Clayton: Big catfish bite on at Tawakoni

Luke Clayton
Special to the Empire-Tribune
Jeff Rice, left, and catfish guide Tony Pennebaker show off a big blue catfish Jeff landed last week.

My phone conversation with Lake Tawakoni catfish guide Tony Pennebaker went something like this. “Luke, I know you are all about catching these ‘eater’ blues weighing between 2 and 10 pounds rather than specifically targeting trophy class fish but you might just catch both on our upcoming trip, the fall bite has been very steady” says Tony.

My reply was something like, “You know I like to stock up on those snow white blue cat fillets to enjoy at hunting camps this fall but I’m not opposed to catching a bonus big fish if the situation arises!”

Luke Clayton

Our friend Jeff Rice joined us for a morning on the water and when we boarded Tony’s boat, I noticed the rods were rigged with smaller hooks rather than the big circle hooks intended for catching giant catfish. The stage was set for some good eating at upcoming hunting camps!

“Luke, I’ve downsized our hooks for the eater catfish but remember, these are stout hooks and even though they’re smaller, they will still hold a big fish!”

Jeff puts our videos, “A Sportsman’s Life” together each week and he planned to capture the action for a segment of our show. Through the many years that I’ve been writing about the outdoors, the vast majority of my camera work has been with still cameras but I often fill in as a backup cameraman for our videos. On this trip, this was a very good thing because Jeff put me to work the first jump out of the box!

Tony had our boat positioned between a deep channel and standing timber which served as a roosting site for the thousands of cormorants that winter at Tawakoni. Five baits were cast up close to the edge of the heavy timber and several more on the other side of the boat toward the submerged channel. Jeff broke out his video equipment and began refreshing me on its operation. In a matter of seconds, the rod close to my buddy bowed heavily toward the water and he handed me the camera with instructions, “Punch the ‘on’ button and wait for the red light. Get this on video, it’s a biggun!”  Jeff then was a bit preoccupied for the next few minutes!

The big fish made a couple of long runs and stressed the tackle to the max but soon came sliding into Tony’s awaiting landing net. FORTY FIVE POUNDS on the nose! A lot bigger catfish are caught this time of year at Tawakoni but this one qualified as a true trophy in anyone’s book and was caught on a hook designed for landing much smaller fish.

Ten minutes into the trip and we had caught and released a giant catfish or, ‘picture fish’ as we old outdoor writers reference them. I actually kept my cool and managed to capture the event on video as well as shoot some great ‘grip and grin’ photos after the big fish was in the boat. It was then time to resume fishing and attempt to boat a bunch of ‘eaters’ of ‘cutters’ as Tony calls the smaller catfish.

It’s hard to beat freshly caught shad for catching blue catfish and Tony had thrown his cast net the evening before and iced a bunch for our fishing trip. Technique is very important in any type fishing but especially so when using circle hooks. A circle hook is designed to thread into the fishes lip as the bait is picked up and the fish swims away. Attempting to ‘set the hook’ with a hard hookset almost always results in losing the fish. The proper and most effective technique is to leave the rod in the rod holder and when the rod loads up and the tip indicates a fish has the bait, simply begin cranking like crazy with the rod still in the holder. This will insure the hook is set. Then grab the rod from the rod holder and continue putting pressure on the fish, reeling and taking in line when the opportunity permits. The old adage ‘cranks it, don’t yank it’ is good advice when fishing for blue catfish with circle hooks.  

The shallow waters we were fishing had everything needed to attract catfish; roost trees for the birds whose dropping attracted the catfish and deeper water nearby. Catfish use channels as travel routes to feeding areas. This time of  year, on warm sunny days, they move onto adjacent flats to feed but when a strong northern drops water temperatures, they can quickly be in deeper, warmer water. 

After a few hours fishing, sharing hunting and fishing stories and the banter common to folks with common interests we had loaded the cooler with our intended ‘cutter’ fish. Back at the dock at Tawakoni Marina, Tony transformed our catch into several bags of snow white blue catfish fillets. They will make the centerpiece at hunting camp fish fries this fall and winter with the exception of a few fillets I exposed to some hot cooking oil, minutes after I returned home!

Watch the video of this adventure by searching “A Sportsmans Life’ on YouTube or catch it on Carbon TV soon. Contact Guide Tony Pennebaker at 903-474-3078.

Whitetail rut underway

Earlier this week, I spent a couple days hunting deer in northeast Texas and from what I witnessed, the next week or so will be the peak of the rut. Bucks were chasing does at every location I hunted. One doe I watched at a feeder had a total of three bucks in pursuit. Now is a great time to break out those rattling horns. Bucks are in heavy competition for does and they will often come charging in to  what they perceive to be a battle over breeding rights.

Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton by email at www.catfishradio.org