at 80 pounds! 

The limits of smaller catfish we caught last week were not released but rather filleted and made ready for several big fish fries. Now is a time of plenty at Tawakoni for those wishing for lots of action and a big fish fry!  The channel catfish spawn still a couple weeks away but the blues have moved shallow and are on a big time bite. 

Hanson is a firm believer is releasing the big brood fish but he has no qualms about sending his clients home with several gallon bags full of tasty blue catfish fillets this time of year when the smaller fish are on such a good bite.

To my way of thinking, there is no better eating fish in freshwater than the smaller blue cats. Channel catfish are also great eating when the fat is trimmed from the outside edge of the fillet, as is every species from yellow bass to striper but a crispy fried fillet from a blue catfish weighing between 2 and about 6 pounds is something special indeed. Blue catfish fillets are snow white and require very little “trimming.”

Catching blue catfish right now is relatively easy IF one adheres to a few basic rules. Bait is the first consideration. Freshly caught threadfin shad is the top producing bait but cut bait from larger gizzard shad will also produce action. A cast net is needed to collect the shad. I’ve found a 4 foot net (that opens to 8 feet) is easy to learn to throw and works well for the average fisherman. A good smelly punch bait that stays on the hook well will also put blues in your ice chest time of year, as will nightcrawlers.

Hanson uses a “Santee Rig” for these shallow water blues. This rig consists of a flat weight above a barrel swivel. Below the swivel is a leader of about 30 inches with a circle hook on the tag end. About eight inches above the hook, a small floater is attached. The float provides enough buoyancy to keep the hook/bait up a couple feet above bottom, which makes it easier for the catfish to locate.

I believe fishing techniques can sometime be over-simplified. I know I’ve been guilty of this myself in past years giving fishing tips and information in the magazines and newspapers. The blue catfish bite is now a shallow bite; most fish are coming from water 3-5 feet deep. But, catching fish is seldom the result of doing exactly the same thing exactly the same way every time. My trip with Hanson last week is a good example.

Hanson employs eight rods when fishing and uses two light poles driven into the lake bottom to keep the boat in place. The boat is tied to the poles at the bow and stern. When fishing for blues in the shallows, the more bait in the water, the better and it’s imperative to keep the boat stationary.

Hanson eased the throttle back and we glided to a stop within casting range of a hump that topped out about 3 feet below the surface and fell quickly into deeper water.

“We’ve been hammering them right here; yesterday we caught 3 quick limits from this structure but with this northeast wind, I’m not sure they will still be here. Let’s give it a try,” says Hanson.

After about ten minutes we had not a nibble.

“That’s long enough," he remarked. "Let’s move to within a long cast of those willows. I’m betting the wind shift has pushed the fish back into cover.”

Hanson was correct! Once we got our baits in place, the bite was instant and constant.

David expects this shallow water blue bite to continue for several weeks but he is also making ready for the channel catfish spawn, which is coming up quickly. Then, areas baited with soured grain and punch bait under a floater will be the ticket to another style of fun catfishing. But that’s another story!

Guide David Hanson with Little D’s Guide Service and be reached by calling 903-268-7391.

Outdoors writer, radio host and book author Luke Clayton has been addicted to everything outdoors related since his childhood when he grew up hunting and fishing in rural northeast Texas. Luke pens a weekly newspaper column that appears in over thirty newspapers.