So, what's with a title like the above for an outdoors column, you might ask? Well, you see, the topic of this article is fishing for catfish and the authoritative person is Thom Whitlock, who some call Mr. Whiskers! During a recent shallow water excursion for spawning channel catfish at Lake Tawakoni, Thom was quick to point out the HE was not Mr. Whiskers, it's the name of his famous catfish punch bait! Regardless whether Thom accepts the handle of Mr. Whiskers or not, his name has become synonymous with catching catfish and, yes, the bait that thousands use to catch them!
Thom first began making his catfish bait almost a quarter-century ago out in West Texas and in the nineties, moved his operation to Granbury, where the bait has been manufactured ever since. "Our bait is all natural and all but two ingredients can be consumed by human. It's these two ingredients that catfish can't resist, once they get a smell of it in the water. The key to a good catfish punch bait is the ability to stay on the hook during a long cast and then give off plenty of scent once the bait hits the water." said Thom as we motored across the lake, heading toward a windblown point with plenty of shoreline grass and green willows. After pulling up to some prime catfish spawning waters, Thom and Mike set two anchors and positioned their big pontoon boat a short cast from the edge of the willows.
. Shallow water catfishing is not rocket science but it does require a bit or organization, especially when several anglers are onboard. The water under the boat was 3 feet deep and around the edge of the willows we were targeting, about two feet. Number 6 treble hooks were baited with a generous glob of Mr. Whiskers, floaters were placed so that the baits would dangle a few inches up from bottom and a couple scoops of soured wheat were broadcast into the waters we were fishing. "We could catch plenty of catfish here without baiting the area with soured grain but using grain helps to concentrate fish quickly and puts them in a biting mode." says Thom as baits were cast up close to the shallows.
Fishing with us was BC Hosch from Ft. Worth, , his son Steve and Steve's 7 year old son, Kevin, who was celebrating his seventh birthday with his first catfishing trip. Baits had hardly hit the water when Kevin's floater disappeared and the youngster instinctively jerked back on the rod. He was hooked fast to the first catfish of the day, a feisty 2 pounder. It was obvious Kevin had discovered a sport that he truly loved, and had a natural inclination to master with a bit more exposure. Through the course of the morning, Kevin proceeded to out fish his Dad and Grandfather and, I might add, a much more experienced old outdoors writer!
Thom expects the channel catfish spawn to continue for another month or so but says he will continue to fish the flooded willows and sticks ups throughout the summer. With above average rainfall this spring and early summer, much of the vegetation should remain under water on Tawakoni and many lakes in the area. After the spawn, Thom advises that this shallow water catfishing around heavy cover will be best during the first 3 hours of daylight each morning, then the catfish move out from shore into water 10 feet or deeper, where he continues catching them around holes baited with soured wheat.
Thom also targets the larger blue catfish during the summer month, using a technique rare to the sport of catfishing: sightcasting! "During mid summer, blue catfish like to suspend near the surface over humps and ridges that top at 10-12 feet below the surface. We position the boat over these humps, wear polarized sunglasses and watch the water closely. The big blues are easy to spot just under the surface. We switch to larger treble hooks for this type of fishing and use larger amounts of bait. With a floater set a foot or so above the baits to keep them just above the fish, we sight cast, placing our baits a yard or so in front of the slowly swimming catfish."
Another summertime pattern on Tawakoni or any lake with a healthy population of catfish is fishing around standing timber, in areas where egrets roost. During the winter, fishing around Cormorant roosts is a very effective method of catching big blue catfish but cattle egret roosts are equally effective during the warm weather months for catching channel catfish. Look for standing trees in water 12-20 feet deep and use punch bait under floaters. The catfish are accustomed to coming near the surface, feeding on the natural chum created by the bird's dropping.
Whether targeting smaller 'fryer' channel catfish or bigger blues, catfishing is lots of fun and, as young Kevin will attest, it only takes one trip to create a lifelong fisherman!