Clayton: A fishing trip salvaged

Luke Clayton
Tawakoni guide Tony Pennebaker with one of many good eating channel catfish he and Luke landed off the dock behind his house last week.
Luke Clayton

Last week, I had a catfishing trip planned with my friend Lake Tawakoni guide Tony Pennebaker. Tony has been sending his clients on their way home with several gallons of those tasty snow white blue catfish fillets on a daily basis.

The "big fish" bite for trophy blue catfish has slowed as always this time of year but now is a time of plenty for anglers wishing to target the "eater" fish weighing between 2 and 10 pounds. I love to catch big fish but if given the choice, I honestly prefer fishing  when the bite is strong for fish that will ultimately wind up in my cast iron skillet.

When I arrived at Tony’s place, the radar indicated a line of thunderstorms moving our way and it was already sprinkling. As the old fisherman’s saying goes, “we may get rained out but we’re not getting scared out of fishing!” 

Tawakoni, as a catfish lake provides a couple of offerings this time of year; hot action on blue catfish and the beginning of a very strong channel catfish bite. The two species are usually fished for differently. Blues go for fresh cut bait such as shad or pieces of rough fish but for catching channel catfish, it’s hard to beat some sort of cheese bait fished around shoreline cover or deeper holes baited with grain or cattle range cubes.

There are many varieties of these "punch baits" available and I’ve found they all work. The key is fishing with one that has the consistency to stay on the hook and emit a smell that will attract catfish.

As the rain began to intensify, Tony came up with a plan that changed what could have a rain out to a fun fishing trip.

“Luke, what you say we toss out some grain around the covered dock behind the house and use some cheese bait and see if we can catch channel catfish? Folks are fishing around the shoreline flooded vegetation all over the lake and catching lots of channels.” Tony had me with the word FISH! I was all in for some dock fishing for channel catfish.

Tony spends his time on the lake fishing clients  from his boat and seldom fishes behind his house where the water is about 4 feet deep. With a gallon of grain distributed along the edge of the dock, we re-rigged the rods intended for blue catfish with No. 6 treble hooks and soon had our baits suspended inched above bottom along the side of the covered boat house.

Rain was hitting the tin roof and we set there talking about past fishing trips for a good 15 minutes before the first bite. Tony’s rod bowed heavily toward the water’s surface and he was connected with the first of the day, a chunky channel catfish weighing about 3 pounds. The longer we fished, the better the bite became as is often the case when fishing a "baited hole." I’m amazed at how quickly catfish can smell the grain or range cubes and be drawn into an area.

I found myself making the mistake of trying to set the hook too quickly and after missing a couple of catfish while "tight lining," I clipped on a cork and suspended the bait about 6 inches above bottom. I then began catching fish. By the time the cork began to move on the surface, the catfish already had the bait in its mouth and was swimming away. A quick jerk on the rod and I was putting fish on the stringer.

After a couple hours fishing and catching plenty for a big noon fish fry, we broke out the fillet knife and transformed our catch into catfish nuggets. Is there anything tastier than very fresh catfish fillets coated with seasoned corn meal and placed promptly in a cast iron skillet with cooking oil? A few fried potatoes and hush puppies adds the finishing touch, making a shoreline fish fry a gourmet delight!  

Catfish at Tawakoni or any of the area lakes are now relatively shallow. This is not to say a baited hole in water 20 feet deep won’t produce fish, it will but the influx of warmer water via creeks and rivers has pushed a put a lot of nutrients into the food chain and catfish have pulled into such areas where food is abundant.

For the next month or so, fishing around flooded willows, weed beds or any type of shoreline structure will be productive for catching channel catfish. It’s usually easier to fish with a slip cork when casting is required. If fishing from a boat, it’s often possible to drop the baits straight down or just a few feet from the boat to the edge of vegetation.

Tony will continue targeting the "eater" blues for the next few weeks but as the water continues to heat up, he will again be baiting holes in deeper water around standing timber, especially timber situated along the river channel or creeks where catfish can move quickly from deeper water to shallower.

Keeping a spot baited will assure catfish remain I an area but this practice is not necessary to catch channel catfish. Many fishermen bait two or three spots and move from one to the other during the course of their time on the water. If one spot is not productive or the fish stop biting, they move to their next baited hole.

Contact guide Tony Pennebaker at (903) 474-3078. Check our a video on this dock fishing trip on YouTube. Search "A Sportsman’s Life.”

Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton at