This summer, it’s been a quarter-century since I penned my first outdoors column. In this length of time, I’ve fished in many waters with many different folks. I’ve learned a great deal from guys and gals that make their livings in the outdoors and I’ve also developed my personal list of ‘hotspots’, the very best places to go to fish and hunt. When it comes to catching catfish, and lots of them, there are several lakes that vie for second place but good ole’ Lake Tawakoni, located about an hour east of Dallas in the Sabine River drainage, remains at the top of my list. In the winter, there’s no better place to go to catch trophy blue catfish, and in the warm weather months the steady action provided by ‘fryer’ cats in the 1.5 to 6 pound range is no less than awesome.

Catfishing at Tawakoni is so good that the Texas Legislature named West Tawakoni as the Catfish Capital of Texas. The local chamber of commerce even hosts a yearly Tawakoni Catfish Festival and this year’s tournament attracted the Cabelas King Kat Tournament Trail. Some nice fish were weigted in but a 72.65 pound flathead, landed by Lamar Evans of Weatherford, stole the show and took top money. Lamar walked away with a check for $3,000 and a new Minn Kota Trolling motor, taking both the big fish and first place prizes.

Just last week, I joined guide George Rule for a couple hours of red hot fishing. Visiting with George on the cell phone, I asked him what is the best time to come out and fish. His replied, “It’s cooler in the morning but the fishing is excellent all day in shallow water. I’ve got a trip this morning but how about joining me and retired Berkley rep. Bob Lawson at noon. Bob has started guiding with me, fishing from a big comfortable barge. Wear plenty of sunscreen and a big hat and come ready for action!”

I pulled up to Anchor Marina around noon and was soon joined by Rule and Lawson. They both said, matter -of- factly, that we wouldn’t have to run far to get in on some of the best catfishing of the year. “I’ve been working with Magic Bait Company, helping to develop a new punch bait called ‘Stick It’, that’s is working extremely well. We’re fishing in water around 3 feet deep, on the edge of stands of cattails and willow trees. It’s won’t take long for you to limit out, even during mid day.” Says Rule.

Rule eased the nose of his big guide boat up to a willow, tied the bow rope and broke out a couple buckets of the new punch bait. He handed Lawson and I spinning rods rigged with slip corks and number 6 treble hooks. Slip corks are the way to go when casting baits. A little piece of rubber band is attached to the line at the desired depth and the lines runs through the center of the cork, stopping when it reaches the resistance of the rubber band. Casting is easy because the cork slips down to the baited hook during casts and, when the cork hits the water, the bait falls vertically to the depth the rubber band is set.

“Take this stick and punch the Stick It into the bucket and pull it through the bait.” advised Rule. Lawson and I were veterans to the use of punch bait and in short order, had out baits about 25 feet from the boat, on the edge of willows. Catfish, especially channel cats, love to hang tight to cover during the spawn. The tricks is to get position baits close to the cover and entice the fish out to feed. Rock rip rap or any type cover in shallow water is prime areas to target. The area we were fishing was baited with cattle range cubes and every catfish in the lake, it seemed, was crowded into the area.

Catfish will often bite anything from wieners to fresh cut bait but fishing with a good punch bait is, in my opinion, the most convenient, and often the most productive way to fish for them. The bait we were using was a rich brownish color, had just enough smell to attract catfish but not enough to be offensive to more squeamish anglers and, most importantly, it stayed on the hook well. “I stay very busy with clients and it’s a must that the bait I use stay on the hook well and catch fish. Sometimes, inexperienced fishermen might miss two or three bites. This stuff stays on the hook after repeated attempts by the catfish to eat it off.” Says Rule.

We spent a little over an hour landing one catfish after the other. I believe the count was 37 fish, all of which were keepers, the largest about 5 pounds. Rule expects this shallow water bite to hold up for another month or so, then the fish will move to water 18-20 feet deep and stack up around standing timber close to submerged creek or river channels. Areas baited with range cubes or soured grain and punch bait will continue to be the ticket to action when the fish pull out of the shallows. This is a pattern that works each summer on Tawakoni or any other lake with a healthy population of catfish. I plan to return for round two with the Tawakoni cats when they move deep-but that’s another story! Contact guide George Rule at 214-202-6641. The number at Anchor Inn Marina is 903- 447-2256.

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